Education: Its time for a change.

Education: It is time for a change.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” – Jean Baptist Alphonse Karr

Let’s admit it, the world has changed significantly since this quote was written by Karr in 1839.  The Internet provides a wealth of information with just a quick search.  Student populations are so diverse that “minority” populations are now becoming the majority.  College and career opportunities are so expansive, that it is impossible for schools to provided students with all of the skills needed.  Yet, the way in which we do education has not changed much.  Students are still grouped by age and assessed the same, regardless of differences in academic abilities. Most K-12 classes in the United States are designed in a 9 month calendar with the expectation that all students will master the standards written for that course in that time frame.  Moreover, all courses, such as chemistry, biology, geography, algebra, computer science, etc. are expected to be taught in this specific 9 month time frame.  (Interesting how all courses and student learning can fit into a perfect 9 month time frame). And, we still have 3 month summer to provide families time to harvest!

In a society in which we embrace diversity and individuality, we still structure education same.  There have been many initiatives to create change over the years yet “the more we stay the same.”  But is it time to finally make a real change that will shift education from teaching content to teaching learning?

If I had a magic wand, I would create an education system in which students had the autonomy to learn at the pace they need to truly master the standards.  Students will not be bound to a calendar but rather bound to the expectations of the standards.  Some students may need 12 years to complete K-12 curriculum but some may be able to finish in 8 years and others may need 15 years.    A 10yr old that is gifted in math can be in a math class that is two or three grade levels higher than their language art course. Furthermore, schools would be year round to avoid a break in the learning and the development of learning gaps (But don’t worry we would still have the same number of days off just more spread out.  Just think, you could go on vacation and not be charged extra for “peak” rates).

Of course, I don’t have a magic wand and historically we know changing education this drastically is not likely going to happen overnight, but there is something educators can do to start shifting the change from teaching stuff to teaching learning:  flipped mastery learning. In this strategy, students are held to high expectations of learning and not allowed to move on to the next standard until the previous one is mastered.  And, with the use of flipped videos, class time is available for hands-on, engaging activities that allow students to experience the learning. Flipped mastery learning is the key to creating the change education needs to provide a diverse education for all students.

This is not a new idea.  In fact in the early 1900s John Dewey, an innovator an in education, once said “education is not an affair of telling or being told, but an active and constructive process.” Dewey understood that education can’t be an environment in which students are told about the learning, but rather, they must have opportunities to experience problem solving, teamwork, collaboration and innovation.   And, as another example, in 1969, Robert Karplus developed the explore – explain – apply strategy.  He also understood that experiential learning yielded deeper learning. That students should have the opportunity to explore first, then receive an explanation.  When the student dictates when they get the information piece, the learning is more relevant to their understanding and then will be more likely retained and applied to new learning. Flipped mastery learning allows for this type of learning, and achieves the highest academic results because of the expectation that students will  master the foundational concepts before moving on to the higher levels  learning.

If experiential and mastery learning are not a new idea,  then why didn’t these pedagogical theories stick?  To me, the answer is simple.  Until recently, educators didn’t have the the technology capabilities to provide the students the information when they readily needed.  With teacher develop videos, students have the specific information they need in a short video.  Flipped mastery learning requires teachers to hand over the control of the learning to the students.  Teachers create a classroom environment that provides students a variety of activities, experiences and practice pieces to learn the standards.  The teacher is no longer the deliverer of information but rather the facilitator of learning. They provide the variety of strategies to understand concepts and differentiate the experience to meet each student’s learning needs. The teacher helps students evaluate their understanding and identify which areas they have reached mastery and the areas they need to continue to improve.  Most importantly, the teacher holds high expectations for each student to reach mastery of a standard before moving to the next.  In this system, students are no longer motivated by completing a course within an arbitrary calendar time frame, but rather motivated to learn all the standards within a unit to be able to move on to the next.

This type of learning and teaching sounds like a textbook of theories and strategies but it is happening all over the United States.  Teachers are stepping away from the lecture podium and creating flipped videos.  With flipped mastery learning, homework consists of lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy  and the class time is devoted to higher levels of learning and truly differentiated. Students can have the extra time they need to better understand a complex concept, or conversely, students can move faster than the pacing calendar.  Learning and achievement gaps would be drastically reduced  because students from all subpopulations will be held to the same high standards but given the time, and differentiated instruction they need to master these standards.

Educators, we have the technological tools to give the students the true experiential education they need to learn, retain and truly master their learning objectives.  In time, I may write another blog about the logistics of flipped mastery learning, but in the meantime, reach out to the #flipclass on Twitter on Monday nights at 7pm.  There are  educators all over the world making flipped mastery learning happen and seeing the results that we all truly desire as educators.

Cara Johnson

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