I start out each morning with the greatest of intentions. I tell myself that I will work on my next book for 90 minutes. I will then work on the curriculum that I owe my client for the next 90 minutes. I will then have a 12 minute lunch and spend 75 minutes working on the competencies draft I have been slogging through. And then two minutes before my son is due to walk through the door home from school, I tell myself that I will have completed all my bookkeeping for the month. As you probably guessed, none of that happens as planned. I usually end up dealing with Stuff That Comes Up - my son's forgotten lunchbox; a call from a former colleague; a slew of new paperwork that a client for whom I completed a project three months ago demands I complete if I want to get paid this year; a meeting with a potential client who wants to interview me on my past work for an hour. You know - Stuff.
I end up working late into the night several days of the week but really that's when I get my best work done. All my clients are asleep or having proper social lives; my son is tucked into bed; my husband is doing his late night work 20 feet from my own desk and well - that's when the flow is so perfect. No interruptions, no calls or meetings or demands on my time other than what I set out to do. This time is golden and my most productive. It's my best mode for learning and productivity. I think to jobs that require people to be in a certain spot to do their job and really, the indicated spot to 'work' is not always where our best work can be done.
This makes me think of training activities where we pull together people out of their work space to teach them some new knowledge or skill which we then expect them to apply back in the very workspace we took them out of. This uprooting should be a growth experience where people can learn new skills and behaviours simply by working with others who have fresh ideas or different ways of looking at something. They have to work harder to accomplish the set tasks because the people around the table are new to them and thus do not know their work habits. It is such a rich opportunity to learn collaboration and problem-solving as well as the new set of knowledge and skills being taught. Sadly, I continue to observe painful death-by-slidedeck lectures where even the presenter is bored. Or I click through a shiny new e-learning course which periodically asks me to parrot back the text that was presented in the previous screen. At least with the e-learning, I can turn off the machine when I am bored to tears.
The field is suddenly awash with people calling themselves Instructional Designers who simply add pretty pictures to those same, boring slidedecks. Or who copy and paste material from a print manual into an online interface and call it (and bill it as) e-learning. I welcome these self-proclaimed Instructional Designers to the fray on the condition that they make training- in any format - worth their learners' precious time - time that their learners took out of their carefully planned day, time that they otherwise could be attending to Stuff - to sit and hopefully learn something new. There are loads of opportunities out there for new IDs to learn how a curriculum needs to be appropriately written and designed appropriate to different formats. It should be noted that very little of a solid course curriculum framework has to do with shiny, pretty pictures. It's all about understanding how children or adults best learn different types of content - and applying those principles and methods appropriate to your audience and your context. That's the whole shebang. Now go learn it in whatever mode best suits you and apply it.
Last month, I talked with youth in an area with extraordinarily high HIV transmission rates who told me that they know they SHOULD wear a condom, but well - they don't. Last week, I talked with a mother of a struggling student who said that she knew that she should read with her child every night, but well - she was just so tired when her daughter was ready for a book . Today, I talked with an obese woman who said she wasn't even hungry when she overate, but well - once she got started she just couldn't stop.
So many problems that affect our health and happiness, so many excuses for why people just can't commit. I love, love, love delving into these issues with people, asking endless questions and coming up with some interventions based on their responses. Behavior change is this amorphous, at-times overwhelming concept of why people do what they do despite knowing how it will negatively affect them and/or those that they love. Any behavior is game for introspection, not just health behaviors. I am especially eager to explore ways in working with teachers and parents about why students and parents struggle in forming positive study and work behaviors. Any potential co-authors out there?
I started teaching 20+years ago. My first class of 4th graders totaled 41 students. It was my job to teach them reading, science, social studies, spelling, vocabulary, art, and all the other stuff that kids are expected to learn. My colleague, Mrs. Jaworski taught math to the kids but everything else was up to me. I led and guided all the learning in the classroom and most of the visual aids I used were either in a textbook which I held up for all to see, showing an image I was able to transfer onto an overhead projector from an encyclopedia or other reference book OR whatever I wrote or drew on my blackboard. But I recognized the power of visuals in my teaching and as a self-proclaimed Bad Artist, I spent one entire summer attending a seminar for teachers to learn a time-intensive and detailed process of photographing pictures in reference books and transferring negatives of these images to overheads. It was revolutionary at the time to be able to make your own beautiful overhead sheets of images that supplemented teaching and contributed to students' learning. We've come a long way, baby.
In schools today, I see teachers faced with so many choices on how to present and teach their content, and when it comes to technology - almost too many choices. Some of my teacher friends say about technology, "it's just so overwhelming sometimes", and "it's beyond intimidating" and "I don't even have time to use the bathroom some days, much less read the latest news on how to do even more in my classroom". It's not enough that teachers have to teach to content-specific standards and the common curriculum of the school in a way that is engaging and understandable and assess-able but we also need to ensure we are assessing learning while also taking care of children's emotional and physical needs. Having to juggle the needs of 20+ children in a non-tech world is hard enough, but now teachers are expected to know and be able to flawlessly implement educational technology in their classrooms despite receiving any extra time to learn how to teach using this high-tech platform.
