Friday, November 20, 2009

Working ahead?

A question I posed to a teacher recently, who had some difficulty thinking what she would do:

Let's say you had a policy in your course that allowed a student to test out of a unit (and if you don't, that would be a good place to start). Once the student tests out, they have enrichment activities.

You notice a student who, in class, is reading the next chapter of the textbook, googling key vocabulary terms for it, whatever would be involved, in order to pass out of that unit.

Do you as a teacher allow that to happen? Do you encourage it?

At first blush, this would seem to be the perfect scenario. The student has initiative with a measurable goal in mind. They are becoming an independent learner, acquiring their learning in their preferred method. And, they are working at their own pace.

Yet, as parents of the students above could attest, this doesn't happen much. Why not?

The first barrier is even having the option to test out of units in the first place. Often, the thought is the curriculum is "too essential to let a student clep". Or "too difficult to even let them try." Or, group work is required during this unit, so others in the class are depending on this student. Or, you can't "test out" of physical fitness. Or choir. Or...

But let's say a teacher sees the light and allows testing out. And then sees students cramming before the test-out. Isn't it difficult to let go of that locus of control? Isn't it intended for students who already know the material? Is it hard to possibly perceive that the student would rather not learn the material the way you teach it?

The problem is that, even in these situations, the class is a teacher-centered class. Not a student-centered class. Despite allowing students to test out, the control really still rests with the teacher. To allow it to happen is the first step. To encourage it is the end goal in 21st century teaching and learning.

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