We Should Talk More About Students and Less About Tests

There has been a lot of talk this past week about reforming education. I followed Education Nation as much as I could on television and online. On a side note, it was amazing to see how much influence social media has had on live, real-time events.

I read many interesting posts about changing the conversation from teachers and “the system” to one that focuses on students. I do not believe that teacher pay or student advancement should be tied to standardized tests. I am not saying that there is never a place for testing in education, but, I think we have gone way overboard with the value placed on standardized tests.

We need to focus on teaching students skills that will help them be successful in life. We should create an environment, an ecosystem, that helps students find something they are passionate about and set them up for success in life. We need to help students develop a love of learning, we need to teach them the importance of being life long learners (what that means from a skills perspective.)

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says it is a “moral imperative” for K12 educators (I would expand that to all educators) to assure that students gain the skills, knowledge and dispositions they need to be successful in a connected world.

Passion-based learning in the 21st century: An interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach @snbeach

The question becomes: what is the best pedagogy for real world learning experiences, and how does that shift when I’m using technology. As a 21st century educator, I think about the relationship between content, the kinds of strategies I’m using as a teacher, and the technologies available.

And it’s going to be a different way of thinking when I put the learner first. Instead of me having all these preconceived ideas of what they should doing, saying and producing, I have to be open to what I find in each student. I have to discover – and help each student discover – their talents and interests and create a learning environment where they can use those gifts and passions to learn from a position of strength.

John Seely Brown on Passion-based learning

The world is continuously changing at an increasing pace. Skills learned today are apt to be out-of-date all too soon. The concept of life-long learning – a term used all too glibly – is now more important than ever. When technical jobs change, we can no longer expect to send a person back to school to be re-trained or to learn a new profession. By the time that happens, the domain of inquiry is likely to have morphed
yet again.

A different approach is called for –one characterized by a demand-pull rather than the traditional supply-push mode of building up an inventory of knowledge in students’ heads. The shift from a supply-push to more of a demand-pull basis of learning is a
grand transition. The focus shifts from building up stocks of knowledge (learning-about) to enabling participation in flows of action, where the focus is on both learning-to-be through enculturation into a practice, and on collateral learning as well.

The demand-pull approach embeds students in a rich (sometimes virtual) learning community built around a practice. It is passion-based learning, intrinsically motivated by either wanting to become a member of a particular community of practice or by just wanting to learn about, make or perform something. Often the learning that transpires is informal, rather than formally conducted in a structured setting. Learning occurs in part through a form of reflective practicum, but in this case the reflection comes from being embedded in a social milieu supported by both a physical and virtual presence, and by both the amateur and the professional practitioner.