Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Catalog of Brilliant Ideas That You Can't Use Anytime Soon.

I've had a few careers in my time. Working in radio, playing music full time and teaching. All of these are centered around communication in one way or another. Playing music often has, at it's core, the desire to reach an audience whether live people in front of you or listeners around the world who are streaming a recording you made. As a teacher, I often see myself as a song and dance man. One area where my various careers diverges is how feedback is processed and how new ideas are implemented. Perhaps it's because broadcasting and music are both very much market driven fields that response and adapting to new trends or information tends to happen quickly. Teaching, on the other hand seems to exist in a strange Twilight Zone of alternate reality when it comes to change and growth. I've often said that my grandmother, who taught elementary school in the 1940s-50s could be dropped into most any modern classroom (with a little help from a time machine) and apart from the computer on the teacher's desk, be able to jump right into most any lesson. Show her a schedule and she'd be lining up kids for lunch, or music, practicing writing or multi-digit multiplication with ease. How much has the world changed in the last century? How much more do we know about how humans learn? How little difference is there in the basic structure of schools?
My experience over the last few years in education has been that most all research into effective and powerful learning shows that the best ways to guide student learners are completely at odds with the standard school structure.  Dan Heath writes about the "power of moments" , Alison Zmuda talks about student engagement and a host of studies show that student centered learning, or learning experiences that embrace the messy qualities of learning are the most long lasting. Not surprisingly these kinds of learning experiences rarely fit into the daily schedule of most schools. I conducted research focused on reading instruction several years ago and the basic finding was that to have a high quality experience, to really push students in their thinking skills, we needed to throw out the current literacy program (Rigby) and make the reading time open ended, it might take 45 minutes, it might take an hour and a half. Everyone reading the report loved the insights the students showed in terms of the books they were reading, everyone loved the depth of the conversations and the connections made, everyone agreed that we'd never be able to do this in our schools.
I wonder. Do other professions have this interesting disconnect? Does the research that demonstrates how best to move forward, how best to achieve the stated goals of the profession receive glowing praise and then is ignored?
Data is the Holy Grail of contemporary education. "Drilling down in the data" is a favorite activity as long as the conclusions or discoveries can be used within the constraints of the school system.
What would happen if we really investigated and then acted on the discoveries? What would happen if we didn't already have an answer in mind, but were open to possibilities? 
Imagine that.