If you are an educator and haven’t read Justin Aion’s blog then I highly recommend it. He’s providing a great deal of transparency and thought in to the raw emotions that he, as a teacher, goes through on a daily basis.
It’s a pretty rough experience report. Here’s one example of a day where you can tell he is either bordering on giving up or just letting go and becoming indifferent: Day 113: A Non Day
I have many thoughts as I read through his experiences:
- It doesn’t have to be this way.
- But maybe it does for him.
- I think it’s unrealistic to expect any significant change in that environment.
- But maybe it’s worth trying…
I don’t know. I’m not sure I would survive in that environment. I have no desire to try and cajole/discipline/force students to learn an arbitrary subject when I can’t find any reasonable justification for a curriculum to begin with, but I know that this is what teachers are tasked with every day. Of course learning is valuable and I would bet that students in Justin’s class are learning a lot. Unfortunately they’ll likely forget most of it soon after. Frankly the whole thing feels like an impossible task.
Having seen how healthy, content, intelligent, and thoughtful students at Diablo Valley are despite never being forced to take a class even through high school, I don’t think I could ever embrace the norms within a traditional school.
That said, such environments are few and far between, so unless you’re willing to jump ship and embrace a radically different paradigm, it’s probably best to figure out how to deal with the hand that has been dealt.
I was thinking through one idea earlier today. It probably wouldn’t work for any number of reasons, but I thought I would throw it out. Would be curious to hear your thoughts, Justin.
Anyways the idea is to simply present students with the learning goals. Maybe for the day or the week or the month (not sure what the best time period is). Basically you’re saying, if you can pass X test and demonstrate that you’ve learned the material than you’re done. You provide any number of resources as well as you’re help when requested, and you let them go.
One of the better resources with regard to this that I’ve heard about is the idea of having a scratch off test, so you have a test and you scratch off the right answer to see if you were correct. If you’re wrong you know right away and you can scratch off another answer until you find the right answer. Then you have a more informative assessment of your knowledge because maybe you took three guesses to find the right answer, demonstrating that you really don’t understand it. It’s limited to multiple-choice style questions, but it’s a valid resource regardless.
Also most of Eric Mazur’s work is around these ideas. Trying to get students to struggle with learning on their own volition, sometimes leveraging groups so that students have to debate each other. I think if I were in that situation I would watch all of the Mazur’s videos looking for creative ideas to engage students.
I really do believe that most of these issue just go away if we trusted students and stopped trying to force feed them learning, but that’s an unrealistic environment to hope for any time soon, so in the meantime maybe an idea like this could help. Either way I’d be curious to hear you’re thoughts, Justin, and would be happy to brainstorm…