Thursday, March 25, 2010

Aim for moving targets...

 flickr CC image via johntrainor

When I coach lacrosse I'm always telling players that standing still is not good. In lacrosse, as in many other sports, a player wants to be where they think the ball will go before it gets there. Good players understand that 99% of the game is played away from the ball. I believe this principle also applies to teaching; 99% of teaching happens away from the target.

I love this quote...
An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. - Carl Jung
In the context of this post, I draw your attention to the part about curriculum... The curriculum is so much necessary raw material... to illuminate my point. Referring to the curriculum as 'raw material' is interesting. The term 'raw material' conjures up images of unrefined, unsophisticated parts that make up a whole when put together in some meaningful and deliberate way. To me, curricula as raw material  means we should consider it as the ingredients required to create a refined and marketable final product (our target); well-rounded and articulate students who are prepared for life's challenges.

The problem with this analogy is we can't ever really know what our target should look like. Every student is different... There are infinite possibilities for each individual child we teach to become so many things. How can we know what our students will become? Perhaps we shouldn't even try. What if we stopped defining the answers first (curriculum), and started with questions instead without a defined target? Certainly we need a base of principles that we would frame our questions around, but once this reconstituted base (a critically analyzed and paired down set of curricula that forms a foundation for our questions) is established, the limits of our learning are bound only by ourselves... learning should be a moving target.

In education, moving curricular targets should be like the moving ball in a game of lacrosse. Without limiting our students to a rigidly defined set of curriculum, we should be throwing that ball where we think the student needs to be, and the student should be taught how to be where the ball is going to be; to have instinct for learning. It's time for this. It's time for kids to become partners in their own learning as opposed to recipients of a predetermined list of static outcomes.

Students are moving targets. There's no room for static learning anymore in education. Teachers need to learn how to hit these moving targets. Don't let students stand still. As soon as they've caught the metaphoric ball, start thinking about where you're going to pass it next and get them moving there... inquiry-based learning requires questions before it can determine answers.

Start warming up.
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