Textbooks

More on standardization with some tossed in additions

In the past, I have written about the destructive nature of standardization while at the same time stating that we must raise expectations/standards; expect more from students and ourselves. I stand by that.

In my opinion, standardization has led to LOW expectations. Our approach to teaching is too often mechanistic, i.e. we teach to the test or follow the textbook, using the ancillary materials as if there is some magical outcome that will result in student learning. Teaching is too often routine; follow the script, follow the guides, follow the texts…and do not vary too much from those as the ‘assessment police’ may come down on you.

Paulo Freire referred to it in simple terms as ‘banking education’ where professors make deposits of knowledge into students’ heads and students are then supposed to make sense of that knowledge and apply it on their own in some way. The teacher does all the talking; the student the listening; passive receptacles to be filled. Concurrent with that model, teaching materials and texts are sometimes openly promoted as being ‘teacher proof.’

The de-intellectualization of teachers/professors and the teaching/learning process is all too real in the age of accountability.

Meanwhile, our students are constantly manipulating data, text, and information as they use their mobile devices to stay connected with others (and with information) 24/7. They generate information, apply information, create communities, innovate, and learn…even if the information isn’t necessarily accurate and the learning not centered around what we believe is ‘essential.’ Such terms as crowdsourcing, digital natives, gamers, tweeting, texting, facebooking, etc. have become mainstream among the current generation.

Yet, what do we do in classrooms?

When I hear major concerns from faculty members about their textbook orders being late, or when I hear from a student that they spent “782 freaking dollars on books yesterday”, or when I hear from students about their weekly multiple choice tests or their multiple choice final exams (all of which are gradable via a Scan Tron device)…well, you tell me where we are in terms of classroom teaching in the year 2016.

I know the above doesn’t apply across the board; nothing ever does.

However, speak with students about what their classroom experience is like. Ask them about the number of textbooks they purchase and how those are used in class. Lift their backpacks. Ask them what they actually DO when in their classes; how much they interact/talk/question. Ask them what kind of assessments they experience. When you ask those questions, tally the results by number of classes they are referring to vs. overall number of classes in which they are enrolled.

Also, ask yourself if what they are telling you sounds familiar.

Then, ask yourself why the U.S. has fallen down the charts in several measures of educational quality and prioritization…number of degrees awarded…number of students pursuing post-secondary education…measures of achievement in mathematics and science…while we still spend more (the second highest percentage of our GDP on education) than any other country but one on the planet.

Is it about lack of funding?

Is it about fear of breaking away from the oppressive nature of standardization?

Is it about lack of time to invest in a focus on learning rather than a focus on teaching?

Or is it about the lack of pedagogical knowledge among university professors in general?

Have you done any reading on collaborative learning? Socratic questioning? Project-based learning? Inquiry-based approaches? Case-study approaches? Field-based learning? Active, application…breaking down the walls and breaking down the silos…integrating technologies that students use everyday into the teaching/learning process…where are those happening to any great extent?

There is a long history of those who have done this and done it well with research supporting its effectiveness. There are people actively engaged in these and similar approaches at BSU and in other places; islands and pockets of innovative teaching.

But I believe that there is far too much textbook reliant ‘teaching’ going on.

My question is this: How do we make this mainstream instead of talking about it in terms of it being islands and pockets of innovative teaching?