Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tagets,Objectives, deliverables and Real work!

My wife has been preparing for her first full time full year contract as a teacher.  Her road to that place was a long one and probably unfairly influenced by me as her navigator, so it is only fair that her getting set up for back to school has felt a lot like me getting ready for back to school.  The school she works at has adopted a new terminology.  They are using Learning Targets or 'blancos' for her Dual Immersion class.  This replaces the term objectives or 'objetivos'.  Apparently this change caused no small stir among the faculty at her school and there were some arguments as to the best translation for Targets, but essentially this is semantics.  Whether we use objectives, targets, learning goals, or just define what students will be able to do or know at the end of our class, we as teacher are often the ones making those decisions.  We decide what matters most, or what will be on the test, assessment, rubric, or how the project will be graded.  This isn't bad.  We are trained and paid to do this.  But occasionally, I have to stop and think about it a little.  A colleague asked me to come in and go over some work he was doing on an online course focused on a variety of Online Library tools, like EBSCO and SIRS. The conversation ended up revolving around one big idea: What will they turn in? Fundamentally at the heart of a lot of what we do as teachers is that question: What will they turn in? Related to it are several corollaries: How will I assess them? How will I grade them?  (These are different by the way) 

What both of these experiences drove home to me is how much I decide what is important for people to learn and how much more I want them as students or participants to decide "what" is important for them to learn.  During my discussion about the online class I shared the following philosophy with my colleague: Whenever possible allow students/participants to decide what they will do to demonstrate their learning.  An example, rather than quizzing students on details of the products or obscure information that can be found in the online databases, have them create a list of resources they could use and strategies for using them.  One way, I as the instructor set the priorities and the other way the student/participant does. As a bonus, when the participant seeks information or build understanding they do this around their own needs and their needs are met.  When I have them seek information it is usually my needs that are met.

My other thoughts this week are wandering back to Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs and the various things he has done to promote the value of Skilled Labor.  Along with this idea of someone else deciding what is important for me to learn we as a society have glorified the work that doesn't look like work.  The work everyone wants is the work that looks like being entertained.  This may sound hypocritical coming from a guy whose job is described by his children as "watching YouTube videos all day" but the idea I have about this isn't just for skilled labor.  We wait too long to get kids working.  Laws to protect young people from being exploited have barred them from entering the productive part of society.  We keep telling everyone how important Higher Education is and this makes them extend their adolescence into their late 20's when they finally finish all their schooling and start a job.  We offer loans, grants and parental support so that young people don't take responsibility for themselves until they are ready to be adults.  The problem is they are already adults long before this but without any of the skills or accountability needed to allow them to be adults.  

A better way...have students begin work based learning at a younger age. Probably 14 years or so.  Have them spend half their day working. Really working! They should have opportunities to explore a variety of work options, some manual and skilled, some cerebral and theoretical. In all these cases though students should be doing real work that really needs to be done.  Scaffolded along side these work opportunities should be courses, training, and support that helps them become better qualified for the work they are doing if they love it, or retraining if they decide they want to go in another direction.  This kind of education could be scaffolded through a lifetime of learning, and is equally valuable to the MD and the ASE.  It also allows for a direct path to deep skills for those who know what they want and a supported branching path for those prone to explore but in each case the person is contributing to society and being compensated for it which should also prevent them from becoming a menace to society by seeking a living in the criminal arts. 

These rambling thoughts might seem disconnected but they both flow out of a respect for and individuals right and desire to be in control of their own destiny. My job as a teacher should be to help someone else achieve their goals more than about deciding what they should learn.

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