No more cookie-cutter teaching!

by Bruce Kasanoff on May 27, 2010

Nothing frustrates me more than lazy, old-fashioned cookie-cutter teaching.

I’m talking about teachers who stand up and lecture, who have one strategy and one strategy only for getting students to learn, and who care more about doing things their way than helping kids learn.

I’m also talking about administrators and school boards that tolerate – or even foster – this sort of utterly outdated, largely ineffective teaching.

There’s simply no excuse for it. Let’s knock down the excuses one by one:

Budget cuts: Money is tight, no doubt. So get kids out of the classroom! Very few subjects require students to sit day after day as one unit doing the same thing. Most classes would benefit from letting students work on individualized assignments 1/3 to 1/2 of the time, wherever they choose: at home, in the library, on the lawn. When individualized learning takes hold, we’ll probably be able to reduce our need for classroom space significantly.

Tradition: “This is the way we teach this course.” The way we teach english, math, science and foreign languages date back to the days when the Internet didn’t exist and every responsible home had an encyclopedia in it. Today, the idea of fitting all our knowledge into one set of books is laughable. Students need to learn how to search, analyze and validate information; not to memorize it by rote. Any course that hasn’t been redesigned in the past five years is sadly lacking.

Proven method: Unless your approach is individualized, it hasn’t been proven by the criteria that matters most: does it help all kids learn? Schools label kids as lazy, not that smart, unmotivated, disaffected, etc. Most of these labels have more to do with the school not having the motivation to help every student than anything else. People learn differently; that’s a fact. This means teachers and schools have to be able to accommodate many different learning styles, something that was impossible until technology made it not only possible but also essential.

I don’t have the power to change this: At The Wharton School, I had a professor who demonstrated that no matter who you are: teacher, manager, top executive or politician – you can feel powerless. The truth is, we all have the ability to create change. Your power derives from a single source: your conviction that change is essential, and you are going to make it happen.

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