The first of the five minds Gardner discusses is the "disciplined" mind. He identifies four steps in the formation of this type of mind. 1) "Identify truly important topics or concepts within the discipline." 2) "Spend a significant amount of time on the topic." 3) "Approach the topic in a number of ways." and 4) "Most important, set up 'performances of understanding' and give students ample opportunities to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions."

He is arguing for more depth in our curriculum at the expense of breadth. He is also arguing for more practical application and less memorization of facts. He would narrow the precollegiate level of education down to "science, math, history, and one art form."

What would school look like under this model?

It seems to me that the project-based schools like the one described at the Edutopia site would fit the bill. A student could pick an area of study, for example water quality, then study it from the viewpoint of science, math, history, and an art form.

The "performance of understanding step" could be in the form of a short story or poem based upon the topic, a mathematical model allowing variables to be manipulated in order to determine how a change in one variable might effect another variable, a scientific paper describing the data collected during the study and the conclusions supported by the data, and a historical paper to describe economic and social events that might have resulted in changes in the topic. Preparation of the performance of understanding step would accomplish Gardner's goals of "spending a significant amount of time on the topic" and "approaching the topic in a number of ways."

Is it feasible to have every student involved in this type of learning? How would you organize a school of 600 students to implement this model?

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I think you can look at a couple of sources for real-life examples and organizational ideas at schools that strive to go deeper:

Deborah Meier has written extensively on this subject and was one of the founders of the Coalition of Essential Schools, along with Ted Sizer. Sizer takes on things like the standard 50 minute period and other school conventions as roadblocks to deep learning.

Also, Dennis Littky (The Big Picture Schools) is up to about 40 schools in the US that emphasize knowing the kids and teaching subjects relevant to real life. The way they are organized is not based on traditional periods, semesters, or daily classes, but varies to meet individual needs.

For elementary schools, the Reggio Emilla approach offers a lot of practical ways schools can embrace deeper understanding and authentic assessment and what teaching looks like that supports this. Gary Stager (Disrict Administration magazine) did an interview with some Reggio Emilla leaders asking questions about how this works, including curriculum coverage and keeping kids on task.

I think basically, if you want to change things, you have to question everything.

Good questions--BIG questions. We can make a start. Your example of Edutopia's Project-Based Education certainly fits the bill. (By the way, I've shown some of those videos in faculty meetings, when occasionally there's a bit of time allowed by admin to actually think about education rather than the usual bookkeeping stuff. These examples are so alluring that I find even the most reluctant techno-people become interested in trying a project!)

The example you gave of using a variety of modalities/activities for "performances of understanding" for the theme of study (water quality) seems just right. How could we move schools in this direction, when time, the limited resource, is allocated to "gathering facts" or simply "getting the work done"?

Sylvia has given us a list of illuminating examples (as Sylvia is known for doing!) that help us to keep up our hope and idealism. We need to keep these exciting models at the forefront.

From Gardner, chapter two: "Most individuals in most schools or training programs are studying subject matter. That is, like many of their teachers, they conceive their task as committing to memory a large number of facts, formulas, and figures." They'll be examined on this information, and if the students have gobbled up a lot of facts, they'll be viewed as successful. Gardner points out: "Disciplines represent a radically different phenomenon. A discipline constitutes a distinctive way of thinking about the world."

"Don't get me wrong--to study science, history, literature, indeed anything, one needs information. But shorn of their connections to one another, to underlying questions, to a disciplined way of construing this pile of information, facts are simply 'inert knowledge'--to use the pithy phrase of the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead." ( Gardner, pages 28 and 29)

"The only only reliable way to determine whether understanding has truly been achieved is to pose a new question or puzzle--one on which individuals could not have been coached--to see how they fare." (page 34) "Here, in brief, is why most standardized measures of learning are of little use; they do not reveal whether the student can actually make use of the classroom material." (Gardner, page 35)

