When my son was in middle school, I remember his seventh grade class moving from one subject and one room together, directed by the teacher, and following a painted line on the floor. To not stay within the line meant a reprimand or even worse, a discipline referral. Yet in real life, in the world for which we are preparing these adolescents and early adolescents, there are few painted lines to follow, and rarely someone to walk us from one experience to the next.
For those of us who have been educators for a while, when asked to reflect on our own schooling, we can recall common experiences that have a lot to do with standardization but not so much with innovation. In fact, it strikes me that while there is a high level of interest now in innovation among education circles, there is also a countervailing norm to keep things orderly with uniforms, requirements for seat time and strict discipline codes, and to measure everything we do in school with a single test. Something has to give.
If we want to foster innovative thought, adaptability and complex problem solving on the part of our students, we need to engage them in activities that develop these various abilities. We cannot teach them about innovation or change or resilience; instead we must give them experiences that develop creative responses to a rapidly changing society, nation and world. Employing the transmission model of knowledge as the dominant pattern for learning will not serve our students well. Even classrooms that vary the lecture, textbook questions and test pattern with an occasional culminating project are not preparing students to be deep or original thinkers, or to be particularly engaged in school. Instead, as educational leaders—and I’m including both administrators and teachers in this category—we need to open up the classroom, provide more opportunities for students to pursue interests, engage in extended investigations, and produce authentic demonstrations of their work for the teacher but also for the larger community. Real learning, the kind that students do on their own through social media, for example, is not limited to four walls, 50 minute blocks, standardized pacing guides, or a single test given on one day of the year.
For more on our view of what education can be visit our About CTL page and video.