Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reformation -v- Transformation

Every so often I read a blog post that really makes me go Aha!  This morning was one of those times.  I was reading The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education by Steve Denning on the Forbes website.  Steve starts off writing about the fact that if we are talking about reform, it's in response to a problem, and that in his opinion the biggest problem is the factory model of management (top-down, controlled, carrot and stick approach, weeding out dead wood).  He says:
I believe that the single most important idea for reform in K-12 education concerns a change in goal. The goal needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.
Steve Denning highlights several implications of this shift, some of which I am summarizing and commenting on below.  To me these involve not so much a reformation of schools, but a transformation of student learning.
  • As education shifts from students learning content to students creating knowledge and being able to use their skills in new situations, teachers and parents need to take on new roles to enable and inspire student learning.  For me having worked for many years in IB PYP schools where the focus is on inquiry and students constructing their own knowledge, this is probably the most important change that I've seen that has had an impact on learning.
  • With a change of focus from covering content to developing knowledge, understanding and skills the shift of emphasis for assessment needs to move from output to outcomes.  It's not a matter of looking at the test scores or the statistics of the average number of points the school has achieved, it is more a matter of looking at each individual student and what they are able to do.  Steve Denning refers to this as a shift from a focus on things to a focus on people.  Once again I can say I'm happy to have worked in schools where the focus is on outcomes (again a big part of the IB PYP).  At the international schools where I have worked there have been some standardized tests, but teaching to the test is certainly not what we do!  Both of my own children, who have only attended international schools, have benefited from this focus on outcomes with the emphasis on what they know, understand and can do.
  • Teachers will only be able to inspire their students if they themselves are inspired - therefore the role of the administrators will also change.  Steve Denning describes this shift from being a controller to being an enabler.  I am thankful that I have worked in a couple of schools where this was the case - where I thrived and grew as a teacher as a result of being empowered - and I have worked at other schools where I was controlled and where I felt stifled and unhappy and as a consequence I was a fairly mediocre teacher.  Of course the schools where I was able to make the biggest impact on student learning were the schools where I was supported and empowered.
  • The role of accountability must change in a system of self-driven student learning.  Students take more responsibility for decisions about how the learning takes place.  Learning is measured in terms of the questions students ask, not the answers they give.  Self-assessment becomes more important.
One of the most powerful aspects of blogging is that it is two-way communication (I've also heard this referred to as communicating WITH as opposed to communicating TO) and responses to Steve Denning's articles were numerous (in just a week his article was read by over 10,000 people).  As a result of this Steve has been able to refine his thinking and to respond to some of the questions, comments and feedback from readers.  Please click here to read Part 2 of this debate.

Photo Credit:  Cheerleaders by Lew Holzman AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

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