I was reminded yesterday as I read some of John Hattie’s work that there is no magic structure or strategy was going to do this for us. In fact some of the structures and strategies that many of us embrace the inquiry-based learning, project-based learning problem-based learning in and of themselves have a small effect if held in isolation and not embedded in a culture that is powerful.
He highlights that one of the most powerful effects on improving achievement for kids and narrowing the gap was when teachers get together and share honestly what was working for them and what's not working for them. When they have the candidness to be able to talk about where the struggles are and support each other to make improvements that it had a very large effect size improving achievement for students. This community of practice empowers the quality of teaching and the enhances the practices we employ to opportune students with a willingness to produce work of esteem.
I believe that we vastly underestimate the capacity of students to do great things, this is not only in the realm academic achievement but also their physical and social realms. As teachers, our focus is broad; however, as we begin to highlight target areas as a scientist would do with a laser and allow students passions to flow it begins to transform the sense of who the students are. It emerges from the finding’s Ron Berger’s Expeditionary Learning as students are given the time to apply concentrated attention to their work the quality improves. It has been noted that this improvement continues to the point of mastery or excellence even from an adult scale.
It is this understanding of mastery that martial arts and elite sports have embedded into their practice for many generations. The concepts of goal-setting, learning, observing, skill development, reflection and correction are things that we often talk about but in practice they do not become a priority.
However, knowing that as soon as our students are finished with school they will be judged by how well they can do these things and produce quality work rather than being ranked by their ability to perform on a test of basic skills it has shifted my thinking.
The question I had to ask myself was why is it in schools we actually don't spend a lot of time focusing on these things? Why do we spend almost all of our time focusing covering content with the mindset of preparing students for the graded assessment at the end? When answering these questions I was gripped with frustration and felt like I was going around a merry-go-round that I could not get off.
The answer that I came to was that it looks good for us as educators if we can show in our programs how many outcomes we are touching on. We can say to anyone who cares to ask this is what we have covered, but as I highlighted in my previous post, “Giving Students Space for Excellence” the work samples are just like blurry photos!
Counter to the commonplace push of rushing through content I suggested that by giving students time to go deep by dissolving the barriers between the subjects we develop an inclusive learning approach. This approach creates a rich understanding and appreciation of the content where students present a create an expression of their understanding and present it to an authentic audience. Through this process they work through the stages of goal-setting, learning, observing, skill development, reflection and correction which according to Hattie has a large cumulative effect size.
As our schools shift to focusing on the quality of what students to do and the quality of who they are they will establish both a baseline from which works grow from and an exemplar as an example of the intended directions works will grow to. This direction guides creativity and critical understanding students will make, it also gives the criteria of success. According to an independent Mathematica study noted by Berger (2016) when students are taught in depth they outperform on any standardised testing because they have the critical and creative capacity to make connections beyond their learning.
I hope as this is read, it will be seen that when inquiry-based learning, project-based learning problem-based learning are placed within a culture of service and held to the highest standards of quality they do have the ability to transform the students learning environment and understanding. What is produced is original knowledge in action and resembles products of beauty similar that that seen in music, architecture, design, art, culture, languages, digital expressions, photography.
Berger, R., Woodfin, L. & Vilen, A. (2016) Learning that lasts: Challenging, Engaging, and Empowering Students with Deeper Instruction. John Wiley & Sons.
Hattie, J. A. C. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. London, UK: Routledge.