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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

They Learned It, But Did They Feel It?

By Peter DeWitt — February 09, 2014 5 min read
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Over the past few months I decided I would expand my repertoire when it came to cooking. I can grill a mean filet mignon, cook a good frozen pizza, put together some very fattening Buffalo Chicken, and order out like it’s no one’s business, but I can’t really cook a lot of different meals.

In education there is constantly a calling to end “one-size-fits-all” pursuits. Whether it is the accountability measures that all schools must meet, the increased mandates they must negotiate their way through, or the way teachers teach, there is not just one method of teaching. Just like sticking to the same recipe over and over again is not the only way to cook.

I understand that using the cooking analogy is cliché, but it’s also real, and I have the enchiladas to prove it. Yes...enchiladas.

The other day, I clicked on the Food Network app on my iPad, and did a search for chicken dishes. Chicken, can be our best friend in the kitchen, because it’s the easiest to cook. I came across a recipe for chicken enchiladas, and instantly had it e-mailed to my smartphone so I could pick up the right ingredients at the grocery store.

As I walked down each aisle at my local food shopping center, I began to notice that the list of ingredients was much higher than the usual four I stick to. It was actually three times that amount. However, when I was picking up a can of something that I had never heard of before, I glanced over at the box of prepackaged chicken enchiladas mix. In an insecure moment, I put everything else away and grabbed the box. It was easy to do, because my heart really wasn’t into cooking. I just wanted to get it done. I cook to fill my stomach not to fill my heart.

That night I began cooking the enchiladas, and although I used a prepackaged mix, I still found it to be a challenge because I was cooking three things at the same time, which is some serious multi-tasking. After all was said and done, the enchiladas came out ok. For me, it was a success because I delved into multi-tasked cooking, and the meal came out edible. It wasn’t the best meal I ever had.

I could probably do it better next time if I allowed myself to add in my own twist, but like I said, I cook to fill my stomach not fill my heart.

Sticking to the Script

In New York State there are learning modules, which are curriculum tied to the Common Core. The Commissioner of Education and the State Education Department have all suggested that the modules are just resources that schools can use as they move forward. After all, districts have long been asking for resources over the past two years since the implementation of the Common Core. They seem more like a carrot and stick method to get our attention.

Clearly the issue, which we all never agree on, is the fact that the modules include curriculum that will appear on high stakes tests which are tied to teacher/administrator evaluation, which makes the modules more than a resource. Another issue that we will never agree on is that high stakes testing is at the center of what public schools are charged to do with students. These tests are not used to guide learning because schools don’t get the necessary data to allow them to use the test results to guide learning. The simple fact is that high stakes tests are used for a school report card.

And learning is more than about grades.

Many schools are using the modules, which is probably a good idea during this era of accountability. After all, learning seems to be about filling heads and not hearts these days. The reality is that when many of us began teaching we used to stick close to the teacher edition of our textbooks. As teachers new to the profession we would follow the lessons, and as time went on we would change the lesson a bit. Ultimately, we would get rid of our teacher editions and put our heart into the lessons we taught.

Can that be done now with modules tied to tests and evaulations?

The sad part about the modules are not just some of the content, but the expectations that come with them. They are not about high quality learning, and they come with pacing charts and assessments. They offer a recipe that many teachers feel they cannot stray away from because the accountability is so high. And quite simply, some of the lessons are not all that great.

Somewhere along the road to accountability school leaders forgot that teachers were experts with graduate degrees, and many pursued lifelong learning, and had a love for education. Somewhere along the line they were stripped of their expertise and their dignity, and were told they had to stick to a script because what they were doing before was not good enough.

They Learned It, But Did They Feel It?

I want students to do more than learn something...I want them to feel it. I want teachers to do more than stick to a script that they read with their eyes but don’t feel in their hearts. Teaching and learning are being relegated to this...

(iStock Photo, robyn_mac)

But should involve this...

(iStock Photo, talitha_it)

Learning is about feeling something. It’s about passion. Learning should inspire students, teachers, and leaders to further their understanding outside of the school walls. Perhaps that’s why so many connected educators are on Twitter, and creating edcamps because they want the freedom to pursue their learning without the fear of someone looking over their shoulder. Our students should have that same freedom.

My fear is that we are raising a whole new generation of students who have everything they want at their fingertips, but cannot wait to leave school because they felt like a failure, experienced low grades on high stakes tests, and therefore low expectations in the classrooms. Their scripts were chosen for them.

We have students who are labeled with AIS and other classifications because we want to change the child and not their environment. Instead of making learning fun, we suck the life out of it. And if we all adopt modules to substitute all of the other learning experiences we used to share with students, we will all be on pace to make sure students may or may not learn it, but certainly never, ever feel it.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Peter will be sitting on a leadership panel with Carol Burris and John Kuhn at the Network for Public Education’s National Conference in Austin, TX on Sunday, March 2nd.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.