“Ask yourself this question: ‘Will this matter a year from now?’ ” Richard Carlson
This is a question that I find ringing through my mind often. I’m sure part of the reason is that I’m getting older – never ask a lady how old she is!
Another influencing factor is the two graduate classes that I’ve taken this year through Walden University. I’ve had the unique opportunity to take a reflective journey examining my personal teaching philosophy and my personal experiences relating to how I learn, how I teach, and how learning theories play a role in both. I’m sharing a link to my first discussion below, in case you would like to read my initial musings.
The first discussion I wrote for my Learning Theories class addressed how I personally learn and how formal learning theories play a role in my daily high school teaching and future instructional design challenges. Rereading and reflecting on my first discussion has brought to mind several things. After I’ve spent several months digging deeper into the details of established learning theories, I find my current views of learning still in line with my initial reflections. If anything, as I’ve spent time reading, comparing, contrasting current learning theories, I’ve reinforced my opinions that learning must be intrinsically driven and social in nature.
“What strikes me as slightly comical but actually really frustrating is the dichotomy of expectations we place on teachers. On one hand we have school administrators and government curriculum requirements pushing standardized test scores and on the other hand we have student-led learning through inquiry, analysis and application. How can we possibly take the time to provide our students with a student-led experience if we are constantly rushed to cover an ever increasing list of concepts in time for standardized assessments?” – Exert from my initial discussion and responses.
This class has reinforced this dichotomy of expectations we place on teachers. Repeatedly, across the learning theory spectrum, Constructivism, Connectivism, Social Learning Theory and Adult Learning Theories each identify the need for the learner to take an active role in guiding their learning and using their social interactions and experiences to structure their learning experiences. That’s 4 of the 6 most widely accepted current learning theories. Across the board, it’s pretty widely accepted that none of the 6 learning theories does a perfect job of explaining all human learning, instead life takes a mix of utilizing different learning perspectives depending on the knowledge needed. Behaviorism and Cognitivism, 2 of the 6 most widely accepted learning theories, account for the majority of teaching experiences we offer to most k-12 students. The majority of our federal and state mandated standardized testing experiences actually access learning from a largely Behavioristic perspective – with understanding and remembering through observable, repeatable actions. There’s a fair amount of Cognitivism emphasized throughout k-12 teaching and assessments – an emphasis on the learning process that utilizes problem solving skills and creation and evaluation of knowledge. Behaviorism and Cognitivism result in primarily teacher driven learning experiences. My simple understanding of the basics behind these learning theories, stresses to me that if 2/3 of learning theorists identify the need to address prior knowledge and a learners previous learning experiences together with social interactions, either face to face or via technology interfaces, coupled with a student driven learning opportunity, then why do we continue to prepare our teachers through teacher prepatory programs and professional development classes that send an opposing message? Our state and federal curriculum mandates, standards and assessments typically support a teacher led and teacher directed learning experience. Why? I’m going to suggest because Behaviorism and Cognitivism is easier to confirm and create multiple choice tests to check. It is mighty difficult to create differentiated, student chosen assessments that can be fairly and objectively graded consistently in a timely manner and without an opinioned teacher bias on a state and nationwide level.
What’s the take away message? What can I really do about it within my own teaching experiences?
Realistically, I know I’m one teacher fish in a big wide ocean of bigger, louder, wealthier ocean. But, don’t let that statement fool you. I may only be capable of creating a tiny, barely detectable ripple, but through the collective ripples of many, major change can be accomplished. So again, realistically what can I do? Keep talking about it. I can keep reading and keep learning. I can challenging the learning opportunities I structure for my students by stepping out of my comfort zone of “how we’ve always taught material” and try new things. Offering choices when I can, within the parameters I’m allowed by local, state and federal education legislation. Be vocal about placing realistic expectations on our kids, on parents, on teachers, on our students’ peers and on society. In the past, I’ve shied away from voicing my opinions with my children’s teachers and my own fellow teachers and administrators, I can easily see myself politely, but firming agreeing to disagree and sharing my perspective. I’ve successfully used this tactic with my kid’s teachers this year, sometimes it’s okay to say – “wait, I disagree and here’s why.” (Insert side note. I am NOT talking about discipline issues where the parent insists the student is not responsible for their actions and the teacher is at fault in some way. I’m talking about curriculum, standardized assessments, actual learning and teaching.) Do you know how much time students are spending on standardized test preparation and standardized testing? I’ll share my 5th grade is currently in her THIRD week of Tuesday thru Thursday computerized testing sessions. That’s 9 days were the schedules are off of the normal routines, testing anxiety is high and it’s difficult to maintain the kids focus on the mighty important test(s) and modified regular instructional time too. In addition to too many hours to count of practice tests, testing strategies drilled and an online practice testing platform that has required over 80 plus hours of practice time. I’m not suggesting throwing out all standardized testing, there’s a useful place for it. I think we need to dial back the overemphasis on test scores and grades as an indicator of student learning and teacher teaching.
So, I end by sharing I’m still a firm believer in the power of public education – I think it’s key to ensuring America remains a growing, successful democracy with a long future. I’m challenging myself and anyone reading my ramblings, to get informed (from trustworthy, reputable sources). Learn more about HOW humans learn, stay engaged in what your government is mandating within our education system and support our teachers. Teaching is a challenging, stressful, rewarding, disheartening, never boring profession. If you disagree, find a school near you and volunteer or substitute for a couple weeks – then get back to me, let’s see if you’ve gained a different perspective.