Rethink Learning Now

Rethink Learning Now is one of my new favorite things. From their website:

The Rethink Learning Now campaign is supported by a growing coalition of individuals, education advocates, civil rights groups and philanthropic organizations, each of whom shares a commitment to focus the country’s attention on three core pillars of successful education reform – learning, teaching and fairness.

We do not assume that these three areas are the only things that matter – just that it is essential to get these areas right when it comes to improving our public education system.

They ask us to share our stories- of teaching, of learning, and of fairness- so that policy makers can see the themes that emerge. This is your chance. Read on to see my contribution.

n 1986, my sophomore year of high school, I was assigned to a 4th period state- mandated speech course. I wasn’t that nervous about it- either because it hadn’t occurred to me to be nervous or (more likely) because I already realized that talking in public wasn’t really that much of a problem for me. I figured this for an easy A.

Then I walked into the classroom. First- it was in the home ec kitchen. (I know- it’s Family & Consumer Sciences now. Then? It was Home Ec.) Second- the room was loaded with “popular” kids. Girls and boys who were the sharks to my sea plankton in the social ecosystem of high school. I was suddenly terrified- and I turned around and left the room without even dropping my books- instead, I dropped the class.

The only other speech class available was forensics- which I assumed to have something to do with dead bodies. Didn’t matter, though. If it would get me out of that speech class, I’d dissect anything they wanted me to. I signed up.

That moment was the moment that changed my life. In that class, I discovered not only a new peer group but also a teacher who valued me for what I brought to the table- not for what I lacked as a student or a member of the social strata. Trudy Kinman seemed to be genuinely interested in what we had to say. She seemed to know that by knowing us well, she could help us to perform at our best. I pushed myself for the first time in that class. I did more than what was required because I discovered the value of excellence, of showing what I knew and could do. I learned that I could excel- and that it was really fun when I did!

I later became a teacher myself- speech and debate, as a matter of fact- and while I’m not currently teaching, I *am* using what Trudy taught me. Everyday, in fact, I demonstrate that drive to be my best educational self, that joy in doing good quality work, and the inherent rewards to be found in excellence. Thanks Trudy.

So now it’s your turn. Tell your education story!

By the way, I’ll be liveblogging and tweeting from the Fall Forum in New Orleans beginning on Wednesday. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

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4 responses to “Rethink Learning Now

  1. I was not as lucky as you were-I always knew I was going to teach and coach but my style was yet to be determined. For 15 years I was a traditional I stand in front, put the overhead on, speak, you take notes then tell me what I said-there was only one right answer-mine! I had daughters who both went into education and unlike their father said that there was a better way to learn. The youngest introduced me to “Horace” and I was hooked, but still not quite sure about all the nuts and bolts, then the other daughter introduced me to Dan and when he asked me “why” I knew that I was one who held the key. It has taken me many years but I have found a place (not created by me) but a place where the staff and students understand how “it” (the art of teaching and learning) works. I feel that I am just along for the ride but I thank all those, including Ted, Laura, John, Doug and Heather who helped me get on the right track. Thank you all.

  2. Like Nelson, I always knew I was going to be a teacher, even though I fought with this realization for many years. I am concerned with the path that education still seems to be on, and inspired by many who have worked to create places where learning is encouraged and allowed to happen without trying to classify or quantify it. Education has become a culture of assessment and numbers and is in danger of becoming ever more reductionists (trying to boil everything down to a number) in an attempt to prove that students are “achieving” We do this and say our kids are achieving but what are they actually achieving. I have been an educator for 17 years and have always fought for a system of education that allows choice and freedom, similar to John Dewey’s philosophy.

    I have noticed that real learning takes places when we have a flexible framework in which students can direct where we end up, in most cases the state standards are still being met, or at least the overall concepts. When this became my dominant approach I never looked back, though I was always reflective. A few years back myself and some friends embarked on the journey of attempting to start a High School in Keene, since we were willing to challenge the current trend of education. This fell through as a result of personal circumstances with all members of the group. I am still working towards this on my own but it is a long process. (Please e-mail on ANE mail, if you would like to hear more about this)

    I remember when I was in 8th grade, my social studies teacher took out two days from the norm and did an extended period lesson on the holocaust, he showed us photos , read us letters, gave us some facts and let us talk to him and each other about what we felt and thought. He ended this by challenging, us saying “If you are sickened by this if this turns your stomach, then do something about it, do the small things you can do every day to make sure this doesn’t happen again” Of course many questions followed about what we could do, he responded with “smile, be kind, think, stand up for what is right, and many other life lessons.

    This experience changed my life because I made an emotional connection, and I do believe this when the most powerful learning takes places, to allow students to experience and make emotional connections to a topic, event, project, etc. This is what I strive for in my teaching ( I have a long way to go) and believe what we all need to fight for, this culture of test, test, test, assess, assess, assess actually can dilute the experience if this is our only focus. How would the experience I just relayed be assessed? There is not a way to quantify it, maybe a chi square test , how would it qualified, yet it is one of the major reasons I have chosen to follow the path I am on. I want be clear and say that I do believe assessments are important and can be valuable this should not be the focus. In my own learning and teaching I have noticed that the learning is best when the emphasis on assessment is removed and all are freed up to learn , reflect and grow.

  3. I agree with Peter when he states that real learning takes place in a flexible environment that is student driven. I too started several schools designed to serve the needs of students who learned differently. When I attempted to develop a plan for students to demonstrate competency through projects and presentations at round tables, I was told that students needed to serve seat time to get the credit. Any further discussion was not allowed, but with the help of many other people, including a change in administration, it was discovered that students were not bad but bored because they were not challenged. We set our standards and expectations high and the students rose to meet the bar. The total school environment changed. Change comes slowly and with many obstacles but those who force change, are those who continue to beat on the door. We lost Ted Sizer who was a long time leader in change-who will step forward now to continue to “beat on the door” for educational reform! We all have to step up and walk the walk!

  4. I know there are people like Nelson out there who continue to strive for what is best for our student. I agree with Nelson that we must continue to beat the drum for the best education opportunity possible. One of the areas we must examine is the idea that everyone must learn the same thing, certainly we want students to have the basic skills necessary to be able to make their own choices for their lives. Learning these basic skills through personal areas of interest are more effective, so what if I learn mine through the study of Gray Wolves and someone else learns it through the study of Music ? The truth is (backed up by brain research) that we forget the things “learned” when we are not interested or it is not personally relevant.

    Referring back to my 8th grade experience I mentioned above, I would have learned all I could about it, I would have written papers, done the math, etc., Having implemented this type of learning I realize the logistical implications and the real limitations of the current system many of us find ourselves in. This being said I do know that there are schools and learning environments that exist which promote student centered learning based on student’s interests. We need to work to at least have more educational choice, where students will have the opportunity to have personal experiences.

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