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, starts with a chapter called "Failing at Smart, Or What's an Education For?" "If we take what we might call smartness to be more than knowledge acquisition, to be about who we are as problem solvers and decision makers responding to novel situations, then the outlook for students getting smarter doesn't look good." Ritchhart studied how several teachers set up their classrooms. He uses one teacher, Karen (a pseudonym) to illustrate a prototype of a teacher who "...provides a smooth-running classroom in which students who want to participate can. And their textbook instruction provides students with the basic skills, a foundation, and often the confidence to continue in their studies. However, when we look behind this instruction to the messages it conveys to students about learning, another picture emerges. These types of teaching actions tell students that school and learning are basically dreary tasks that must approach in a workmanlike manner. The overriding message is this: do the work, get the grade, and move on. Furthermore, students are told that teachers do not trust them to engage in the work of learning on their own, so they will carefully monitor the students' actions. This is teaching for complacency, for orderliness, for dependence, and for superficiality." (page 6)

"The emphasis these practices place on work, rather than developing understanding and engaging in thinking, makes it difficult for students to develop their intellectual skills, let alone any sense of inclination and motivation towards thinking and learning." He adds, "When one considers the current emphasis on high-stakes testing and accountability, a more apt description of the mission of schools might be this: to promote the short-term retention of discrete and arcane bits of knowledge and skills." (Intellectual Character, page 7)

"By way of analogy, consider what is involved in taking a long car trip. We know that to get to our destination we have to drive a certain number of miles. Furthermore, we know that our driving has to meet certain standards of speed and safety as we progress on our way. However, when we get in the car, our excitement isn't for the road or the driving regulations, it is for our destination. In fact, it is usually only by keeping our sights on our destination that we stay motivated to drive the many miles and maintain the imposed standards. If truth be told, in our excitement to reach our destination, we may even flaunt the standards a bit from time tot time, taking some liberty with the speed limit perhaps. Saying that standards, textbooks, and tests are what we are teaching for is like saying the point of our driving is to cover miles of road safely within the posted speed limit. It is a trip without a destination; it is teaching without a reason. Both are ultimately empty and unsatisfying for the driver and passengers alike." (Intellectual Character, page 8)

Ritchhart proposes a question: "What should we be teaching for?" "In educational circles, we've come to mistake curriculums, textbooks, standards, objective, and tests as ends in themselves rather than as means to an end. Where are these standards and objectives taking us? What is the vision they are pointing toward? What purpose do they serve?' Ritchhart asks us "uncover the destination" and find the ideals that should guide us as we teach. "This notion of ideals is at the very crux of the matter. Without ideals, we have nothing to aim for as teachers. we have no destination."

So, Ken, you are asking about Destination. Can we have "performances of understanding," can we get beyond work for work's sake, get beyond considering accumulation of facts as the biggest goal of education? Can we support development of understanding and engagement in thinking? Can we do these while dealing with time structures and constraints that impede in-depth learning?

We must.

Your question of organizing a school to implement an idealistic model is well-worth lots of our thought. Sometimes I think, well, just aim the cruise ship two degrees off the current course, and we'll end up on a different shore. Other times I think, let's find a new ship entirely, and chart our own course.
Thanks for your thoughts. You have made me want to add the Ritchhart book to my summer reading list. He makes a lot of sense.

You are absolutely right, "we must" reform education to move in a new direction. I am also unsure of whether we should just throw out the current system and start over or can we get there by making small changes over time? I generally counsel my graduate student teachers to just make one or two changes each quarter. My analogy is the 30 year mortgage. We chip away at it one payment at a time until eventually we make a pretty big change in our assets. If every teacher could be convinced to change one unit of instruction each quarter, we could make some pretty big changes over a 5 year time span.

Sometimes I think I would like to start a new school and design it from the ground up. That is feasible if you go to the right place. The problem is that it doesn't really change the big picture very much. Reality probably dictates that we work within the current structure and try to make changes whenever we can find an opportunity.

What strategies should we employ to get started?

The first thing I think of is that we need to model the type of learning we want to see in our classes. My future teachers do not come to me with a vision of how this should work. Their mental model of a classroom is what they have seen in the past. We need to involve them in the new model in order for them to see different ways of teaching and learning.
Thanks, Skip

You have a great way of making me think. I like your idea of writing down a description of this vision. Maybe it is something that we could do as a collaborative project of Classroom 2.0. I don't have experience with that type of writing but it might be fun to at least pull the ideas together.

