Debate Magazine

We Have to Stop Daydreaming About This

By Stevemiranda

I’m a big fan of Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” has been viewed by millions of people around the world. He was recently in Vancouver, and the Vancouver Sun did a nice story about his visit, and his message.

Here are a couple quotes from the story:

“Personalized learning, to me, is the process of contouring learning to the individuals that you’re dealing with, recognizing that we all have different strengths and weaknesses, different interests [and] different ways of learning,” [Robinson] said.

“It isn’t that everyone has to learn different things, although eventually our interests will take us in different directions,” he continued. “But in terms of the things we want all people to learn … personalized learning is finding the best ways to engage with people with different interests, passions and ways of thinking.”

The news story ends with this:

Asked what three tips he would give teachers striving to adapt personalized learning, Robinson said they first need to realize they have more freedom in the classroom than they think. A curriculum sets a framework, but how they teach is up to them.

Secondly, they must be certain they are doing a job they love and should treat their art form seriously. “Take time to study techniques of teaching, look at other teachers, be prepared to have people come and look at you, and do what people in other fields do: be open to criticism and be open to learning and growing,” he stated.

His third tip was be prepared to learn from students. “Kids are often full of ideas that they’re willing to offer if you create the right culture in the room or the school to provide them. The history of education is peppered with wonderful, groundbreaking inspirational teachers who did all of those things. If they can do it, you can do it.”

* * *

Personalize the learning process. Be open to learning and growing. Listen to kids.

OK, got it. These messages are very important. But, they can only take us so far. Authors, researchers, and lecturers can only do so much of the work, and there comes a point when educators need to get busy. The next question is, What do these ideas actually look like in practice?

* * *

Here are a couple examples of things we’re going to try at PSCS this year:

• Project Mondays

This used to be “Community Service Mondays.” But because none of our program activities are set in stone—we’re constantly re-evaluating and experimenting with the best way to express the school’s philosophy—we decided it was time to try something new. So the staff is going to pitch a series of activities, in addition to extending an invitation to students to pitch ideas that are even better, that will take place every Monday in the fall with the explicit intention of building community.

When students are engaged in activities that bring them joy, and are doing so in small groups of eight or nine, it builds a bond that enriches the school environment. We used to do that with community service; we think we can do it better through projects.

• Re-imagining the volunteer program

Our volunteer program consists of inviting people from the larger community to pitch classes to students. If the students are interested, the class gets put on the scheduling board. This year, however, we’re trying something new: What if we invited people to come to campus and just to do something they love doing?

If you love video editing, bring your laptop and connect to a projector. Maybe there’s a kid who’s not signed up for a class at that time that might be intrigued by what you’re doing; maybe she’ll want to ask you a few questions about it.

If you love repairing beat up old guitars, we want you to set up a table and do it on campus.

If you love doing 3-D sidewalk chalk art, we want you to bring your chalk to campus.

This is a different kind of teaching in that it’s spontaneously responding to a student’s curiosity in the moment. This is the kind of activity that enriches the school environment.

* * *

Will these new ideas work? I don’t know. But we’re going to find out.

There are two things we’re not going to. We’re not going to force students to participate in a battery of required activities, then use punishments and rewards to ensure compliance.

And, we’re not going to sit around watching Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED talk, lament the sad state of education in this country, and daydream about what it would be like if school was different.

As a society, we have to stop daydreaming about this.

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