Saturday, April 12, 2014


Finally finishing an old box!
As I've been once again thinking of ways to return assessment to the hands of teachers, students and parents, and to extract assessment from the cold grasp of statisticians and from the lifeless realm of useless abstraction, the Beaufort scale again serves as a reminder of simplicity. Lets start with some basic assumptions.
  1. Learning is one of the most innate of human functions.
  2. Children have a natural curiosity about their world and how it works.
  3. Not all children have the same level of curiosity about each and every thing.
  4. All children are inclined to discover some way in which their own natural intellectual and physical capacities can be applied to the world at large, progressing outwardly from family and community.
With these basic assumptions in hand, let's visit the role of the teacher. If I compare the teacher to the sailing master on a wind borne vessel, the teacher is the master of the wind. He does not tell the wind which way to blow, but he knows the course the vessel must follow if it can, and he asks the crew to trim the sails in such a manner that that course can be met. Each member of the crew learns to anticipate which sailing order comes next and each member of the crew knows his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and understands the mission at hand because each has learned to feel a part of the vessel of learning. Students trust the ship, the sailing master and their fellows on the crew to carry them to their diverse homes.

The model in most schools is teacher as instructor, captain of the classroom, in charge of discipline, and in control of delivery of learning, as though the feelings and interests and the variability of curiosities and capacities of the crew do not matter. All must be taught the same things to meet the same standards. That which the curriculum demands be imparted will be without regard to the direction the wind is blowing, and without regard for the individual interests of each child. This idea of schooling is formulated in complete disregard for the four basic assumptions listed above.

If a child is empowered with a sense of confidence about his or her own learning, all a teacher needs to do is observe the child's position on the Beaufort scale of learning and to nudge in the right direction. The wise teacher observes that which is going on with the child and offers encouragement in the right time and  in the right direction. Then if the children are empowered to do real things. No one will need standardized testing to prove that they've learned to do real things.

The object here is to take advantage of real life that surrounds us.

There is a movement afoot to withhold children from schools on days in which standardized tests are to be administered. Standardized testing is a distraction from real learning. Policymakers are using standardized benchmark testing to take greater control over student learning. But the farther things go in that direction, the less responsive education becomes to the actual interests of the child...  interests that would be most easily restored and monitored by doing real things in nature, in the community, in science, in art, in music and in the wood shop.

In my own wood shop today I will be assembling and finishing boxes, including the one above that I started a number of years ago, and that served as a model in my book Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making. I've been given the nudge to finish it from sample hinges sent to me by Ian Hawthorne, box maker extraordinaire from the UK. You can view his work at Hawthorne Crafts.

Make, fix and create...

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