Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's Your Passion

What’s your passion?  If you don’t answer quickly and honestly with your current career, you’re probably in the wrong one.  I remember lining up my stuffed animals as a child.  The bedroom of my parents’ double wide trailer became a classroom in which I was a teacher.  Back then, there was no KERA, no NCLB, no Race to the Top, no Common Core.  I was learning for learning’s sake.  I probably did a better job teaching my Care Bears and Pound Puppies than I do teaching my current students (by the current standards).  Why?    Because I was passionate about learning.  When did kids lose that?  Our education system today robs students and teachers of the joy and excitement that comes with learning something new.  The focus is on perfecting specific skill sets in specific standards, not on learning.

Students today don’t become passionate about school and learning.  They become passionate about things outside of school.  Why not build on those interests?  The idea behind out country is centered on independence, but in schools, every child is supposed to be taught an identical curriculum.  This is a disservice, especially to those students who fall behind in grade level and the so-called gap only continues to widen until there is never an opportunity for them to catch up in all areas.  Let’s move away from teaching content and to teaching skills and strategies.  By doing this, we open the whole world to kids instead of narrowing their education to reading, writing, math, science and social studies.  Even that list sounds boring!  What about promoting critical thinking and creativity above all else?  I really can’t see how multiple choice and extended response questions can function as an effective assessment of these skills.  In the real world, I have never been instructed to sit down and write a 3.5 essay.  Never have I been asked to compute a calculus problem.  I most definitely have never been quizzed over geographical land forms, electricity, or “The Grapes of Wrath”.  I’m sure we can all agree that in some very specific careers, these pieces of knowledge are important.  But what about those who dream of being a mechanic, a construction worker, a plumber, or an office secretary?  These careers require a specific set of skills and knowledge.  Beyond basic reading, writing and arithmetic, the skills needed are not those in the required Common Core State Standards.   Let’s base learning on a passion.  Let’s give kids options and choice in their own education.

What about the standardized testing we force on our students?  In Kentucky, all juniors are required to take the ACT, if they are on the high school diploma track.  Our students with mild mental disabilities who struggle to read at an elementary level and have difficulties with basic math skills are not excluded.  We put an insane amount of pressure on these kids to score well, and while many of them want to please and try their best, all we do is set them up to fail miserably.  These scores are used only for data for the “powers that be”.  This year I had a gifted student who had been placed in my Response to Intervention “class”.  First of all, it was ridiculous that I had this group of students in an intervention class to begin with.  They all belonged in a class where they could extend their learning.  This particular student, however, was frustrated and slightly upset because he missed a test question, on yet another assessment, that asked what a gerund was.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I, a reading and writing specialist with three college degrees, had to look at him and say, “I have no idea.”  But I did know how to find the answer and having that skill was way more important and beneficial than having that useless piece of knowledge that is so unimportant in life.

For all of society’s advances, education seems to be taking a step backward.  It’s not keeping up with society.  Actually, in my opinion, it’s not keeping up with common sense.  Kids are so constrained by the standards-based boundaries that we are actually restricting their growth instead of allowing them to flourish.  If we want individuals who become functioning members of society, we need to focus on their strengths and talents and stop training them in such a conformist manner.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you spoke about passion.
    Here is a program for High School seniors that is all about following one's passion.
    WISE students can accomplish anything when given the opportunity to follow their individual passions. The WISE experience frees students from the limitations of the classroom, encouraging them to explore the larger world around them as they prepare to enter it.

    The WISE project is the journey the student takes—a journey through which knowledge, self-awareness, and maturity grow. Students on target for graduation select a subject about which they are passionate and design an individualized project around it. Because the students are immersing themselves in something that has real meaning to them, they develop intrinsic motivation to succeed.

    Mentor: Each student selects a mentor from the school staff with whom the student has a rapport. Teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school secretaries, custodians, school safety officers and cafeteria workers can be mentors. Mentors need not be expert in the subject matter of the project, as they become fellow “travelers” on the students’ journeys.
    Journal: Written daily, a journal is an essential documentation of the project journey, research and reflections. Although it is a daily record, the journal is not a diary; it is a complete record of the student’s experience. Students are encouraged to include pictures, graphs, diagrams, articles, interviews and anything that is a relevant part of their project.

    The journal is a “semi-public” document, as it will be read by others. In addition to the mentor, task force members read the journal approximately six weeks into the process. The close relationship between mentor and mentee requires “outside eyes” to help them see what they may not. Task force members read the journal again prior to the presentation to be better able, after the presentation, to assess the student’s entire project and journey.

    Research and Bibliography: Fieldwork and research in the subject matter of a project enable a student to gain skills that can lead to lifelong learning. Students are encouraged to read professional journals and newspapers, watch documentaries, interview experts in the field, use the internet, take field trips and attend concerts, theater, debates, speeches or forums as part of developing an extensive variety of sources for information. As part of their journals, students are required to include an annotated bibliography of the sources they used. Students also use the annotated bibliography as part of their presentation booklet to make those in attendance aware of the variety of research.

    Presentation: At the end of the semester, students present their projects to the school community, parents and friends. The presentation represents each student’s journey and is a review of the peaks and valleys—the successes and failures—each encountered in the process of working on the project.

    After the question and answer session, the student, the mentor, and task force evaluators meet privately for a private assessment, during which the task force evaluators comment on the journal, the mentor relationship, time management during the project, the presentation and anything of relevance to the student. Task Force evaluators (community, school, and fellow students) offer specific, constructive criticism “sandwiched” between positive feedback. The student and the mentor have the last word, responding to the evaluators’ assessments.

    Because the students “own the projects,” most are self-motivated and rally, with mentor “coaching,” to complete their projects successfully. Increasingly, mentors and students meet after the presentation to discuss the committee’s assessment. The mentor also provides a written assessment to be included in the student’s permanent record and transcript.

    - See more at: