Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why don't we want kids to excel?

I'm mystified. In the course of a single school year, one classroom in an impoverished school had its students excel.
students learning together - Photo credit: www.islingtongiving.org.uk

But the regional education chief dismissed the innovative methods that inspired the results saying, “The teaching method makes little difference.”

Despite having no special resources, almost all the students in that one class achieved improved, even outstanding, results, yet -- or perhaps because they succeeded without -- he concluded they didn't need more support. “Intelligence comes from necessity,” he stated.

Now if THAT were true (that “Intelligence comes from necessity”), ALL students in impoverished areas would excel. But clearly that isn't the case.

What was different in this particular classroom wasn't laptops, high-speed Internet, and tutoring; in fact, they "had intermittent electricity, few computers, limited Internet, and sometimes not enough to eat." It wasn't specially selected, particularly bright kids, though they did have one special quality according to their teacher: "Potential."

And especially, they did have one overarching advantage: the way their teacher ran the classroom. Instead of teaching, Sergio Juárez Correa decided to inspire his students to want to learn. He asked them questions and let them discover the answers. He let the work in groups and talk about how to figure out the problems. He enabled them to think.

Wouldn't you think that when his students did well on their yearend tests, everyone would be impressed? Since his class not only passed but vastly improved during the year, wouldn't you think administrators would want other classes to have a chance to achieve similar results? Wouldn't you think it would behoove all educational providers to implement similar methods -- if only to prove that they weren't the driving factor?

But no one did. No one rushed to emulate the effective techniques in that one classroom. No one scrapped the industrial top-down rigid model of public education to encourage creativity, innovation, and student-driven thinking. No one argued how much more beneficial to us all it would be if the future became more than a repetition of the past.

Of course the problem is that student-centered education is messy and irregular. Its unpredictability makes it hard for administrators to control. It's more work for teachers. It's more challenging for the kids. It's less standardized, too unlike the testing system that it feeds.

But imagine the possibilities. Students would love to learn. They'd be inspired to do more and try more ideas out and think for themselves. Kids would come up with creative answers and explore new ideas and create better innovative results.

With our education system lagging behind in an accelerating world, parents and teachers who care need to step up their game. Encouragement and attention, two essentials to overcoming less than optimal institutions, go a long way to make up for lack of costly resources, but the key is to praise kids effectively.

In her book Mindset, Carol Dwerk advocates praise for process as the best way to encourage the best learning for everyone, but her research now shows this is especially important for girls. And paradoxically, Dwerk stresses the necessity of experiencing overcomeable failures along the way as essential stepping stones to both resilience and success.

It really doesn't take all that much effort or expensive resources to make a huge improvement in kids' success in schools -- just attention and encouragement and an environment where challenges take effort and creativity and thought. When little stumbles are rewarded as part of the process of achieving improvement and ultimately new challenges, there's no limit on the possibilities.

Really, every parent knows that or we'd have a world filled with non-walking, non-talking, non-functional teens. We start kids off with the right encouragement, so why are we abandoning the process that works and instead demanding conformity, rejecting struggle, and pressuring for perfection? Parents and teachers need to re-examine their motivations and stimulate kids' natural interest in exploring the unknown.

Loosing the genius of curiosity seems a small price to pay for a quantum leap payoff.

I wonder... what you think.
Photo credit: www.islingtongiving.org.uk

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