Saturday, September 1, 2012

Creativity, Innovation and didactic learning....

A young boy creates a machine to experiment with force and gravity in his art class.
 Recently, I participated in WFYI's Teacher Voices, Conversations About Education Forum at the Marion County Public Library. The focus of the discussion was to center on improving high school graduation rates. I made several discussion points during the event. My first comment centered on an examination of the student comments from the High School Survey of Student Engagement. Over 350,000 graduating high school seniors have taken the survey since 2006. Nearly 70 % claim they have been cognitively disengaged with their learning experiences in school. Why? A closer look at the survey data and student comments will shed light on this issue. Students love hands on learning, project based learning, collaborative learning, fine arts learning and learning experiences that are personalized. What turns students off? Didactic, rote based learning.

If the goals of improving student engagement, critical thinking and innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a national goal, then project based, hands on learning must be central to any kinds of reform effort. But it isn't.

Data driven, didactic educational experience is the only way educators can efficiently prepare students for high stakes testing.  High stakes testing is the driver of learning experience. What does that mean? Pencil and paper seat learning is the rule and multi-sensory hands on project based learning is the exception.

I have written about Bill Gates childhood learning experiences before and how his foundation's education initiatives are not conducive to promoting innovation and creativity. Back in 2001, I read a biography of Gates: Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the making of the Microsoft Empire. According to the descriptions of Gates formative years provided by authors James Wallace and Jim Erickson, Gates learned computer programming through constructivist and self directed learning experiences supported and nurtured by the teachers, administration and community at the elite private Lakeside School in Seattle.

So I ask myself why? Why would Mr. Gates advocate for a standardized curriculum and high stakes testing  for other people's children?  He knows fully well, that was not the approach to learning that he participated in when his teachers engaged him in constructivist learning activities during this critical period in his life. The learning experiences that provided him with opportunities to develop his computer programming skills are diametrically opposed to the authoritarian, narrow, didactic, rote based, depersonalized learning experiences he now advocates for other peoples children.

By leveraging billions of education reform dollars through the Gates Foundation into education policy initiatives and insisting on mandated standardized testing across the K-12 public school curricula in order to evaluate teacher performance, policy makers have ensured that educators will continue to use data driven, didactic test prep in order to prepare students for high stake testing.

Until policy makers change the way teachers are evaluated without the heavy reliance upon high stakes standardized tests, educators will continue to teach to the test and creativity in our schools will continue to be pushed aside.

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