Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Engage all types of learning

Edudiva has two recent posts: one a youtube video of students asking some big questions about the relevancy of non-digitally based education in a digital age. I’ve always been a big advocate for more visual and hands-on learning options for students. My younger brother is very gifted, but never excelled at school because our public high school, like many others, is rooted in reading and retaining that information. In visually-oriented and hands-on activities, however, he excelled. He became very interested in culinary arts I think primarily because it was something he could do, and pick up by watching someone else do it, which is the way he retains information best. I’m the reader of the family, so that never bothered me. Once in Physics class as a senior, we had a “Rube Goldberg” project in which we were asked to draw a circle with a certain diameter and incorporate all simple machines. My brother and I sat in a Chinese restaurant after church one day and in an hour had worked out, together, a diagram of what we could do (my brother was still in Middle School at the time). I wonder how many other students would excel if they had a chance at a more visual and hands-on type of instruction.

The second post was about the new KIPP charter schools and their partnership with Washington University in St. Louis. Edudiva is hopeful that Wash U will be an advocate and an active participant as a charter school sponsor, and we can expect a lot of good research and good practices to come out of that relationship. It has become clear to me over the years that more choice is not only good in terms of community impact and the benefits it can have on a group of students, but also on a personal, individual student level. Meeting the individual needs of students is the only way to make a real difference on a population of students, and offering them more choices makes having an individual education possible. Advocates against choice and finding the most appropriate education for each child, be it public, charter, private, virtual or homeschooling, often cite the fact that only public schools are held to testing standards. While that is patently false, in that the only difference is that the state (versus parents or sponsoring entities) holds them accountable, those detractors fail to see state standards as the double-edged sword that they are. A state standard and curriculum has the benefit of setting benchmarks of improvement and success, but it also necessitates a one-size-fits-all education mandate. That leaves many children behind, struggling in classes they might be able to succeed in given different techniques. What’s more, we’re living in a society where the diversity of the job market makes diversity in education and learning styles more and more requisite.

This adjustment requires what I’d like to call a ‘pervasive engagement’; from parents, teachers, administrators, the community, business and civic leaders, universities and legislators. It means being responsive to the needs of individuals.

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