Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Slow Education"--Inspiring blog from England

I stumbled upon a British blog called "Slow Education" a few months ago and everything I see or read there has inspired me.  The most recent post written by Maurice Holt was especially powerful.  I am not sure why it is so heartening that England is also struggling with the same questions and issues the United States is, but I appreciate the commiseration.

One benefit of teaching at an independent school, is that we do not have the shadow of state standardized tests hanging over us.  Our supreme goal is a student's future success in both college, but ultimately in a satisfying career. 

Despite the ability to shrug off the assembly line model of right answers and multiple choice over critical thinking and reasoning, these modes of education are hard to avoid completely.



I like his description of the problem:

"The government is forever telling us that the task for schools is Driving Up Standards. This mantra emerged under New Labour and continues under the Coalition. What does it mean? How are the standards defined, and how are they driven up? The idea of “driving up” evokes the image of force and power, of pushing and shoving until students deliver the goods. The government tests often use multiple-choice formats, which are cheap and easy to mark – but they are unreliable, and diminish teaching. Yet those test scores have to be “driven up” – so the result is grade inflation, and an emphasis on right answers rather than reasoned argument. First-year undergraduates now need special courses to teach them material that was once part of A-level, but is now too difficult."

 Professor Holt offered a very good description of the alternative that "slow education" offers. 

"The idea that education is all about delivering right answers is clearly misconceived. Yet it’s the inevitable consequence of this mistaken approach. Students learn, but they do not understand. And working backwards from outcomes – to deliver the required answers – is a recipe for dumbing down. Standards-driven education isn’t very different from a fast-food outlet, where packages of test-shaped knowledge are swallowed, but never properly digested. Slow food, on the other hand, starts with sound ingredients and creates a satisfying experience. So does the slow school."

As a gardener and proponent of eating "slow food," I appreciate the comparison.

Reading this post was a reminder to me that as a teacher at an independent school, I need to put my money where my mouth is with slow education.  I can, so I should try.   Many teachers out there dream of teaching a class without a mindless multiple choice test in May.  It is my duty to continue to inspire real learning, encourage critical thinking and group work, to be open to new ideas and interpretation, and to challenge students to think about the process and not always the product. 

If you need some inspiration, watch these videos of interviews with students answering the question, "If you had a whole month of school time what would you choose to learn about?"

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