Collecting Dots vs. Connecting Dots

Connecting the dotsWhy is it that we still put the teacher at the center of learning rather than the student? – This has brought forth some great discussions for me. The conclusion I came to (after getting some amazing input) was that we as teachers have grown up in the education system following the rules and have been trained to continue following the rules. There you have it folks, we are rule followers [we’ll at least the majority of the time…there are definitely some mavericks out there;)]

As rule followers we do what we are told and don’t question it. When the latest curriculum comes out or the next piece of sweeping legislation changes those rules we adjust accordingly. The interesting part is sometimes following the rules doesn’t help us to win the game when it’s as complex as the US educational system.

We all want our kids to have a bright future. We want an educated citizenry, we want our kids to be smart, happy, healthy, well adjusted individuals. Right? I mean am I completely off base here? I’ll assume we are good and move on…

With that said, under our current state of affairs the rules ask our students to collect dots so our educators are busy helping students to do just that-collect dots. They are busy putting those dots in the content standards buckets and then being tested like crazy about those dots.

The unfortunate part of this dot theory is that life doesn’t ask graduates to show them their bucket! They are not selected for jobs based on how full their bucket is or how well they sorted their bucket of dots. Life asks them to connect the dots!

Connecting the dots can be messy, time consuming and learning how to connect them may differ from student to student. This is only one of my theories as to why we don’t approach teaching and learning this way. Another theory I have is that it doens’t make teacher evaluation any easier or clean cut either. (Apparently Scantrons with tiny bubbles to fill in resulting in a concrete test score does). I will also throw out a guess that politics plays a large roll in this too but that is a whole different blog. 🙂

What do we do with this then? We’ll, do what you can when you can. If you are parent you can support your child in helping them to connect the dots and see the big picture in all that they are learning. If you are an educator guide your students as they fill their bucket…help them to see what they can do with those dots..how they are all connected and most importantly HOW TO CONNECT THEM so that they can continue to visualize how things connect and connect them on their own long after they leave your classroom. If you are someone outside of the education sector volunteer  in a school or at an after-school program and offer your time & talents to help kids see how all of those dots they may be learning can connect and why that is so important.

So often we hear that the future needs thinkers, do’ers, engineers, creativity, etc. A world full of people with buckets all filled up won’t get us there. People who can use the contents of their buckets can! Don’t just collect, connect!

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Content or Competencies

In my line of work (the crazy and unpredictable world of education reform) we share our model of education, which utilizes a student-centered approach that requires a systemic change, with many people. The people we meet with always have plenty of questions as to how this works despite the fact it has been successfully serving students for 18 years at our flagship school (The Minnesota New Country School) and the many other replications schools.

The EdVisions model doesn’t include bells, hallways with lockers, a course/classroom curriculum, GPA’s or class rank. This isn’t your traditional middle/high school and wasn’t designed as such.

This model does so many things differently but I’d like to focus on the curriculum. The EdVisions model cites ‘The world is the curriculum.” This is an accurate assessment as students garner the required standards, subjects, credits, etc. via a personalized curriculum unique to each student’s individual needs. This personalized curriculum blends a full-time multiage advisory, student-directed project-baseds, seminars, online-classes, college courses, internships/job shadowing and field experiences.

This tends to cause many traditional teachers to cringe. Why? Many fear they are no longer needed. Others state their concern for how the students will “get all of the standards checked off.” We focus first on the learning then the actual content. Yes, the students still get all of their required standards in order to graduate but that isn’t the end all. It is far more important that students have all the tools required to be able to learn things on their own after they leave the safety and security of high school.

Again, this can be a frightening thought for some people. I can understand their concern when the current US education system is so focused on content and standardized testing to demonstrate mastery of this content. The flaw in this thought process is the assumption that students learn and retain 100% of that content. Let’s use biology as an example…say a student completes all the required biology standards…they probably actually learned 75% of them. Would it have been better for the student to have focused on 75% of those standards to begin with allowing more time to dig deeper into those areas and actually learn all of that 75%?

I would argue YES. Why? Because the process of learning (engaging, discovery, exploration, explanation, evaluation, reflection…) is far more important for life long learning than simply route memorization.

I feel it is far more important that students have skills/competencies such as time management, responsibility, resiliency, persistence, independence, creativity…Providing students the proper tools in an environment most conducive to learning so they can continue to be curious and hungry to learn more.