This is a summary and then expansion of a riff of mine from a debate on the grades vs learning issue in the middle of a fascinating high-paced jam session on the future of education and new contexts for schooling at foocamp 2009.
I want teachers and the administrators responsible for their teaching environments to reframe their mission as stewards of "ubiquitous, inclusive learning". Terms like "no child left behind", "successful learning outcomes" etc. all put the emphasis on judgement and result in a fruitless debate around "good and bad students", "good and bad schools", "good and bad curriculum", "good and bad countries" to learn in etc.
After experiencing an amazingly effective inclusive learning environment for several years (International Guitar Seminars summer school), I realized I had to go back to my early childhood and identify what all the specially effective teachers I learned from were doing and try to incorporate this into my own teaching.
Here is what I concluded:
- EVERYONE in the class was actively learning
- Teaching materials were created on-the-fly as required with occasional reference to "required" texts and curriculum
- No time was wasted on disciplining.
- The teachers could teach anything effectively and stepped around any preconceptions or negativity the students brought into the class
- They didn't spend too much time on grading and evaluating because everybody did well!
We all like to feel successful in a learning situation but there is a special additional joy of being part of a group in which everyone is succeeding and growing and I urge you to seek out and promote teachers and institutions that make this happen.
But how do these teachers do it?
It all stems from accepting that it is the teacher's job to design the lesson and the learning environment so that everyone learns. This may seem obvious but too many teachers assume that the administration, textbook writers and curriculum developers have already figured this out for all the students. These teachers imagine that all they have to do is take the students on a guided tour through the materials and triage "winning and losing" learners. Successful teachers never use any overt or covert messages around success or failure. This is not as easy at seems as so much educational material is written this way. I illustrate this at the end of this note with an example.
How do you learn to teach this effective way?
To be ready you have to work through your own doubts and realize that anything is explainable. You have take up the challenge of using your student's struggles (after all they are doing the hard work of learning) to figure out what you actually know and where you need to learn knew ways of explaining and teaching.
An example of successful teaching: 2 against 3 meter
My guitar teacher Bob Brozmann is remarkably good at teaching rhythm to anyone. I work on refining one of his first lessons (2 against 3 polymeter) to test my own as progress as a teacher. This skill is traditionally considered as somewhat advanced and tricky to learn and teach. Approached positively and confidently and inclusively it can be taught in a few minutes to anyone with or without any musical background or training. Here is an old video of me teaching it to a narrow audience of
guitar/ukulele/charango players: http://cnmat.berkeley.edu/user/adrian_freed/blog/2005/10/19/two_against_....
I will post a recent version of me teaching it to the general public but what will really best serve my purpose in this note - to promote critical thinking on the role of judgement/evaluation in learning - I invite you to analyze this article on how to teach 2 against 3:http://www.claviercompanion.com/GriegArticle/Blick2.html.
After reading it please check my notes below where I identify negative messaging and reread it.
"It is BEST if"
"students do NOT"
"UNTIL they CLEARLY understand"
"When the duple and triple subdivisions are EXACT, students are READY to move on"
"MAY take a number of TRIES before students can ACHIEVE PERFECTLY even s"
"MANY students FALL INTO the TRAP of FAILING to"
"When they are ABLE to"
"I TRY to make it EASY for my students to COMPREHEND "
"RATHER than fitting"
"Students will have GREATER SUCCESS with two-against-three IF they understand
"I have found it HELPful"