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Q: What should I do with all these ideas?
As promised, this unit does not presume to tell you how to change your school or classroom. Although what we are learning about learning certainly suggests a need for change, every school and every classroom present different circumstances. From the beginning, our goal has been both to help you internalize and understand new ideas and to reinforce or support discoveries that derive from your own classroom experiences. The purpose is to enable you to create and experiment with ways to improve the learning of your students. Now, we offer a few illustrations of how some teachers have applied the principles of this course to their classrooms or schools. Some of these changes have been modest, while others have been systemic.
For example, Nick and Martha, the two teachers about whom you will read in Sections 3 and 5, don't start as revolutionaries, though they certainly evolve in that direction. Nick begins with a desire to offer more choice to the students in his English class; he was simply looking for a way for his students to feel connected to literature. Martha starts with an idea about how to reduce the fear of and focus on grades in her history classroom. This is how change begins. Someone faces a problem, invents a solution, and gives it a try. Other teachers might begin with even (top)
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more modest changes, though they often feel very big to the teacher. One might decide that he is going to stop lecturing and let his students talk more, and find out what they think before telling them what he thinks. Another might decide to spend more time getting to know her students as people and create emotional connections on a personal level. One thing leads to another, and slowly these teachers influence other teachers or, eventually, become leaders—department chairs, division heads, principals—and these modest changes spread. All that matters is that you continue to think, imagine, invent, and experiment.
There are thousands of good teachers and many good schools in this country, all deeply committed to young people. Interest in research, attendance at professional conferences and workshops, and willingness to try out promising ideas—such as constructivism, understanding by design, and differentiated instruction—are evidence of their presence. But good teachers and good schools continue to struggle against 19th-century assumptions about how learning happens. The larger system doggedly clings to untenable traditional assumptions about learning. Today, the growing alliance between educators and researchers offers a real opportunity to challenge these assumptions.