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Guest column: Let’s rethink education now


Concerning our district's efforts to move on from this pandemic-induced situation, the insights I share come from 20 years of teaching in three states -- middle school, high school, college, Title 1 schools and gifted programs -- and years of professional development in art education.

I'm disappointed to see the term "Learning Loss" at the center of all this. It shows me how we're completely missing this opportunity to do what the pandemic could have engendered: re-thinking education drastically. Seems like we'll just double down on failed strategies.

Sure, kids have missed a lot of instruction, but we've all learned a lot this past year. What our students at Rio Grande Prep Academy have shown me is that for so many of them, nothing about the curriculum we offer, the modalities we use, the threats we make or the high school diploma we offer are sufficient to get them to engage in what we do. My colleagues around the district see the same thing. And that was often true before the pandemic.

What will work, I've come to believe, is waking up to the world we inhabit and stop behaving like it's the same one from 100 years ago. Like there's something magical about moving high school kids from teacher to teacher, subject to subject, at the ring of a bell. Quizzing and testing, percentages and letter grades, Core Curricula, detention and suspension to remove the "problems."

What if we created an environment that spoke to children's souls? That sparked their curiosity? That valued who they are and what they bring? What if we put them at the center of their learning?

K - 6th grade - Lots and lots of play, stuctured and un-structured. Yes: fundamentals of reading, arithmetic and the self-discovery of the scientific method, learning by trial and error. And complete abolishing of grades, either as numbers or letters. Kick the data nerds, the testing corporations and the policy wonks out of the henhouse and listen to the educators -- kids need smaller groupings, close relationships and self-motivation. Say it with me: Authentic Assessments -- notes, portfolios, recordings, artworks. And lots and lots of movement, music, dance, art, theater and play.

If we don't have them loving school at this age, we've lost many of them for life.

I taught eight years at a charter middle school -- dual-language and arts-based -- and for a good stretch, we were pretty successful with our students due to having strong, consistent leadership, relentless outreach to families, and a rich arts curriculum and all the community-building that creates -- kids who practice together, play together and perform get highly -- and naturally, authentically -- invested in each other and their academic success. And many of the teachers spent a lot of time playing sports, music and games with the kids at lunch and any other breaks we had, during testing, on half-days, etc.

7 - 9th - Making sure fundamentals are sound still, but self-interest can drive most learning. Student choice, project-based learning, heterogeneous grouping where interdependence is valued over individual excellence. Where nobody lets anybody fail.

10 - 12th - Real world applications. Community partners, mentors and internships. Entirely project-based, teachers and administrators are facilitators, content experts, resources and guides. Peers are those things, too. Students move on at their own pace -- ready for college at 16? Prove it, and off you go. Ready to work or apprentice at 16 or 17? Based on your skills, as demonstrated through industry-provided means -- interviews, portfolios, tests -- cool.

The longer I teach, the more I want to throw out everything we're doing wrong. Let's re-envision together and push our state in the right direction.

For project-based, student-centered learning resources, visit deeperlearning4all.org/teaching-and-learning-for-deeper-learning/

 or www.bigpicture.org/apps/pages/studentcentered