Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What Students Need to Bring to Their Education

Recently the BC Ministry of Education distributed a video entitled "What Do You Want From Your Education System?" The two and a half minute video features students, teachers, parents and community members stating their desires and ambitions for BC public education. The video includes many diverse ideas like having  persons use their own technology to communicate better with teachers, ways of supporting student career aspirations,  and  providing an interesting though more concise curriculum.  Good as far as it goes, the video describes only half of what is essential in a positive learning environment - providing what  people want. The other essential piece is what people are prepared to do to get what they want. 

Much has been made of the need to engage students and to provide them with opportunities that interest and challenge them. It might also be appropriate to promote an increased level of commitment from the students as well. In January of 1961 president elect John F Kennedy challenged Americans and the world with his famous "ask not" inaugural address. The much quoted "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" line was preceded by a series of statements that begin "let both sides......". Kennedy's speech eloquently underscores the need for both parties in any partnership to be bring their best to the table.

. Julia G Thompson, author of "The First Year Teacher's Survival Guide"captures the frustration of many teachers when she writes:
"There are many reasons for the unwaveringly feeble effort that many students present at the first sign of a challenge. For many students, the fear of their work not being “good enough” is paralyzing. Rather than earn a failing grade from a teacher, they give it to themselves by just not doing the work.  Other students are so accustomed to overly helpful adults who respond to their learned helplessness with so many hints and clues that they do not really have to think for themselves. Unfortunately, this pattern of behavior is all too recognizable. These are the students who ask others for the page number rather than check a table of contents, ask dozens of anxious questions rather than read the text for information, of who put their heads down on their desks rather than work independently for any length of time. Whatever the reason, it is possible to mitigate these patterns of learned helplessness." 

Thompson goes on to provides an extensive list of 'how to" tips to assist teachers in developing patterns and habits of persistence in students. While no one questions the obligation of education systems to provide quality education opportunities, the responsibilities of the learners should also be remembered. Students certainly need to be passionate about what they are learning, but they also need to be persistent, tenacious learners capable of dealing with adversity, resilient in the face of set backs and willing to patiently put in the time and effort required to acquire and hone new skills.
 It is also useful to remember that there really is no substitute for hard work, or putting in the time and effort needed to master a skill. The 10,000 hour rule, first postulated by Anders Ericsson and made popular by Malcolm Gladwell"s book "Outliers" argues that attaining expertise in any skill demands a dedication to meaningful practice. Gladwell repeatedly references the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a tremendous extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. In short, hard work can be measured in terms of the amount of time one is willing to devote to the task. In our modern fast moving world, with its bias towards easy and instant gratification, there is a real danger that the message that real learning takes time and hard work can be lost.

Its important to ask what people desire from their education system. The answers the BC Ed Plan is receiving should help develop a better system for everyone. It is also important to remember what an education system requires of its members. Passionate, persistent, dedicated learners, willing to put in the time required to master skills will also help push BC's education system to the forefront in the quest for quality 21st century learning. 


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