Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Pedagogical Over Digital Surprisingly Liberating Idea

The article below asks, what do the best classrooms in the world look like? First, we must ask what is meant by best. Second, what DO they look like?

Brilliance in the Classroom, by Amanda Ripley from

"Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones—circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard.

'In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms,' says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). 'I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets.'

And yet, when politicians and bureaucrats imagine the classroom of the future, they often talk about a schoolhouse that looks like an Apple store, a utopia studded with computers, bathed in Wi-Fi, and wallpapered with interactive whiteboards (essentially giant touch screens used in place of chalkboards in more and more classrooms nationwide)."

It's a fascinating question although who wouldn't be disappointed in Mr. Schleicher's lack for an answer for why it is the case when it is stated that he spends his time visiting classrooms all over the world. He should have some idea, or at least be able to speak more assuredly about hypotheses, as to why this might be the case.

But anyhoo.

The article looks at Singapore, Korea, Finland, and the United States in order to compare what they find insights into what works and what doesn't.

This is the coolest idea: "In Southeast D.C., Lisa Suben teaches fifth-grade math at KIPP DC: AIM Academy, one of 99 Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools around the country. When her students come into her classroom, they perform about two years behind, on average. By the time Suben has had nine months with them, they are mastering grade-level work."

I want to be that kind of teacher. That's the kind of outcome I want to see more of in this country. There is NO REASON why American kids should be behind grade level. There are more than enough people with knowledge and skills to share who can be in the classroom as volunteer tutors, available during the day and afterschool to every child who needs extra help. NO REASON! Not poverty, not lack of gadgetry, not due to chalkboards vs. whiteboards. It's a ridiculous notion to think that education is better when the classroom contains more electronics than a Best Buy. It doesn't take money to get a book from the library and read it, but it does take time and effort to teach a child to read, to encourage them to do so. Could it be that our education system ranks so poorly not for lack of money, but lack of effort? This is a multilayered cake without a single answer, but one of those layers might be easily changed. If it is the case, the good news is that there is something we can do about it at no cost.

Read the article and tell me what you think.

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