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What STUFF are you teaching?

November 27, 2010

So I’ve been thinking about the STUFF we teach. We have the  core subjects that are assessed at every grade and are looked and held in such high regard by universities, discussed at the dinner table and compared by parents and classmates. It’s what makes us ‘smart’. It was makes us successful. They are of course Math, English, Science….and the ‘other subjects’. So that’s great we can do long division or some complex trig question. That’s fantastic that we know the date that the Magna Carta was signed and where paper was invented. That’s kind of cool that we study history and know about other countries or cultures. The key word being ‘know’ and not ‘understand’. Then I got to thinking, perhaps these are important but what about the skills we need to be a successful human? Where are the leadership skills, the ability to work in teams, communication skills, compassion and understanding? Are they in Math or English? Are they hidden somewhere amongst this other subjects to decipher? Then I started to question the way the whole school systems are set up. Are we  teaching everything…like some scattergun approach to learning hoping our learners will someday need this knowledge? Why do I need long division, if I have calculator and need to remember who invented paper when I can use wikipedia?  So much time is spent talking about these personal skills yet are they explicit, valued and celebrated in our schools, curriculum and classrooms? Why not have tasks or challenges where the focus is on conflict resolution, or successful team work and throw some math’s and science in there. However, from a teacher standpoint, its much easier to give a grade on the paper. And have an answer key. These personal development skills are required every day of person’s life, yet these are the skill sets that many teachers and schools seem to be failing in teaching, or creating opportunities for growth. So if our goal is to create lifelong learners or leaders of the future, what grade would we give ourselves? So then I asked WHY is this the case?  Perhaps one reason might be that we have lost track of what our learner needs are so we keep teaching the same things PLUS adding heaps new stuff on top. Maybe its more deeper than that in that the system as we know it is  so structured around our society that we cannot freely change it. So yes…we now teach STUFF. STUFF that kids may or may not find useful. STUFF that may be relevant to Jane but not Bob. But as teachers weve got to get through that STUFF. In the end all this STUFF is learned but perhaps not understood until many years later when the STUFF they learned becomes relevant. See an engineers STUFF is much different than a teachers STUFF. So I propose an ILP Individual Learning Programme for each child, ye child not teenager starting from grade school. This ILP will be used to track learner goals and be tailored to what the student needs know to achive these goals. So now your thinking, but how does an 8 year old know what he wants to be in life? Won’t this affect the STUFF the they need to know? Well yes, but if we at least have some idea now as to what our learners are interested in that is surely a start. Waiting until grade 11 or 12 is too late. Each learner should have the ir personalised STUFF and means to achieve their understanding. This model or each ILP is encased in personal development. Time management, communication skills, leadership skills etc. I sum, we need to be teaching personal development with subjects woven through it and not the other way around in a personalised way. Unfortunately  for the subject specialists who sees 200 kids a week this means an ILP for every student. This shouldnt be such a problem if learners are responsible for their own learning. However in the end our 20th century school structure cannot handle this….yet.

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