Schools/programs such as Iowa BIG and Waukee APEX reflect efforts to reform education going back more than 100 years. While the people running these programs might not agree, there is a lot of similarity to vocational programs many of us grew up with. Even before moving on to teacher education, I explored ways to let my 8th grade students pursue their passions within the context of “traditional school” (see 2010 project, update, and student perspective). These experiences were amazing to watch and be a part of as a teacher and when you see the student perspectives, the students clearly enjoyed the freedom as well. Although, some students were stuck inside the “school project” framework, other students were building things, communicating with experts, and designing solutions to problems.
This has me thinking. If all schools were to become like Iowa BIG, Waukee APEX, or the Dewey School, what would happen to teacher education?
Thankfully, lesson planning would receive much less attention. WOW do we waste a lot of time getting students to fill out a template that they will probably never use again. In a PBL school, lesson plans in the traditional sense don’t make a lot of sense. Similarly, we could stop focusing on differentiation as some sort of panacea for learning. When students have choice and are working on a variety of projects, differentiation is inherent.
Instead, teacher education would need to be about learning how to react with students to emerging problems and learning hurdles. To react quickly in an educative capacity, teachers will need a flexible understanding of how people think and learn and an ability to pose questions to guide student problem-solving. The teachers will also need an expanded view of what it means to assess students. When projects and problems are not the same, we don’t get to use the same measuring stick on all students. Maybe the standards-based movement is taking us in the wrong direction.
The content of these schools/programs is likely to move away from traditional subjects. Instead, the content we’ll teach is around learning and thinking. Maybe philosophy will re-enter the curriculum.
Honestly, I don’t know that the way I teach teachers will change that much. I’ve always been less concerned about the content and more concerned about how to help students think more critically. I put little emphasis on planning and much greater emphasis on the action of teaching. It is the action of teaching (well, effective teaching anyway) that will remain in any educational experience.
Yet, even in high-level PBL schools/programs, I suspect teachers may fall into the old trap of doing much of the thinking for students because the projects will be interesting. Indeed, when I do projects with my students, I have to actively fight the urge to jump in with “let’s try it this way”. Recently, I observed some medical doctors working with their residents and medical students (a high level of PBL) and I noticed that the attending doctors would run through checklists instead of asking, “What else should we check?”
In a very real way, teacher education must prepare teachers who look at schools like Iowa BIG and the Waukee APEX program and say, “yep, that makes sense”. Much like some teacher education programs do now, a focus will need to be placed on changing new teachers’ view of the very nature of teaching. Teachers must develop an intuition that their job is less about their thinking and more about their students’ thinking. Teaching is not explaining or problem-solving, teaching is helping someone else explain or problem-solve.
Great post. A few thoughts:
(1) “WOW do we waste a lot of time getting students to fill out a template that they will probably never use again.” I hated filling out those templates, too, but I’m not sure if it was all a waste of time. In some ways, it was just scaffolding for a way of thinking about lesson design that many of us still, to one degree or another, still retain. (Whether or not we should be retaining that thinking is a valid question, and I think that’s mostly what this article is about.) However, if you grant that thinking about the structure in that template has some value, saying that using it in college is a waste of time is a bit like saying a concert violinist wasted a lot of time playing scales and arpeggios in her youth, because she doesn’t perform those scales in her performances.
(2) I’m stoked that you “put little emphasis on planning and much greater emphasis on the action of teaching.” Having more people who think like you in schools of ed. IS what will become of teacher education. My education professors were only focused on lesson planning. When we went out into schools and started to encounter the real-life problems of classroom management and student apathy, etc. that all teachers have to figure out, we came back to our classes hungry for advice not about how to plan better lessons, but how to actually teach them. They didn’t even want to talk about it. The standard response was usually that a well-designed lesson would basically teach itself. We all quickly learned to ignore most everything they said and started looking to each other and our supervising teachers for advice about what we knew mattered most.
(3) If we are able to make the shift to most of our schools becoming more like the schools you mentioned, the people who are now drawn to teaching as a profession will probably not be the same type of people who will be drawn to teaching in the future. Most of my colleagues like their neat, controlled environments and their predictable curriculum and schedule. Messiness and chaos of any kind are their worst nightmare. I shared this http://bit.ly/1U59gRc with all my colleagues yesterday when it came out from Iowa BIG. By far, the responses were negative, mainly centered around the idea that kids will not learn the standard curriculum. Most of the teachers I know actually believe that all the stuff we teach in traditional classes are necessary preparation for life. Those people will not thrive in a school like Iowa BIG. The disruptive kids they hate to have in their classroom will be the ideal adults to staff such schools. And those people will not dress professionally, not stick around forever, will probably quit mid-year sometimes, will have the boundaries between work and personal life be very fuzzy, and will sometimes not maintain their “professional distance”. Administrators and school boards are going to have to be OK with that, and right now, I don’t think they are.
(4) “The teachers will also need an expanded view of what it means to assess students.” Yes! And maybe even more importantly, administrators, and policy makers will also need an expanded view of what it means to assess students. I can’t have my future in this career path be dependent on the standardized test scores of my students and at the same time give them the freedom to pursue interests that aren’t going to be measured on said test. And they will have to trust that I am capable of assessing, through non-“objective” means whether a student is learning and what they are learning.
(5) “Maybe the standards-based movement is taking us in the wrong direction.” Maybe it’s the right direction, but the standards are just the wrong standards. Again, schools like the ones you’re talking about are going to have to have the freedom to let something like “For exponential models, express as a logarithm the solution to abct = d where a, c, and d are numbers and the base b is 2, 10, or e; evaluate the logarithm using technology” slide for a kid who has demonstrated that, if that concept becomes important at some point in her life, she will be capable of learning it herself.
Thanks for the reflection. I agree that a different kind of school will attract different kinds of folks to education. It will be interesting to see what happens in education if a critical mass is ever reached!
Great work, per usual, Jerrid! You are spot on. We do waste inordinate amounts of time on this and figuring out curriculum, homework assignments, correcting papers, putting silly numbers and letters in a grade book, etc. What does teacher education look like when the Ed Department accepts the assumption that schools aren’t broken, but obsolete (it changes the way a person thinks about almost everything) and Russell Ackoff’s quote: “A curriculum is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.” Well done and great to connect with you again! -Trace