Tonight I had the privilege of participating in the Ontario Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) webinar hosted by Will Richardson and my mind is still buzzing with excitement! Will discussed “Seven Shifts” in education right now and even though I found all seven shifts to be engaging and thought-provoking, the one that resonated with me the most was moving from “Standards Based Learning to Passion Based Learning.”
I’m a relatively new teacher, but I find there are times when already I feel slightly jaded about what we are doing in our classrooms. I have been really trying to think about education from the perspective of my students and what I keep coming back to is that I don’t feel we are doing enough to prepare them for their futures. The 21st century skills that the minority of us are encouraging like collaborating and synthesizing are still being overshadowed by the focus on rote memorization and the regurgitation of information. I was chatting this weekend with my best friend who is an occupational therapist and she told me that she feels the most important concepts we can be teaching our students are to be good collaborators, critical thinkers and how to FIND good information. She also made a really interesting point, though, about our stronger students and she suggested that we still need to be preparing our students for college and university as in her experience in undergraduate work at university, it still seems to be rote memorization.
Which leads me to another line of thinking in this reflection. How do we encourage the colleges and universities to adopt this shift in thinking? For my students who are planning on attending university, I often find myself giving them coping and studying strategies so that they can be prepared for the onslaught of information. In all seriousness though, what’s the point of having students go to university to study really hard then forget almost all the content because they never truly did commit it to their long term memories? I think back to my undergraduate days and I virtually remember nothing except how stressed I was at exam time. How does that prepare students for real life? I can really only remember one professor clearly and that’s because he challenged my ideas and opinions and forced me to think outside the box. What does that say about my university experience that if in five years of higher level education I can only remember one professor who made an impact on me? It makes me wonder then if we are starting to think this way in elementary and high schools, how do we convince our post secondary compatriots that this kind of thinking is more beneficial than writing an expository essay about 17th century English literature or taking a multiple choice exam about psychology theories?
My other question on the focus of passion based learning is how do we convince everyone else that encouraging the pursuit of passion is relevant and acceptable for our curriculum? I know there are many teachers who would say that students need to be learning “certain” content and that passions like hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and farming have no place in an English classroom. In fact, I had that fight in my English class in teacher’s college. I had an argument with another girl over her view that all students need to read Shakespeare and “good” literature and that texts like magazine articles and “grocery store novels” are not acceptable reading material for class. One of my questions back to her was how can we judge what others want to read? Who decides what is “good” literature? I actually thought a lot of the “good” literature I read in university was crap and can’t fathom trying to engage some of my students in those texts when I, an English major, thought they were terrible. My other question for her was how can we paint all our students with the same brush and teach everyone the exact same content? Where does differentiated learning fit in her equation? I asked her how she was going to engage her students who had difficulty with reading comprehension and understanding complex writing and her response was, “they will learn it because I will teach it.” I often think about her and wonder if she’s changed any of her views on education after being in a real classroom or if she’s still up on her soap box…
So ultimately my question is, how do YOU think we facilitate this change? I would love any feedback, comments or suggestions on this conundrum.