It seems to me that Gardner, Ritchhart, and others have given us some useful places to start.

Here are some things that come to mind as needing a description:
- what is the role of teachers in this new vision?
- what is the role of learners (do we need a new term for student?)
- is there a 'place' associated with this vision like the school building of today
- what will be the mix of 'real' vs 'virtual' experiences?
- what will be the organization of the school day?
- what will be the organization of the school year? or do we do away with the concept of a school day/year?
- how does the school fit into the societal context? governmental context?
- what about access to knowledge? textbooks? online resources?
- what is the administrative structure? how is it funded?
Ken and Skip,

Yes, you both make us think! Thank you for this. You've got some lively and inspirational questions going here.

May I give some "quick and dirty" answers to Ken's questions? (That's "earth" dirt, not the bad kind.)

Teachers are coaches.

Learners are motivated, disciplined, and playful.

Yes--there is a place. There's a locality that kids get to know in depth. It should be connected not only with study but with service work, of the "make a difference" variety, such as meeting with senior citizens, cleaning up an environment, or recommending policy to policymakers. But the building or habitat is CONNECTED to other places, through web 2.0 connections. With Purpose in mind.

Yes, there should be a big and varied mix of real and virtual. To me, the virtual side would also be "real," in that connections are made. Maybe I'm overlapping "virtual" with "technological", not sure what the line is. What do you mean by virtual? Game-playing is good for teaching a variety of skills. But "fake" virtual should never over-ride the real, the world in which we can and must engage in responsible, ethical, and truth-seeking manners.

The school day: I could design a day. Are you interested in seeing the plans?

Not sure about the school year. Probably we should go with summers "off," but I could see summers as wild, creative, "out of the box" extensions of the schoolyear's objectives.

Fit in ? Not sure. Charter schools work some places, independent schools can work well, too. We can find a huge number of public school teachers demonstrating extremely high-quality innovative work, against all odds. These teachers have much battle-knowledge and negotiation-knowledge to share, and would be instrumental in creating the knowledge pool that would help effect change.

Access to knowledge? Well, that's what Web 2.0 is all about. It's there. Let's have it. I do think that some texts are great (such as Joy Hakim's series) and do believe that reading high-quality literature in book form is essential, absolutely essential.

Administrative stucture: different. More of a webwork with all sorts of leadership assumed in all sorts of places. Roland S. Barth, in the article Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse" and also in his book Learning by Heart (another possible "read" for us) addresses the need for "creating cultures of collegiality".

(Does that link work? I'm a member of ASCD and may have preferential access)
Funding? I think the business sector is where we look. Government is too stretched and too rigid. There is an increasing movement towards philanthropy out there; business people are seeking ways to provide good things for the world's future.

I, too, think we need to model the kinds of learning we want to see in both students and teachers. I also think we need to HAVE a model, say, a model school, or several, or several model classes that are pioneering what we're talking about with deep and engaging education that makes extensive use of new technologies. We need to provide access to these models so that people can come visit. Seeing what's possible will provide impetus for change.
Regarding changing the big picture: I think we CAN change the big picture by developing a school (or several schools or several model classes) that are connected with the world. Think of a web, or a hub with satellites. None of the new schools that we're thinking of would operate in isolation, instead, they'd demonstrate some sort of world connectedness radiating outwards from their place-based education. It's the sort of idea where I study my land (my natural and social environment) and you study your land, and then we connect our studies. Then outwards this goes with kids studying localities in great depth, pairing up with other kids studying other localities in great depth, discovering commonalities in the natural and social conditions, sharing perspective of solving problems that need to be solved
Ah, this sounds so ideal... Do you think so? Guess I can't shed that lovely image I've developed from reading about Dewey's lab schools. Education is about enlightenment, reflective learning, and making a difference. Now that we have technologies that allow us to make and share these lab schools (indeed, world sharing would be part of the "lab"), shouldn't we just do it?



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