Sunday, January 17, 2021

Are children learning?

During the massive and widespread disruption in American education that's resulted from the covid-19 pandemic, folks are seriously concerned about "whether or not children are learning." The answer of  course is dependent on refining the question. "Learning what?" If we're concerned about whether they're going to perform as well on standardized tests, the answer is probably not so well. If we are asking whether or not children are learning about life, and perhaps things that won't be on the standardized tests and that are more important to their ultimate success the answer is yes. 

One thing we should remind ourselves about learning is that it's one of the most important and relentless of human attributes. We learn. We learn best under certain circumstances, and if traditional schooling were more focused on providing the right circumstances, we'd not find ourselves in the predicament we're now in.

So what are the right circumstances? Education  must be closely associated with and indistinguishable from real life. In the January 18th issue of Time Magazine is an article about Spanish chef Angel Leon in which he states, "The sea saved me." "I was a terrible student. Couldn't sit still, always in trouble." "But when my dad took me out here on his boat, everything changed." And so as a chef, everything he does is related to the sea that saved him. School cannot do for children what real life can. And by artificializing learning, failing to move from the concrete to the abstract, we diminish its effect.  While we fail to engage student interest, we also fail their intelligence, leaving them ignorant of science and the processes of life that surrounds us.

I was talking with a friend, Elliot Washor, earlier in the week about assessment. The question of how do we provide evidence of learning is one that haunts those American educators, who, out of an unwillingness to understand that learning is the most natural of human inclinations, believe that education must be contrived. 

Elliot has come up with a four part assessment scheme. 

  1. Determine and follow student interest for without student interest nothing else follows. 
  2. Establish relationships. These can be mentors in or out of school, but out of school is important evidence of education having transcended the isolation of schooling. 
  3. Observe growth of skill. These can be skills of processing but aimed toward action. These can of course involve the development of hand skills as well as skills of mind. 
  4. Provide opportunities of growth in the form of delivery of service to the community both inside and out of the school walls.
I drove my tractor to school today to make use of its strength in the assembly of a new jointer at the Clear Spring School woodshop. The jointer was too heavy for me to lift out of the box and onto the jointer stand, so I used straps and the front loader of the tractor to lift it high enough to roll the stand underneath. These being covid-19 pandemic times, this was a safer approach than asking friends to help. The photo shows that. The jointer is now assembled and ready for use after it's cleaned up and grease is removed.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

1 comment:

  1. Making things concrete.
    Learning math by the way of cooking pastry:
    This book is available in French and Dutch [and naturally is metric ;-)].
    Somebody might want to translate it.
    The author sees that with the smartphone and the absence of concrete activity, young children have more difficulties with maths then 20 years ago.