I really like the ideas of Dan Meyer. In a recent blog post of his, he wanted some feedback on some ideas regarding education reform. Please go read his post and subscribe to his blog (it is great stuff!). The post in question discussed how he believes that in order for an education reform initiative to take flight it must be free, easy and fun. To some extent I agree with him in that most teachers are not willing to do the difficult work of becoming a great teacher, but I felt compelled to reply because I don’t think we ought to be promoting the misconception that teaching or learning ought to always be fun an easy. My response is below.
Dan, This is my first comment on your blog, but I have read with interest for quite some time. I am a science teacher, soon to be science education professor. The idea of how to improve teaching is constantly on my mind.
I find myself disagreeing greatly with your notion of free, easy and fun (mostly the easy and fun part, because what I propose as necessary is definitely free).
The reason I am so opposed to “easy and fun” is because encouraging real learning is not easy. If it were, everyone would be a great teacher. Instead, developing and maintaining high quality instruction abilities takes time (a LOT of time). I don’t think you would disagree.
Because of the inherent difficulty of real learning and teaching, they are not necessarily “fun” in the sense of entertaining. While effective teaching and deep learning are both worthwhile, and the rewards are enjoyable, the process is often fraught (sp?) with frustration and difficulty. I think about working out, while I enjoy the feeling of having worked out, and enjoy the benefits to my health, I would not call the actual workout “fun”. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Fun? No.
Of course this does not mean I believe learning has to be boring! I prefer the term engaging rather than fun. This could be semantics, but our words are what we mean and ought to be chosen with care. I worry if we send the message to teachers or students that learning should always be entertaining, we are setting them up to not engage in difficult, but worthwhile activities.
While the fun/engaging differences might be reconciled, I see no place that I can budge on the claim that reform ought to be easy. I think I see your point that in order for teachers to “get on board” the new stuff has to appear easy, but that just means that we need more dedication from our teachers. Or perhaps teachers who are dedicated to a different purpose.
Which brings me to the free thing I think we need to “reform” education. A change in philosophy & purpose. There is no cost associated (other than time) with changing our instructional purpose from skills to understanding or from memorization to application. What your 80% needs is not something that is free, easy and fun. Instead, they need to consider what their goals are for their students. Once the goals are articulated, they must consider how to best achieve their goals. If a teacher’s goals is to have students simply gain a skill or have 90% accuracy on a timed test….well, they need to either re-evaluate their goals, or leave education.
I know all teachers “say” they want students to deeply understand content and be able to apply that understanding to the real world. Yet, so few teachers actually teach in a way that would help students actually do that. A worksheet is not real world. I word find is not deep understanding. Aligning our practiced purpose with our articulated purpose needs to happen. We don’t need a tool to do that, other than perhaps a mirror.