The Obama administration recently came out with their replacement for the No Child Left Behind education reform. However, even the name of the program, Race to the Top, doesn’t inspire my confidence in the program. Liz Dwyer does a good job breaking down exactly what the program is all about.
While one of the goals is to get and keep great staff, I think that the strong focus on testing is still holding back people who could be great teachers. We should focus more on the concepts and the learning process rather than just straight memorization of facts. Students should be respected enough to take control of their own learning with guidance from their teacher.
I recently watched a film about amazing teacher’s drive to inspire and teach his students. He guides them through the World Peace Game, “a hands-on political simulation that gives players the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war.” I’ve seen a similar concept played out in college courses, such as in Michael Wesch’s anthropology classes at Kansas State University. However, John Hunter, whom this film is about, teaches 4th graders. It was amazing to watch on screen as these children worked out problems on their own, developing critical thinking and analysis skills that will be useful to them as they continue to learn.
Another teacher that taught students in a more creative way than lecturing was my mother. She taught seventh grade English and Civics for 30 years. When she taught English she had students create learning contracts. With these contracts her students would have to complete a certain number of stations all dealing with a certain theme. This type of learning allowed students to choose which books and stories they wanted to read and which activities they wanted to complete, with my mom making sure that the core concepts necessary for state tests were incorporated throughout. A similar concept was used in a few of my classes as well. However the biggest difference was that in my school only the brightest students were allowed to create contracts whereas with my mom, she used the system with all of her students, with the only change being that the higher-level classes would have to complete more stations, and that some of the stations were more challenging.
These types of learning methods are more challenging, not only on the students but on the teachers as well. They have to find more creative solutions to getting across concepts covered by tests. However, their effort is well worth it. Students still come up to my mom and tell her what a great teacher she was, even if they had her 20 years ago! This is because not only do these methods help facilitate learning but allows teachers to build deeper relationships with students.
States shouldn’t be competing for money to build the best students. Rather they should be working together to create a learning system that helps our students meet the goals outlined by the program.