Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten EduKare School Reform Paths...

 flickr image via woodleywonderworks

... and the tools we need to travel them.

Wyle E. Coyote knew that kits could help him catch that roadrunner, but the kit alone wasn't enough. He also needed a path. What's the difference? I will say simply that kits are the tools that help us down the path. Wiley didn't have a well-thought out plan; no philosophical foundation to follow when hunting roadrunners, so the tools in his ACME kits were ineffective. Paths and tools to help navigate them need to synchronize if either is to be effective.

For some time now, a global group of excellent thinkers have been vetting a path for EduKare; a philosophical concept designed to improve schools making them better, faster and less costly within their local teaching and learning environments. We are joined in our thought circles weekly by others who are on very similar paths, but who perhaps are using different kits to effect good change in education. I think it's a good idea to share our toolkits so the path to improving teaching and learning environments can be made even more efficient.

Cathy Davidson (via Twitter @CatinStack) blogged the following points recently at HASTAC (Humanities, Art, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboration).
My Twitter pal Michael Josefowicz, who tweets as @toughLoveforx, is one of the very best tweeters on all things education.   He asked me recently about where I thought education reform needed to begin and last night I tweeted 10 for starters . . . but there are so many more.   Please add more ideas and tweet them.   The other person in this Twitter feed is @graingered (Sean Grainger) who I also know only from his Twitter feed.   Follow all these good folks:  #GoodEd

@catinstack's 10 late-night tweets on ed reform (w some a.m. edits): 
  1. End standardized EOG tests--they demotivate learning and good teaching
  2. Test in challenging way, use tough game mechanics w real-time feedback and new challenges
  3. ABCD grading is 19th c factory standard, meat packers: need nuance, subtle, real, honest assessment
  4. Make learning real, relevant, tied to communities, real experience, accomplishment, worth
  5. Omit industrial age "two cultures" binary (stem v art, human, soc). Really? in the Information age?
  6. Teach kids to think through, with, about, for--and create--new, interactive digital global communication
  7. Nourish ability, stop diagnosing, labelling, stigmatizing, medicating disability
  8. Restore arts, music, shop, PE: soul stirring learning that lets kids move, make, sing, dream
  9. stop making college implicit standard for all education, back to preschool. Many worthy careers don't need higher ed
  10. Involve parents, guardians, friends, grandparents as teacher's aids; subsidize healthy breakfasts and lunches

This is as succinct a list as I have seen relative to 10 very relevant education paths to consider. I think dialog around the specific tools to help us get down these paths is warranted, so I've contextualized an EduKare kit in response to Cathy's list (see list below each point):

