The other day I was walking a second grader back to his classroom after he’d read a couple of chapters to me. We were bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have time to finish the story. I suggested he might be able to finish it during his MIL and then tell me about it later. He was suprised that I know about MIL.
For those who don’t, the acronym stands for “Managed Independent Learning.” A third grader piqued my inerest a few years ago and explained the basic concept. There are some periods throughout the day when students are, literally, allowed to manage their own learning independently. Well, there’s some obvious supervision required, but it’s pretty awesome to watch.
A slightly older colleague provides an interesting perspective on the process and why it works. I stumbled on to this TED clip a few months ago and it’s been “bothering” me ever since. While the speaker is talking very specifically about using video, spend the twenty minutes it takes to get the concept. Then tell me it doesn’t make sense.
When I’m teaching real estate courses one of the questions I get asked frequently is “Are we going to have to do this in practice/real life?” (It might not be a surprise that it most often comes up during math exercises.)
It’s a good question, of course. It’s also a hard one to answer honestly because sometimes “it depends.” So I will often put my tongue in my cheek and reply “Yes, at least once–when you take the final exam at the end of the course.”
I recently finished reading a series of articles on student engagement and motivation that I thought created several important perspectives in relation to that frequently asked question. I was attracted to the series based on a teaser suggesting it’s important to “teach your students how to fail.” Now that’s an interesting concept–and one I’m still exploring.
But what followed was the suggestion to “teach students to value learning, not performance.” That statement forced me to wheel my chair back and stare at the screen for a while. I admire the simple elegance of that suggestion.
For years we’ve met at the altar of an adult learning model that suggested we (educators/trainers) only have value when we are involved in “performance-based” training. Our lesson plans have to have “action words” in those behavioral objectives. “At the completion of this course, the student will be able to…”
I remember having my cage rattled quite a few years ago by an instructor who suggested “writing behavioral learning objectives is arrogant and presumptuous–what right do you have to decide what students are going to learn in your classes?” It’s probably fair to label him an extremist, but he makes an interesting point. As if to reinforce his point, I’ve had a number of occasions when a former student has contacted me and thanked me for something he or she learned in my class–and I don’t remember teaching it.
Our obsession with performance (including how students perform on tests) may have some unintended results. I listened to a student at the start of a recent class introduce herself with the observation she “was tired of taking classes and learning.” I thought it was a very sad statement. But I also think she’s wrong. She’s not tired of learning. I think she’s tired of being taught.
Too often our systems of education remove the joy of learning. If we can’t figure out how to put it back in, we ought to at least look at some ways to allow it!
Much as I enjoyed the article, I also ended up frustrated because–try as I might–I could not post a comment! Reading the comments already there made me want to add:
One caution is that we not move from blaming the teachers to blaming the parents. To do so would be to miss the point of the article. You can bet that the schools cited here did far more than is reported in this article. Ultimately, the ENTIRE system was affected. The article perhaps didn’t go quite far enough in describing this. One sentence that needs changing:
“In education as in industry, progress toward quality will require collaboration among administrators, teachers and their unions, the parents and the students themselves.”
Of course Demings wasn’t the only “guru” promoting this thinking, but there was a simple elegance to his approach. The approach forced us to stop finding people to blame and look at the systems those people are working under. Very often those systems punish the very behavior and outcomes being sought and reward the undesired ones.
I was a practicing systems organization development consultant during those years and can attest to the success of the approach. Organizations with red bottom lines were in crisis and desperate for a fix. Those who saw beyond blaming often achieved incredible turnarounds. The need to make a profit can be incredibly motivating.
We might start wondering when we face a similar crisis and the need to teach and develop our kids becomes similarly motivating.
While this may not be about writing, it might be a brain leak. I recently found myself intrigued by some of the thoughts of Sir Ken Robertson. In order:
Here is a link to a 20 minute video of a Presentation on School Creativity. Some of the jokes are bit worn, but he speaks in an entertaining style and will make you think. I’m hesitant to offer a synopsis, but you’ll be challenged by his point that our current model of public education was designed to meet the needs of an increasing industrialized nation. You have to wonder: does that model still fit?
Two years later he offers some thoughts on valuing creativity. Here we follow a young girl who went from being diagnosed with a learning disability that hadn’t been invented yet to a highly successful dancer and owner of her own company. How do we encourage things like this to happen? “I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity.”
Just last year, Robertson encourages us to bring on the revolution. A follow up to the 2006 presentation on school creativity, this will definitely get your blood pumping. If you’re interested in improving education, don’t miss this one!
I do love the concept of “human ecology” and will likely be writing about it some more… the way we use the term “ecology” these days is actually the third definition. In a larger and perhaps grander sense, we are talking about the relationships between humans and their environments. School (education) is as much an environment as it is a process. Those of us who teach need to understand that.
Walter Boomsma (“Mr. Boomsma”) writes on a wide array of topics including personal development, teaching and learning. Course information is also available here!