17 October 2012

Enabling and Empowering Students

My last post was a jumble of thoughts thrown into a bulleted list. This post will attempt to explain the educational theory better, and it will use more academic-sounding headlines (they have colons).

One-Size-Fits-All: A Ubiquitous Problem
Students are simply not on the same level. Some are quicker than their classmates, some are slower, and we as teachers tend to aim right at the center of them all. It's a little bit slower than some students would like to go, and a little bit faster than other students are able to go. Unlike baby bear's porridge, it's not just right.

Another similar issue is that some students are simply more adept or more interested in some units than others, yet the whole class ends up covering the same units for the same amount of time, making little-to-no accommodations for the variety of students. It's an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach.

Independent Learning: An Attempted Solution
I may be assuming too much when I assume that most online classes are similar to my online bowling class: students procrastinate until the last minute and do the absolute minimum. Sure, it's nice to consider that students can work at their own pace, but at almost any age, your own pace is to put it off as long as possible.

Also, although I took the online bowling class at the same time as some friends, we never ended up doing much of it together. There was no reason to. Independence is lonely.

Academic, Letter-Based Grading: It's Hurting Those Who Need Help Most
I think we should fundamentally change how grading works. What we're doing is shoving kids into classes, forcing them to learn a specific set of curriculum in a specific amount of time, then assign a letter to show how well they did. But why? I suppose, for the better grades, we're showing parents and colleges that this student knows how to do work and take tests. That's okay, but what about the students who fail? Does a letter grade improve their chances of success in the future? Does giving out an F make a student think, "I shall apply myself henceforth in order to succeed." No, an F merely tells the student what he already knows: he didn't do well in the class. It's probably not his first F, and it probably wont' be his last, so why do we keep giving out F's?

Interdependent, Achievement-Based Learning: Enabling and Empowering Students
What we need is an approach that adapts to different learning styles, both in speed and in material. Adaptive learning must be a little independent, but still encourage peer interaction. And academic letter grades must be done away with and replaced with a better system that actually helps those who are failing.

I call it iNterdependent, Achievement-Based Learning, or N-ABL (pronounced "enable," is it too much of a stretch?). First, you create assignments worth anywhere from one to three stars each, depending on the objectives met and the difficulty in accomplishing them. Students can complete any assignments that are 'unlocked' to them in any order they choose. As they complete assignments, they are awarded the number of stars, and new assignments are unlocked. Ideally, this is simply out of necessity—concepts often build on each other—but occasionally it might be a shallow reward, like getting to play World of Goo for a class period.

The concept is that simple, the tricky part is in the logistics: how do you teach each individual student the content required to complete certain assignments? That's where it all hinges. In this case, I believe, students will have to have access to a computer or tablet. You would create digital content and they would access it on their device. With each assignment comes a small how-to for the tools necessary to complete the assignment. You could get around the device limitation by providing typed up binders instead, but digital content is so much more flexible. You can create and upload new how-to's on a daily basis without having to reprint an entire class-worth of binder pages. You can combine video, audio, interactivity, and external links to appeal to a variety of learning styles.

[Several days later.]
I let this post stew while I became busy getting sick and then making up for it at school, and during that time, my Zite app brought me an article from a place called Blend My Learning. The article talked about how do use grades, both letter and level. Before I finished reading the article, I became more interested in the source of it. I had never heard of blended learning before, and I had practically just independently come to the same conclusion about what kind of education system I'd like to see. Chances are I had heard about it long before and it just simmered in my unconscious mind, combining with other ideas being thrown in there.

In the end I'm not sure how similar/different this model I came up with is as compared to the blended learning model, but we'll see. I'll just post this and move on to posting Illustrator and Multimedia assignments I've come up with. I'm proud of them.

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