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Friday, June 7, 2013

Education Reform and Reflective Practice.

In recent weeks I have heard dissident cries against CCSS. One of the more common was the oft-repeated mantra that goes something like this: "There's always some new initiative in education, why I've been through several. Remember when they came out with, 'state standards,' 'New Math'...? This is just like all the others. There'll be a new fad any day now." To be brutally honest, the sound like crotchety old-timers, "Why in my day..."

I actually have great hopes for CCSS. The shift in teaching methods that it proposes towards students actively learning by publishing and producing projects, versus the passive learning of worksheets and (shudder) Cornell notes, and other misguidedly ineffective practices, is more in line with everything I know and have learned about how students really learn. Remember its about student learning, just because you taught it and they filled out a worksheet doesn't mean they learned it, But if they can demonstrate that knowledge by producing content...

The cry against these periodic shifts in educational practice entirely misses the point of them. We preach the gospel of reflective practice for ourselves as individuals, why not for education as a whole? When I entered the teaching profession, I had actually had the vision of myself as the 'sage on the stage,' pontificating my wisdom and experience on the 'Youth of America.' (True story. I guess its what happens when your daddy is a preacher.) Through reflective practice, I learned that isn't what is best for students, and that is not how they learn. Even when I began using technology, then flipping and blending my classroom, it was an evolving and reflective process. I had to find out what worked. I couldn't just unpack a box, find all the parts, and assemble a working model. It took adjustments, shifts and changes. The last two years I completely changed my grading practices to providing direct, one-on-one feedback on student work. I think it is one of my better and more successful changes, but even that needs to be refined and revised.

Like medicine, teaching is a practice. We learn by trying things out. Much like science, we shift in response to new information and understanding. We probably never will 'arrive.' That's what reflective practice is all about. Sincere, hard-working professionals that are trying to do the best for children. The thought running through my brain lately is, this process also applies to education as a whole. The shifts in education are a result of reflective practice that are trying to improve and make things better. Do they always work? I don't know. Do the pills your doctor give you always work? Does every science experiment and theory hold up? Does everything you've tried in your classroom succeed?... I'll pause for a moment and let that sink in. In fact, let's read it again. Does everything you've tried in your classroom succeed?

What do you do when it fails, or doesn't work as well as you would like? You change - or you should if you are the passionate professional you claim to be. Education as a whole must do the same. Instead of suspiciously eyeing them new-fangled autymobiles, get out of your horse and buggy and try it out. Do what you always do implement, reflect, and adjust. No textbook, no lesson, no educational practice is ever perfect. Students are not cookies, and we can't use a cookie cutter to make them. In fact, we can't even use the same recipe forever. Embrace change in education, its called reflective practice.