Without ever having taken an education class, I suspect the over-arching theme of all education course is the training of a person to help him/her learn techniques they can use to help a child become “self-actualized” – to become all they can be.
I had an interesting conversation with my neighbor yesterday. As many of my recently read novels involve a character named “Jack,” I will refer to my neighbor as Jack.
Jack teaches high school algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. He was upset because he can’t teach the way he wants. In other words, he has to teach to the Kentucky Standardized Tests. Or, national standardized tests. The homework is set in stone, at least a legal stone, or policy stone. “I would like to give them assignments where I give them real-world problems: design a floor plan, and the pitch of a roof. Calculate the areas, the floor space, the pitch of a roof. They need to learn how to apply math, not simply learn what they need to learn in order to pass a standardized test.”
“Students have gotten conditioned towards objective, multiple choice exams. When given an applied problem, they can’t solve it. When I was in Illinois, teachers I worked with didn’t like the standardized tests. We protested yet we still had to do them. I moved to Kentucky, and discovered pep rallies, picnics, contests, and parties surrounding the standardized tests.” Jack seemed visibly irritated.
I related my days in school, back in the 1970s and 1980s. I think I turned out fine. By fine I mean I had four years of English, and literature, as much math as I could take, German, biology, etc. I don’t remember more than one test that seemed to upset faculty, and that exam occurred in 8th grade. I believe most of my peers have done pretty well for themselves.
What Jack brought to the conversation was the notion of introducing real problems into the classroom. Using problems from design and construction that a student could very soon be challenged with in real life. Working on a family farm and helping determine yields, fertilizer amounts, building fences, repairing roofs all could find their way into a student’s life. And the problems are part of another discipline: agriculture.
“I would like to give them assignments where I give them real-world problems: design a floor plan, and the pitch of a roof. Calculate the areas, the floor space, the pitch of a roof. They need to learn how to apply math, not simply learn what they need to learn in order to pass a standardized test.”
The constant lament of students is “why is this important?’” Perhaps, a related whine is “why is the class necessary?”
Education is and should be taught in holistic ways. Educators are coaches, and as a coach you have to challenge, encourage, and badger students to work to their best ability, and to expand, develop, and mature current abilities. Educators need to be able to draw from all possible sources to bring knowledge into a classroom to help a student reach their potential.
While measurements are no doubt necessary, teaching to a test or an exam in no way prepares a student to do anything but prepare for a test. Teaching to a test only really measures how well a student has prepared for an exam, not the ability to apply that knowledge to other disciplines.
Teach, instruct, show, illustrate. Then, assess. Integrate assessments into regular everyday assessments or quizzes. Don’t make a big deal about testing and assessment. Use assignments as assessments. Allow teachers to use their own examples and allow them to use “out-of-the-box” thinking to instructor, teach, and coach.
A regimented assessment-based teaching pedagogy seems more like a race to mediocrity. Teaching and learning should be flexible, pragmatic, and holistic if we are truly interested in helping young people achieve all they can.