Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thinkers -v- Test Takers

When I worked in Amsterdam I was part of a 6 year project with teachers from other European countries that started off collecting and recording data about butterflies and ended up looking at our own pedagogy.  We asked ourselves how do we pass on our craft - how do we teach others how to teach?  In most countries we followed a similar path - we did a degree in a particular subject and then learned some methods for delivering this content to students.  The emphasis was on passing on the important facts and understanding - and as such it was all about teaching and not really much about learning.

Assessment also often focuses on the teaching.  Friends in the UK have talked to me about standardized tests and league tables - and the implication is that if your students are doing poorly on these tests that you are a poor teacher and haven't passed on enough content in a way that students can remember it. Teachers, in fact, are often judged on how well students absorb and regurgitate content.  How often have I heard people comment that someone is a good teacher because his or her students always get top marks in examinations!  In Making Thinking Visible this is described as an education system that is "more concerned with producing effective test takers than successful learners".

We know, however, that we need to take the focus off the teacher and place it on the learner - to take it off the specific facts and to focus it onto the ideas and concepts.  This is one of the reasons why I love teaching the PYP as it emphasizes the big, central ideas and asks the question "how best will we learn?" which is about making the curriculum more engaging and accessible.  With an emphasis on approaches to learning and constuctivism, students also learn how to learn as they are not simply taking in information but are actively involved in thinking and making sense of the world.

Rather than teachers simply imparting information, the role of teachers should be to act as models.  Our students need to see us thinking and learning too so that they can learn how we do it.  In Making Thinking Visible it is very clear that "education is much more than the delivery of content.  A quality education is also about the development of the habits of mind and thinking dispositions that will serve students as learners both in our own classrooms and in the future".

Photo Credit: Bill Selak via Compfight cc

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