Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Compensatory Model of Education

This blog post, by Liz B. Davis, is one every educator and educational policy maker should read: Putting Gladwell's Compensatory Model into Practice or NECC 09 Keynote Part 2.

What message are we sending to our kids when we punish them for trying? For taking chances? For being creative? Imaging life if Benjamin Franklin had been content with wearing two pair of glasses, never creating bifocals, or Thomas Alva Edison never attempted the incandescent light bulb, or Alexander Graham Bell turned his interest elsewhere after a failed attempt to send voice over wire?

We use to have a try, try again attitude, but that seems to have given way to a get it right or fail attitude. How can we expect innovation, progress or creativity from our students under this get it right or fail educational system? How can we expect teachers to promote these qualities when their job rests on whether their students get it right?

I have always believed that we have a greater potential to learn from our mistakes and risks than we do from the structured lessons taught in the classroom. What we learn from experience becomes integrated into our being, while prescribed lessons are often lost due to lack of scaffolding or prior knowledge.

As a tech enthusiast I am always trying new things, playing with them and figuring out how they work. I make plenty of mistakes. Take my first foray into web site design. I had an idea in mind and planned it out on paper. The plan was to create five different sections and have each section color coded. I made a page for each section with a menu related to that particular section. Over time I created multiple pages for each section, every time inserting the menu image and creating multiple hot spot links. After creating 20 or more pages I thought (I'm sometimes a bit slow to learn) there's got to be a better way. Then I remembered templates from a crash course in Dreamweaver. Although it took time for me to figure out a more efficient method I was able to learn from the experience and apply what I learned years later when I set up my first wiki. Needing pages for different classes with the same information, I used the template feature to save myself time.

As a tech coach I want my colleagues to realize that they aren't going to break the computer or mess it up and that experimenting is necessary! I want to encourage them to dive in and see what happens because the more they do the more they will see that technology isn't so scary and that so many technologies and tools are very similar. As they become more comfortable, they will be more willing to use different technologies in their classroom. And, hopefully, they'll model that try, try again attitude while encouraging their students to take risks and make mistakes.

Bottom line...without mistakes, risks, or errors we wouldn't be where we are today. Why, then does the educational system discourage this in our students?

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