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The Future Looks like Podcasts

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Progress is, by definition, occurring all the time.

Reform, however, is a tricky thing.

Education reform, at least in the U.S., hasn’t happened a whole lot. There have been lots of equity enforcement, new testing, more new testing, and even New Math. But education itself hasn’t changed drastically ever. Kids go into a room, read information, and regurgitate that information into different formats which are graded for some set of criteria.

In 2011, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, an education consultant who works on Common Core advocacy, presented a talk at TEDxNYED on what she sees as the future of education:

I like a few things she said. Among other things, Dr. Jacobs claims that we’re schooling our kids for the 19th Century, not the 21st, so we need to modernize education to prepare our kids for the present. She also advocates getting rid of grade levels and graduation, so as to actually prepare kids for as long as they actually need school. In particular, she says that most teachers aren’t opposed to ed reform, they just don’t know where or how to start. I’ve also found that to be true. Heck, that’s what a lot of this blog is about: my search for how to try new things in class. In a less-egocentric note, Dr. Jacobs also advocates new classroom assessments, like getting rid of the oral report in favor of podcasts.

Basically, I think Dr. Jacobs is a slightly kinder, gentler version of Sir Ken Robinson:

I absolutely want my students to be interested in what they’re working on. I completely agree with not grouping kids by “manufacture date” instead of ability (more of a Montessori-esque mentality).

Here’s my question: Are Dr. Jacob’s ideas really progress? And progress toward what? How different is it for kids to read an oral report versus recording podcasts that are played for the class? Doing an interpretive dance for the pH unit instead of worksheets is far more interesting (and entertaining!), but is it really progress? When these students have to write an entrance exam for their college classes or apply for jobs, what 21st Century skills will be in their heads from having made candy models of algebraic functions rather than working out sheets of written problems? Will Tweeting a version of Ben Franklin’s life create a functional member of society more than writing a historical fiction tale or a three-paragraph summary? How are these suggestions more valuable than their predecessors?

During my teacher training, I was required to take a number of “technology”-related courses. One of the options was an entire quarter-length course on how to integrate Palm Pilots into your curriculum. Another course taught how to make WebQuests. WebQuests are sort of still around, but mostly for elementary-level kids. Palm Pilots are pretty much gone. So much for progress. Actually, of all of those courses, the only one kind of worth my time was a class on online-gradebook-keeping, which was really just a class on how to use spreadsheets.

The problem with advocates like Dr. Jacobs and Sir Robinson is that they’re not teachers grounded in the reality of today’s educational politics.

We live in a testing society. Everyone now seems to agree that NCLB doesn’t work and needs to go away (here’s a NYTimes article on a House bill that won’t pass the Senate or be signed by the President, to essentially get rid of NCLB by shifting oversight to states from feds). But no one (in politics) wants to get rid of national testing entirely. Race to the Top has tests as part of its requirements. How else can we make sure that our kids are actually learning? Dr. Jacobs advocates for the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and some territories. And the standards sound great. But why, if NCLB isn’t working, should we increase (essentially) national standards further in hopes that our students achieve them when they aren’t meeting the current, lower ones? How do these new standards increase the 21st Century skills that Dr. Jacobs advocates, and how will they help students on the No.2-pencil tests that the law requires?

As a teacher, I love ideas to modernize my curriculum. I just want to make sure it’s worth my (and my students’) class time.


2 responses »

  1. Where did the idea come from that there’s a law requiring number 2 pencil tests? The Common Core tests (SBAC and PARCC) are completely computerized and include long-term, cross-curricular, performance tasks (also on the computer).

    • I phrased that statement very poorly.

      You’re right: no law requires No.2 pencil tests in public schools. The law does require testing of some sort, but doesn’t specify how they’re structured. However, the reality is that tests are expensive, and in this age of budget cuts, bubble tests (or computerized equivalent) are far less expensive to administer and grade than essay-based, non-single answer tests.


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