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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

So...What Do We Do? (a follow-up)

Last night's Blog post entry lamented the lethargic pace and misdirected path of reforming public schools in America.

Not one to be content merely with raising concerns, I will offer proposed solutions. These suggestions are fueled by my professional experience and greatly influenced by the thought provoking words of Mary Cullinane, Director of Innovation, US Partners of Learning of the Microsoft Corporation, who delivered the closing remarks at the Fall Institute of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

1. Move from a static, predetermined, outdated and not entirely relevant curriculum to an engaging, timely, dynamic, and fluid scope and sequence of skills and knowledge.

2. Use readily available data to personalize the path of instruction for each learner. Exploit technology to collect, store, and retrieve data with efficiency and effectiveness to tailor the rate of coverage to the individual. This represents a move from differentiate instruction, which tends to sort learners into temporary skill/work groups, to an individualized course of instruction.

3. If we adopt and sustain personalized instructional paths then the next obstacle is the archaic model of 180 days per year from September to June school calendar that recognizes seat time more than it reflects a commitment to continuous progress. Time is the currency of learning metrics.

4. Mary Cullinane referred to her personal experience as a former high school History teacher responsible for teaching a class on current events - while required to use a school adopted textbook that was three years old! Content is not static, learning is not experienced in isolation whereby subject matters do not interact. That is, disciplines are interconnected and knowledge is organic and constantly growing. Reliance on textbooks, even those less than three years old, still falls short of constructing a relevant and meaningful context in a world which is dominated by 24 hour 7 day a week access to information.

5. Along with the confines of a 180 day school year that stretches from September through June, we also experience the restriction of a methodical and predictable plodding from one grade level to another. This point is clearly related to the issue of seat time. Learning needs to become more mobile. Progress should be measured in mastery of curriculum free of the bounds of time. We have learners who could conceivably take the state regents exam on the first day of school and pass the test - yet they must endure the required seat time accumulated over the 180 days of school rather than submit evidence of mastery and move forward in the curriculum.

6. One of the more interesting points I extracted from the presentation by the Microsoft representative yesterday regarded the subject of video games. Certainly, this is a subject Microsoft is well versed in. The average failure rate in video games has been pegged at 80%. That is staggering, yet gamers play on. How long would a learner in a classroom sustain their interest and commitment if they encountered a similar 80% rate of failure????   

Consider the context of video games. The player selects one that is interesting. The game level at first is fairly easy and gradually becomes more complex and difficult. There's immediate feedback and consequences for choices and decisions made by the player. The learning is mobile in the sense that the player selects his/her personal environment in which to play. The player progresses at his/her own pace. Finally, there are built in rewards for accomplishments - chiefly advancing to an even more daunting performance level of the game.

The challenge for the school is to replicate as many of these conditions as possible to promote the success of the individual.

Something to think about as we explore our future.

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