  1. End standardized EOG tests--they demotivate learning and good teaching
    1. From an Edukare perspective, tests are not inherently bad. The timing of tests, however, can be problematic  for students outside the average range. End of grade tests are based on the assumption that all kids should be able to learn a predetermined set of skills and knowledge on a relatively similar timeline, and are therefore placed in organizational units (grades.) An EduKare idea is to place kids in age cohorts, but not necessarily to assign each cohort a set of grade-level based curriculum standards. Kids could be assessed based on their skill and knowledge acquisition over a 13 year spectrum. This would provide extension for faster developing kids, and developmental supports for slower developing kids. End of grade tests would be replaced with quarterly assessments to gauge progress on the 13 year spectrum of skill and knowledge acquisition as correlated to the prescribed curriculum. The 13 year K-12 school spectrum is a vastly different experience for every single student, and each develops at a unique pace. EduKare schools believe that kids can travel their learning paths at their own comfortable learning pace if teachers are prepared to apply individualized instruction meeting the child at each developmental milestone along the 13 year spectrum. Mixed abilities could work well if teachers are willing to base some of their instruction in mixed age groups within the school.
    2. Teachers who can collaborate with other age cohort teachers within their own schools are those who can make learning relevant for kids across the developmental spectrum by ensuring that mixed-age kids have lots of time to interact and learn together. It's the responsibility of all teachers to know their curriculum. Sharing this knowledge with each other will help teachers design developmentally relevant learning experiences for all kids, and getting kids together makes this even easier.                                                                                
  2. Test in challenging way, use tough game mechanics w real-time feedback and new challenges
    1. EduKare schools leverage "tough game mechanics" so to speak, in every curricular activity; within a technology context, and otherwise. Worksheets and prescribed answer booklets and resources are not common in an EduKare school. Teachers plan highly developed learning activities that focus on student thinking. Students have to think... this is the work in learning, and EduKare teachers ensure it is challenging, but adaptable to each child's developmental reality so it remains engaging and enjoyable for all (see collaborative learning options using cross-cohort activity groupings above)
    2. EduKare teachers know that they are assessing kids ubiquitously. In every exchange, every activity, every challenge, there is something that can be said relative to how well a student performs. When this performance is tied to a clear understanding of the 13 year continuum of skills and knowledge each student is working toward, excellent statements can be made about where each child fits at any given moment. Does this mean every teacher needs to know 13 years worth of curriculum? Of course not. It does mean that they need to be aware that kids don't necessarily fit the prescribed grade system (some do, as in the "mean"), which means we have to do our homework to determine where they do fit, and find the appropriate supports for them.
  3. ABCD grading is 19th Century factory standard, meat packers: need nuance, subtle, real, honest assessment
    1. EduKare schools use Personal Learning Stories as the basis of assessment reporting for every student across the K-12 spectrum. EduKare teachers tie student assessment levels directly to the curricular outcomes routinely established by education department authorities, but they don't limit the field of achievement to one particular grade level. When necessary Edukare teachers do the research required to establish understanding of outcomes above and below what would be considered typical for a child of any given age to ensure that each is assessed fairly and positively. Nobody "fails" in an EduKare school. Kids simply achieve a requisite skill or understanding relative to established curricular outcomes at their own pace, and we report at what time along the learning path this celebrated effort results in success.
  4. Make learning real, relevant, tied to communities, real experience, accomplishment, worth
    1. Edukare is, above all, a wrap-a-round service provision model. Authentic learning is key, and EduKare schools routinely apply the skills and expertise of other helping professionals, the larger community, business enterprise, volunteers etc. using the school as a base of operation. This element is critical... there is no better place to coordinate children's services than from inside the school.
  5. Omit industrial age "two cultures" binary (stem v art, human, soc). Really? in the Information age?
    1. EduKare schools do not wish to separate science from humanities, but rather view them as complementary just like the arts, etc. are complementary to core subject areas like math and social studies. There is undoubtedly a place for objective science in school, but when complemented by a constructivist post-modern perspective, the thinking behind science becomes more creative and engaging. Edukare schools celebrate diversity of culture as in the broad vantage points that all members of a school community represent. Embracing these vantage points, sharing them and learning form each other's is key to understanding and acceptance.
    2. EduKare schools consider creativity to be perhaps the most profoundly desirable quality kids need to possess to move the world forward. To this end, the blending of science with humanities opens creative possibilities for kids to explore the unknown. EduKare schools insist that kids define questions and discover answers as opposed to education platforms that define answers and make up the questions. 
  6. Teach kids to think through, with, about, for--and create--new, interactive digital global communication
    1. At the heart of technology inclusion inside an EduKare school is a moral and ethical purpose it's designed to support. EduKare schools believe that digital technology, like the arts, humanities etc. has tremendous capacity to help kids and teachers connect with each other, and make networked connections around the globe, but that these should always be designed for a learning purpose and not just for the sake of the connection.
    2. EduKare schools believe that technology can enhance everyday learning inside and outside the classroom, and that every effort should be made to incorporate digital technology as a tool to engage learners and make teaching and learning more efficient. Edukare schools access open source software routinely, and also believe open source hardware is a really good idea.
  7. Nourish ability, stop diagnosing, labelling, stigmatizing, medicating disability
    1. Edukare schools are strengths-based institutions. They understand that "normal is just a setting on the dryer," and strive to value the contribution to learning that every single child makes. Edukare schools do not equate kids with the tabula rasa (blank slate) metaphor that pre-school kids are often attached with, and rather think of kids entering schools as numerosus rasa... the child as an abundant slate.
    2. There are undoubtedly instances where kids are suffering mental illness that needs to be addressed in clinical ways. As a result of having clinical personnel based in the school, these needs would be addressed competently by professionals who are specialized in their training and have the background experience to make appropriate decisions. Teachers are left to teach, but are expected to support the clinical process by providing classroom evidence relative to the efficacy of treatment. 
  8. Restore arts, music, shop, PE: soul stirring learning that lets kids move, make, sing, dream
    1. EduKare schools believe that kid's dreams are the crystal balls that tell us how to engage them in their learning. EduKare  schools deeply value children's dreams, and leverage them toward engaged learning, and inspired teaching. Through the learning story, Edukare teachers learn about kid's dreams and make them come alive within their classrooms by including elements of them in their planning and teaching.
    2. EduKare schools incorporate arts, music, physical movement and any other element that fits kid's dreams into the classroom ubiquitously. They shy away from prescribed, segregated timetables that fit these "subjects" into concentrated time slots, and rather use art, music, movement etc. specialists as team teachers within the classroom to enhance  learning by clearly expressing the message that these elements permeate culture and the human experience in omnipresent ways around the world. It's called multi-sensory learning; learning that targets the senses as often as possible. Kids who can hear, see, touch, taste, smell and physically move through a learning experience will undoubtedly remember it.
  9. Stop making college the implicit standard for all education, back to preschool. Many worthy careers don't need higher education
    1. The implicit standard for EduKare schools is learning. It seems strange to assert that school should be about learning, but it appears that the overemphasis on college as the golden ticket to career and financial success has corroded this assertion to some degree. EduKare schools promote the idea that kids need to find something they love to do, and then as adults, they need to find a way to make money doing it. A concentrated effort to bring the working world to the school is made in Edukare schools so kids can be exposed to a wide variety of career paths, not just for the sake of understanding career paths, but more to let kids see where their dreams fit along the career spectrum. Guests from every aspect of the working world are routinely invited to share their passions with kids in Edukare schools.
    2. EduKare schools believe the path to developing grounded and engaged learners is by providing teachers who are grounded and engaged learners. Teachers who are excited about learning everyday, and are happy to do it alongside their students, are going to be effective.
  10. Involve parents, guardians, friends, grandparents as teacher's aids; subsidize healthy breakfast and lunches
    1. As mentioned before, EduKare schools bring the community to their schools. They know implicitly that schools cannot be effectively removed from the community, and the larger society in which they exist.
    2. EduKare schools also as often as possible take their students outside the school. Learning from place is highly valued in an EduKare school (see multi-sensory learning above) because there are simply those qualities of places that can't be effectively described or experienced from the vantage point of a one-dimensional lesson plan from within the classroom, even suing modern technology. The visceral and authentic nature of places trumps even the best website, textbook, lecture or video any day.
The EduKare school concept is designed on a philosophical platform (path), but the tools used to support and maintain it can take multiple forms... the kit won't always look the same as ones used in other EduKare schools. My points above detail one set of tools that would support Cathy Davidson's list of reform ideas, but the EduKare platform is designed to adapt to any reform idea, or any local school context. The tools we choose to support our school's EduKare path need to be adaptable and flexible as they fit our school.

I'm so happy to be involved in the education reform dialog. Kids deserve these conversations in the interest of perpetual improvement of the system that should be designed by nature to continuously retool and revise its practice to best serve their needs.
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