Tag Archives: collaboration

13 Sacred Cows in Schools (and what to do about them)

8 Dec

Sacred Cow (def’n): Something which cannot be tampered with, or criticized, for fear of public outcry. A person, institution, belief system, etc. which, for no reason other than the demands of established social etiquette or popular opinion, should be accorded respect or reverence, and not touched, handled or examined too closely.

In his paradigm for a new education system, “Stop Stealing Dreams“, Seth Godin mentions the word “industrial” seventy-eight times (creativity only four times and innovation just twice!!). Godin sees industrial thinking as the main problem with our education system.

He asserts that modern schools “…were invented at precisely the same time we were perfecting mass production and interchangeable parts and then mass marketing. ” Modern schools were designed to produce compliant workers and eager consumers for our emerging industrial  economy.

Godin says we’re now living in a “post-industrial age” and need to change our schools for changing times. Standardization and conformity should be eliminated and replaced with a love for learning, self-expression and innovation.

I don’t completely agree with everything Godin writes in “Step Stealing Dreams”, but I acknowledge  that schools need to change, and quickly. The shift from standardization and conformity has already begun, and schools are too slow to respond.

Educators must look critically at the “sacred cows” in schools, the vestiges of industrial age thinking, and decide if they have any place in an education system that tries to foster independent thinking and individuality.

Here’s my list of Sacred Cows in our Schools and what we need to do with them. The aim is to start people thinking about those things we accept as part of schools, but no longer make sense. I suspect that as you consider these 13 you’ll see many other things that no longer makes sense:

  1. Uniforms and Dress Codes: Students who make more choices get better at making choices. Expressing yourself with what you wear is an easy first step. A child in kindergarten can choose their clothes. Provide general expectation around appropriate dress, nothing else.
  2. Anthems & Flags: You can’t expect students to think independently but make the first act of the day standing in obedience to national symbols. Let children make choices about what is deserving of their respect. Explain why it’s important and let them choose.
  3. Walking in Lines: Instead of forcing children to move through schools silently in straight lines talk to them about respecting others’ rights, why that’s important, and let them figure out how to do that.
  4. Timetables and Tardy Slips: The same start and end times don’t work for everyone and they aren’t necessary. If students naturally wake up later, let them. Run schools on “flex time” so that students can learn when it’s best for them.
  5. Grades and Report Cards: Feedback is an essential tool in learning but learning is complex. Assigning an arbitrary letter or number to an emerging skill is misleading and often confusing. See Joe Bower’s excellent blog for more on this.
  6. Grouping by Age: The benefits of multi-age groupings are well documented yet we continue to group students based on what year they were born. Use flexible groupings that change as student needs change.
  7. Bells: A school that runs on bells screams “factory model”. Let students take breaks or eat when they need to, not when everybody else does.
  8. Desks in Rows: Learning doesn’t always happen in isolation, so why isolate students? Flexible arrangements that support students working both independently and collaboratively are needed.
  9. Exams: A single large evaluation, written in a large hall, doesn’t work for all students so why do it? Give students choices: a major project, write a thesis and defend it, etc.
  10. Morning Announcements: Few people get their information at the same time and in the same way as everyone else. They get it when they need it and how they choose. Put announcements on school social media or web resources so students can access information when they need it.
  11. School/Classroom Rules: One set of rules for all students doesn’t make sense. They have different needs and abilities. Instead use a set of guiding principles that can be applied to all students rather than a list of the things you can’t do.
  12. Fixed Classroom Walls: The recent work of Fielding-Nair and The Third Teacher is challenging the idea that children learn best in boxes. Sometimes walls are needed but sometimes they isolate and remove possibilities for collaboration. Movable walls offer flexibility and options.
  13. Desks and Chairs: A variety of furniture types support a variety of learning and learners. Tables for group work, couches and bean bags for reading, floor place for kinesthetic learning, etc.

Changing these 13 things won’t, on their own, change schools. Changing them will, however, make a new way of teaching and learning more likely. They’ll provide a fertile ground for the seeds of educational change to flourish and grow.

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The “Apatow Model”: 21C Learning as Improv?

9 May

I was just listening to an interview with veteran actor Jon Lithgow talking about making a new movie with Judd Apatow. Apatow is the director of most of the funniest movies made in the last 10 years. Lithgow talked about how different Apatow’s movie making technique is from other directors he’s worked with.

In Apatow’s method, he starts with a basic idea in the script. He brings the actors together and has them start performing. Apatow then sits behind a black screen and encourages the actors to improvise with the basic premise. He prompts, offers suggestions and encourages them to experiment with different approches. The cameras are rolling constantly as they do this.

Lithgow reports they may record 20 minutes of film to produce just 50 seconds of actual on-screen work. They can do this, of course, because the filming is digital and the technology facilitates the exploration. No need to worry about wasted film.

It was interesting to hear Lithgow, a classically trained actor, contrast this with traditional theatre, where the emphasis is on learning the lines and trying to reproduce them perfectly, according to the writer and the directors will.

This is a lot like the contrast between traditional education and 21C learning. In traditional learning the teacher (director) tells the students what they need to know and the students try to learn it perfectly and reproduce someone else’s vision.

In the “Apatow Model” students are co-creators. The teacher (director?) starts with a question, a problem or premise and then supports and guides students as they solve the ‘problem’ through trial and error. After lots of error and experimentation the best ideas are selected and it is shared and ready for evaluation. Our use of technology allows for and facilitates experimentation and trail and error because the resources we use (information, knowledge, etc.) are no longer scarce.

Interesting to see these changes being applied  in other activities. I may have to get myself a black screen for the classroom 🙂

“Tebowmania’ and “Linsanity” in the Classroom

15 Feb

Ontario Teachers foster six key learning skills, Responsibility, Organization, Independence, Initiative, Self-Regulation and Collaboration. Students need all these skills to be successful, but none are more important for the 21st century citizen than collaboration. We are increasingly understanding that, effective immediately, we need to work together.

That’s why the Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin stories resonate so deeply. There’s been a lot in the media lately about the paralells between the popular rise of “Tebowmania‘ and “Linsanity“.  As Jason Whitlock points out, these are two very different situations and popular comparisons are misleading. Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is a white, first round pick from a powerful football program, while Jeremy Lin is an undrafted, Asian-American from Harvard. Lin is an underdog while Tebow only appears to be.

But the two stories feel the same, and that’s because they are, in one key way. Both Tebow and Lin owe their rise to prominence to their ability to collaborate.

Tebow is quite flawed as an NFL quarterback. He isn’t Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady, who can win the game on their own brilliance. He has outstanding physical gifts but can only be successful in the right situation, with the right supporting cast.

Jeremy Lin is an even better example of the power of collaboration. Lin got to play when Carmelo Anthony, one of  the best individual talents in the NBA, got hurt. Lin succeeds because of his ability to work well with his team mates. He can’t win a game on his own, but he puts others in the best situation to win and makes his team-mates better.

This resonates deeply with us, and this signals a growing awareness of the importance of collaboration. In more and more ways, our culture is again celebrating the value of teamwork. In sports, this looks like ‘Linsanity’ over a one-vs-one offence or ‘Tebowmania’ rather than the ego driven Terrel Owens or Chad Ochocinco.

Pointing these examples out to students helps to rebalance the all too pervasive messages of popular culture that’s “it’s all about me”. Jeremy Lin shows the power of collaboration, and is celebrated for it.