Sunday, July 15, 2012

What do we REALLY want them to know?


I've been thinking (as I usually do around this time) about the beginning of the school year, and that means starting PLC work across the district and at our various buildings. We are still supposed to be focusing on DuFour's essential questions (what is it we want all student to know, etc.), which are now being revamped due to the Common Core. I've heard DuFour's questions many, MANY times since I started in my current district in 2004, but revisiting an older post from Bud the Teacher on "Learning vs. Teaching" really got me thinking again. It pushed my thinking when originally published, but it has become even more thought-provoking to me recently as I've moved into a position at the district level.  And we're still asking, what is it we want all kids to know?

The answer Bud's post originally led me to hasn't changed, and if I were to answer this question right now, my answer would still be: all students should know how they learn.

If we are preparing students not only for jobs that don't exist but also a world that doesn't yet exist (as has been commonly stated), what is it that all students should learn?  In our district, we are (of course) having conversations about the Common Core, but I think if we can teach students about how they learn, it won't matter in what career they eventually land or on which career path(s) they eventually follow.  Will Richardson (@willrich45) recently tweeted something that echoed my thoughts:  "Just thinking: Don't teach my kids (your subject here). Teach them how to learn (your subject here.)"

So, what kinds of things should kids (and adults) know about in terms of how to learn?  Here are some early morning thoughts . . .
  1. Given that brain research is revealing  more and more about how the brain stores & retains information, we should equip our students with as much as we know about the brain and learning (primacy-recency effect, dual coding theory, importance of sleep, rehearsal & practice, etc.).  Because this is such a dynamic area of research, we also will need to keep ourselves up to speed, and we should be transparent and model both our own learning processes and how we find the latest information about the brain.
  2. Speaking of finding the latest information, I can't imagine a more critical "how" than information literacy.  All the talk about digital natives sometimes causes people to confuse competence with comfort, but just because students are comfortable with a search engine doesn't mean they are competent with one.  Finding information (via RSS and other means) is a skill that is critical for knowing how to learn, but I'm afraid that it gets pushed to the back of line instead of being ushered to the front when it comes to learning.
  3. We live in a time when we can collaborate and connect globally with amazing people who can help us learn. Helping kids know about the social element of learning and helping them create their own personal learning networks & environments can only strengthen their ability to create them after they leave the K-12 environment.  Again, just because students are comfortable with social networks doesn't mean that they know how to leverage them for learning.
Answering DuFour's first question (what do we want kids to know?) is tough if we are preparing our students for a world where we don't know what they need to know.  We should be helping kids understand about how their brains work, how to best find information, and how to build a community of learning. If we can do that, we will do a far better service to our students than focusing solely on (your subject here).