Tuesday, October 26, 2004

No Child Left Behind

Doug Manning talks about what he'd do to raise graduation rates:
"Although external motivation works for many students, its effectiveness has maxed out. For every 100 students who enter 9th grade in the U.S., 68 graduate four years later. For 32% of students, external motivation is clearly not enough.

If we truly seek to reach every child with meaningful education, we must initiate new programs that focus on the internal motivations and self-management skills of students. Most students who leave or skip school are capable of doing well in the system. They simply see no reason to be there."
Is it even possible to really tap the internal motivations of students within the constraints and curriculum of schools? I'd like to think so, but I'm not sure. BC had a program similar to Doug's vision, with students doing a career and personal planning course nearly every year from junior high to graduation. They've since modified it, but that's another story. It seemed to me that one of the main weaknesses of a program like it is that there is a distinct lack of context. Like almost everything else in school, studying anything -- even your aspirations -- in isolation becomes just another hoop to jump through. Even if students engage in the process of figuring out their likes, goals, and future possibilities, will they see any connection to their day-to-day performance in their other classes?

The strength of Doug's vision is in the focus on self-management skills. I still feel that this is the primary weakness of the education system: it doesn't encourage people to take responsibility for their learning and personal development. Technology, distance learning, communities of practice, homeschooling, and alternative schools are providing these tools, or could be providing them, but it seems like an uphill battle.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Only Connect

Stephen Harlow has been doing some good summarizing and thinking from a conference he attended about the future of education:
  • Dale Spender: "She reminded us, as teachers, of the futility of continuing to rely on an authority model when we can no longer rightly claim to be authorities."
  • Julia Atkin: "Education has to face up to this problem now more than ever as a world society struggles painfully to be born: education is at the heart of both personal and community development; its mission is to enable each of us, without exception, to develop all our talents to the full and to realize our creative potential, including responsibility for our own lives and achievement of our personal aims."
  • Tom Sergiovanni on school's engaging with students in a different way
Update: Rob Paterson connects some of these ideas to the wider shift away from positional authority in business and politics...

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Yin and Yang of Blogs in School

Will wrote a great post about the yin and yang of blogs in schools, which linked to this fantastic discussion of some of the difficulties educators are confronting when they try to integrate blogging. I like Will's conclusion:
"Look, the strength of Weblogs lies in the blogging process, the reading, thinking, writing, publishing, responding process. But to get students to do that effectively, we have to be able to let them own their own spaces by allowing them to write about their own passions and develop their own audiences."
I agree, but that isn't school anymore. Anyone can make a compelling case for blogging in helping students write better, explore their interests and develop networks, but it has nothing to do with curriculum, assignments, or assessment. The engaged kids who love this stuff will go do it anyway (around topics they like, using language and content that would never fly in school), and the majority will view blogs as odious assignments like all the others.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Mission

Stephen Downes recently redesigned his site and it looks great. There's truly a wealth of information in there that makes me want to stop chasing the latest news in ed-tech and just study what's already been collected. Not that those would be exclusive strategies. Anyway, I like his sort of mission statement on the front page:
"I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumberance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle.

Where they are able to form networks of meaningful and rewarding relationships with their peers, with people who share the same interests or hobbies, the same political or religious affiliations - or different interests or affiliations, as the case may be.

This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence.

This is what I aspire toward, this is what I work toward." - Stephen Downes

Shutting Down K-12 Blogs

Will is rightly concerned about administrators thinking about Shutting Down K-12 Blogging:
"In my perfect world, student weblogs would be as free and open as a teacher (and parent) feels comfortable with because one of the best parts of blogging is having an audience that can become a part of the process. But I totally understand the concerns of districts and boards of education who are trying to figure out exactly what to do with this new read/write Web that we're exploring with our kids."
He was bouncing off this story, which just makes me shake my head in wonder. Most schools (and their leaders) just don't get the web. But on the other hand, these are sticky issues. Last year when I was thinking about privacy concerns in school blogging, a teacher had this nasty experience with a student threatening her in his/her personal LiveJournal blog. The idea of schools providing blogs for students always seems a bit pointless to me -- anyone can set up their own in about 90 seconds, and schools can't control them. The line between school technology and technology that students are using on their own to learn (and for fun) will only get blurrier.