Too Often It’s the Student Message

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The graphic above accompanied a blog post of George Couros – a blogger I follow faithfully and find incredibly valuable and very much on target with respect to education and education reform. As I quite frequently do, I offered comments on this post. This blog post of mine evolves from those comments.

I take issue with the student’s statement in the above graphic!!! Many students, if they had their way, would see the alternative to drowning as having someone TEACH them how to swim.

Think about that: TEACHING someone how to swim… Taken literally, I hope you’ll agree the likelihood of someone learning how to swim by being taught is small. That teaching might likely involve the learning of the arm, leg, body movements to stay at the water surface and move forward; it very likely would involve watching videos or watching, in person, others swimming; and possibly delivery of additional information. I maintain the probability of the learner going to a pool and being able to swim is pretty small!!!

A few students would decide that they can ‘teach themselves’ how to swim in order to enjoy the water without drowning. The chances of them learning to swim well – to be able to save another kid who’s about to drown for example – is not that great however. And the likelihood becoming an increasingly better swimmer without feedback is not great either.

Ah, but how about this: Suppose a swimming instructor showed the non-swimmers a really basic video on swimming, encouraging those non-swimmers to ask questions or share concerns or express ideas they get from the video. And suppose then the instructor takes the non-swimmers to a safe (shallow) part of the water complex and helps them to be comfortable getting their faces wet. And then the instructor demonstrates the basic swimming effort, after which the non-swimmers attempt to repeat that effort – with the instructor giving individual feedback. These interactions continue with individual learners being introduced to upgraded efforts, practicing each level on their own, getting instructor feedback, until each reaches the level determined for each of them (with feedback from the instructor) to be useful / adequate for their expectations.

In this “swimming” analogy, it makes clear for me at least that this FOURTH option is far better than drowning (better:stay out of the water), being TAUGHT to swim, or ‘learning’ to swim on your own. It includes numerous efforts: scaffolding the levels, actually trying to swim, getting good feedback, practicing, self-motivation via individual goals, aligning with ‘standard’ framework from the instructor, demonstrating progress by doing, ….

AND SO I’M ASKING: Presuming everyone agrees that this approach works for swimming (and social media – noted in the graphic – as well as playing baseball / softball, driving a car, baking cookies, building a house, ….), why isn’t it the OBVIOUS way to facilitate students’ becoming Effective Learners??? Too often politicians, policy people, and – yes – teachers see the mission of education as delivering (‘teaching’) the material to be ‘learned’ to the students. Subsequently, the students never make the effort or essentially try to learn the material on their own. MY BELIEF IS THAT THE TOP GOAL OF EDUCATION MUST BE FACILITATING DEVELOPMENT OF THE SKILLS OF EFFECTIVE LEARNING!!!