Someday I plan to transform this blog into a book. Because of the way blogs are set up and presented, the storyline can easily be lost. In this iteration of the new learning infrastructure idea, readers may overlook or forget the contents of the initial posts.
The early sections offer a rationale. They make clear the multifaceted nature of both the problem and solution.
The new learning infrastructure involves a different way of thinking about the following: teacher education, the role of teachers in decision-making, how districts are organized and led, the way curriculum is developed and implemented, methods for designing curriculum and instruction, the role of state and federal government, and involvement of local stakeholders.
The nucleus of the new learning infrastructure is a different kind of American teacher. Not a mere functionary in some vast bureaucratic structure, but a well-prepared professional with considerable skill and dedication.
At this point in the story Ken is getting worried. And with good reason. He tries to convince himself that Rebecca and the others are moving in a good direction.
Ken sees obstacles ahead that could make more planning an exercise in frustration. Obstacles more associated with self-preservation than he is willing to admit.
Nevertheless, he tries to stay the course — let Rebecca and Barbara move things forward.
Barbara Convenes a Meeting
In our last full SAC meeting, I brought up the progress made by the subcommittee of Ken, Rebecca, Bryon, and me. Committee members were surprised and a little overwhelmed by Rebecca’s proposal.
Our last full committee conversation was generic and wide-ranging. To see everything coming from the subcommittee required soak time.
Ken agreed with the committee’s conclusions and Rebecca’s subsequent efforts to make mastery learning a verifiable reality. The problem is with differences in how it is defined by various interest groups.
Ken said, “The definition of mastery and how it is achieved in all students will be anything but unanimous. On the surface, many people will think we plan to achieve that goal by continuing to do what we do now. Only better.
“They will envision our continued allegiance to meeting state standards and assuring students do well on high stakes tests. Also, they want high graduation rates, acceptance into the best colleges, scholarships, and academic successes accomplished more economically than ever.
“But that is not the direction we are headed, is it?
“To be frank, that worries me, as much as I agree with the philosophical direction we are taking.
“I imagine walking out onto a stage with the audience ready to hear how we will upgrade curriculum.” Ken counted on his fingers. “To better meet standards, intensify staff development and supervision, ensure teachers do a better job in classrooms, extend opportunities for students to learn both onsite and online. And do it all under budget, exceeding expectations.
“But, given our decisions so far, that is not what I will be doing.
“People’s eyes will glaze over when they hear me say our new interdisciplinary curriculum is not precisely aligned with standards and high stakes tests. They will wonder what I mean when I say curriculum will be taught as creatively written, with mastery learning verified qualitatively by teachers using formative assessment techniques. Their eyes may roll when I tell them we are moving from curriculum and instruction that is less trivial pursuit and more focused on problem solving and practical applications.”
Everyone looked at Ken. What was it with this guy? He seemed to like what we were doing, yet was concerned about the possibility of losing his job if things went too far.
He fully supported the new learning infrastructure ideas early in the discussion. Now he was getting cold feet about supporting the initiative as superintendent.
Everyone looked down at the floor in a kind of stupor. Finally, high school language arts teacher Mike Hall spoke up.
“Am I right in thinking that everything we have discussed so far revolves around the meaning of mastery? That word describes a narrow kind of outcome in general usage. To master a language or some other discipline is to have command of certain specified skills. But I think we want the new learning infrastructure to go beyond that.”
We all looked puzzled. I asked Mike what he meant.
Mike said, “As a guy who likes to play around with word meaning, I wonder if we are talking about adroitness. Which, to me, is a couple of notches above the demonstration of mastery.
“Ken told us about parents and patrons who think we should teach a curriculum that causes students to master state standards as measured on high stakes tests. It’s true that way of thinking has been inculcated into our society and is accepted by many folks.
“The word master works in that context. But we’re talking about human abilities that go way beyond that kind of measurement.
“I drew up a list of synonyms for master, such as adroitness. However, they connotatively mean something more than a simple stimulus-response exercise.
“To master something can be nothing more than the ability to answer a question correctly. But we would not think of that skill as being adroit. What does it mean if someone functions ably, adeptly, artfully, capably, consummately, deftly, or expertly?
“Those words incorporate creative behaviors. They also reflect student ability to analyze and evaluate. If I remember my Bloom’s Taxonomy correctly, the ability to analyze, evaluate and create are at the top of the list of learning objectives.
“The crux of what differentiates education from mere training.
“We have allowed the assembly line mentality to dominate our essence as a culture. Because people in economic and political power have succeeded in equating efficiency with Americanism.
“Yet efficiency is only a small part of what makes this country great.
“America’s real strength has come from uncompromising ingenuity, something my father and grandmother spoke about constantly. To them, making life better was ongoing invention. We invent because we see a need. Then we analyze it, conduct some kind of research and development, evaluate it through trial and error, and create something to better meet the need.
“I think Ken and all of us should use that argument to support the new learning infrastructure. That the American way of life is in jeopardy because we have allowed shackles to be put on our brains and academic enthusiasm. This forces us to do the same for students we teach. And it is killing our schools.”
Ken looked at Mike with a slightly sardonic smile. As if to say, “What universe do you live in?”
Then he gazed at the rest of us and shrugged his shoulders. “American ingenuity as a theme might elicit a more positive response.
“Let’s take the SAC’s original proposal to the Curriculum Council and see how it flies under a rubric depicting a needed national priority.”
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