Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oops, I Made a Mistake- Am I Still Learning?



A comment from Wendy Young (#Kidlutions) on a recent post I wrote, (Technology in Education- How to Support a Tip in the Right Direction), and an #edchat conversation about creating passion in students on Twitter this evening has my mind racing.

In reaction to my perspective that mistakes are an integral part of the learning process, and not to be feared, Wendy commented that,
as fear and mistakes go, "BRING IT". It is truly the best way to learn. My wish is that all teachers would learn to EMBRACE mistakes as part of the process of learning...and be able to transmit that to the next generation. Needless to say, some of the biggest mistakes have turned out to be things we might not want to live without: post-it notes, potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, velcro, etc! Some mistakes become discoveries in and of themselves!
What a truly insightful comment; one that I fully agree with. I was speaking to my class not so long ago, and it struck me as they were asking me what was going to be on the upcoming test, that they felt a compulsion to know  because they were literally afraid of getting  the answer to a question wrong. They were asking me for a study sheet to take home so they could memorize, and subsequently recall, the correct answers. I was saddened in that instant, and resolved immediately to have a conversation with the class about intelligence... what it means to me, and what I hope it will begin to mean for them.

Intelligence to me is not a thing, it's a process; one that never stops. I believe that those who are willing to submit to the fact that they don't really know much at all are the most intelligent because they have everything to learn... therein lies the process. At the core of intelligence as a process is the concept of thinking. When my class challenged me to provide a study sheet for them, I believe Benjamin Bloom was rolling over in his grave. During my conversation with the class, I explained Bloom's Taxonomy, and they were mystified... I was explaining that there are different categories of thought, and that my teaching and learning philosophy aligns more with the organizing, synthesizing, evaluating and characterizing side of Bloom's learning objectives classification. On that day in my class, my focus on the importance of teaching kids higher order thinking skills became a little sharper.

I believe a culture of learning is a culture of inquiry; one that supports discovery and values creativity. I need to create this culture in my classroom, and I think, as simple as it sounds, Bloom's Taxonomy is the place to start if I want to combat the fear my students feel toward getting stuff 'wrong.' To promote discovery and creativity I need to teach them how to advance their thinking so learning (intelligence) becomes a process for them; not a means to an end (the end being knowledge.)

How have we got to this place in education where recall of facts appears to be what kids think intelligence is? No single person, teacher, parent, school authority or even the students themselves are to blame. The problem is systemic. Schools bear the responsibility to react to perpetual changes in society. The complexities of our ever-evolving world pose an overwhelming challenge for schools to produce citizens who are prepared for them. Educators appear to have responded to this challenge by striving to create people who know. I believe what we should be doing is preparing people who know how to think.

I want my class to be filled with kids who passionately believe they have everything to learn, and that the path to becoming intelligent is paved with the ability to think without fear of mistakes. It's OK to be wrong, right?
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