By Meghan Paris(@MsParisDL)
Students are often taught that excellence is complying with directives and regurgitating facts onto a paper. As a matter of fact, until a couple of years ago, the highest honor a school district could receive from Rick Ross (the Ohio Superintendent of Education) was “Excellent with Distinction” and it was based almost entirely on standardized test score. The mindset that is then being bred into our students is that they can only succeed by doing the tests, regurgitating the facts, and complying with the rules.
When I was a student, I was good at school. I say good at school because I had the system figured out, I could pass tests, I could write a paper, I could regurgitate historical facts like no one’s business. I was praised and applauded for this ability. Then I became an adult. I left being a K-12 student in 2005, when I graduated from Scottsburg Senior High School. Since then, I have not really used any of my mad school skillz, even in college. Sitting in my first college class in September 2005 (History of Imperial Russia 1620-1918), the professor said something that completely changed everything I thought I knew about learning: “If my parakeet can do it, it doesn’t count as learning.” At first, we, the students, all stared at one another with disbelief. What was he saying about us? Then he explained “Naming facts, dates, and pieces of information on command is something a bird is able to do. If I ask you to do that, it’s dehumanizing.” There it was, my entire K-12 education was just called dehumanizing. All of my educational accolades had not prepared me to be a human. Luckily, I had parents who actively parented me and filled in most the gaps in my education, but I was extremely fortunate to have that. It took a few years for that to sink in, but I finally understood what that meant the day I stepped in front of a classroom of students.
I realized that in the age of being able to obtain all the information in the world through a device smaller than a Pop-tart, my traditional education that I received was irrelevant. I asked my class if they knew who Marian Wright Edelman was, and the response I received was mind blowing for me. “Hold on, Ms. Paris, I’ll google it.” Holy crap, was that jarring. They didn’t need me to give them information, they already had it. Now, two years later, I’m teaching kids to do. To make. Not to memorize. Not to regurgitate information.
Breaking the cycle of receiving information from the nice person at the front of the room is proving to be the real challenge of the year. Most students are excited to be involved in projects, but they still are not understanding that the projects are school. I had a student ask me today if he could “just have a worksheet” because he’s worried about passing my class. After explaining that we were learning about assembly lines and how it increased productivity during the Industrial Revolution through making seating in an assembly line, I saw him just get it. He was one of my students last year, when we were at a school that was all pencil to paper learning. He only said “Ok, that’s cool,” but returned later in the period to tell me that this is the first time he’s actually understood something that happened in history.
He then showed me he understood the concept by pointing out flaws in our assembly line design. He showed me. He didn’t tell me by bubbling in answer choice b. He actively participated in his education and showed me he understood by critiquing and analyzing. Those are words from the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, the words we hear so much about in professional developments on creating and delivering relevant instruction. Critiquing, creating, analyzing, refining. I witnessed a student who was consistently in the low middle of my class last year show me that he had learned this historical concept in an authentic way that mattered to him. My goal for the year is to have this experience with the majority of my students and continue having them actively show me their learning. Having students parrot knowledge isn’t learning, but showing me what they learned is real evidence of real learning.