In a recent blogpost by Audrey Watters, a self-proclaimed education writer, Audrey lists no fewer than 21 fairly sophisticated ed tech concepts that she feels every teacher should know. I hold 4 advanced degrees in education, including extensive coursework in educational technology and I had to look several of these "must-know" concepts up. I could only shake my head and wonder if the people who come with all the must-know-these-terms lists or the myriad must-have-apps-for-your-classroom lists understand the huge number of constraints that teachers have to face on a daily basis, and most importantly, if they have ever been a teacher. I think those listmakers should know that teachers do want to know all those terms, learn and practice all those skills, and have access to all those apps and tablets for every one of their students. And really - they do want to know how to use technology to not only make their jobs a tad bit easier but also help their students learn all that much better. Yes, really - without exception, every single teacher I have worked with, truly wants their students to excel in every aspect. But there are only so many hours in the day and oh-so-many demands on teacher's time by their students, administration, district and every government official who demands more testing, more standards, more everything without actually making room for learning and adopting technology in a teacher's day.
Don't get me wrong, I am fully supportive of the use of technology in the modern classroom - I think this shift in the platform of education is long overdue and it is not yet done changing form. The technology is progressing and evolving faster than most teachers can keep up with and so I say, let's take it easy. Let's take it easy and provide guidelines, funding, and professional development time to guide teachers in understanding the best way to incorporate ed tech in their very busy teaching load. Let's recognize that the endless lists of must-do's, must-have's and every new development in educational technology are tools, just that - tools in a teacher's toolbox. Tools are there to assist teachers in teaching content to students in an engaging and provocative way, and in a way that allows teachers to assess learning and to ensure that their students truly "got it". Tools are not there to make a teacher feel less competent and overwhelmed and frustrated and feel less than, simply because they can't define The Garage Myth. Teachers understand how children learn and the best environment where learning can happen. Teachers are the glue - THE most significant factor in the learning success of a child - and to alienate them because of ed tech is a grave error.
I get it, I do. Most non-educators that I work with in designing training and teaching events all proudly tell me that they plan to administer a pretest at the beginning of the training event. They have been dutifully taught that pre-tests are the only way to measure learning that they are about to impart to their participants or students.
The pretests that they show me are usually long, complicated, and intimidating forms asking the testee very specific knowledge points that all the participants specifically came to the training to learn. The post-test is almost always the EXACT same test as the pre-test; the only difference between the pre-test and the post-test being the headings PRE-TEST and POST-TEST boldly typed in imposing font at the tops of each test.
I will usually counter with my arsenal of brain research about how people best learn new information. I talk about how we do not wish to make the learners feel threatened in the very first hour by prompting them with big scary tests asking them about information that we already know they don't know. Pretests usually result in learners feeling threatened or embarrassed or frustrated or even fearful because by administering pre-tests, we imply that somehow we expect learners to know information that they don't yet know because we have not yet taught them. I explain that when learners feel threatened or embarrassed or frustrated or even fearful, their fear/rage response is triggered and well, all learning simply comes to a screeching halt. And then when the trainer or teacher collects the pre-tests and starts to teach, they have already diminished the group's ability to learn significantly. Not a great way to start a teaching or training event.
And yet, when those same trainers and teachers administer that same test - this time with the POST TEST heading - they can show significant gains in participant knowledge. Well yeah, that's because the trainers/teachers actually taught the information to the participants. No big surprise that there will be gains when you compare results. I believe strongly that if you don't administer that intimidating pre-test in its present scary form and test for prior knowledge in a more authentic way, those post-test results will be even greater.
I love this cartoon. That 'then a miracle occurs' part is what I do for a living - I try to make miracles happen. No easy feat. That kind of miracle requires buy-in from the supervisors of the people I am trying to create miracles with and well - supervisors are a busy lot who often think of training as a reward for star trainees, a parking place for trainees that they aren't sure what to do with, or a way to burn money in a budget. sigh. Ahh, but when the miracles do happen - it is nothing sort of magical. When the trainees are motivated, when they receive proper encouragement and reinforcement, when the skills and knowledge are taught in a way that they are retained accurately and the pièce de résistance - when the learning is transferred back to the workplace - it makes me as a trainer want to come back for more. And so I will...
As a former teacher and principal in the United States, I felt fairly knowledgeable about the various approaches and theories offered by way of school choices. I ran an international school, even started up a public charter school - I thought that I was largely in-the-know about school choice.
And then, my family and I decided to move to the Netherlands. We researched the international school option - a terrific system but WAY too expensive. We then learned that Holland is the only country in the world to offer state-subsidies for students holding a Dutch passport and a passport from another country to attend international schools to help them transition into Dutch society and language. These schools are specifically developed for kids like my son who are Dutch, have lived overseas for most of his life and who may initially struggle with adapting to a school where Dutch is the primary - sole - language of instruction. These international schools allow kids coming to Holland to slowly adjust to Dutch as the language of instruction and help them to adapt to their new life 'back home'. Wow. But then the more we looked - well, actually - the more Marcel looked, the more the options for schooling continued to unfold. We learned that the Dutch public schools, while all requiring students to take the national standards test, all have adopted different approaches in their methodology for educating their young charges. Some of the options include International Baccalaureate, Montessori, Jenaplan, Freeschool, Dalton, and then various religious institutions like Catholic and Protestant schools. To add to this rich mix, most of these schools also offer an 'Early Bird' plan for students who are learning Dutch so that part of the instruction - largely the reading and writing classes - are taught bilingually to accommodate both languages and encourage development of spoken and written abilities as well as reading comprehension and writing structure. Damn. These are PUBLIC schools, where the Netherlands' education system ranks in the top ten each year for reading and is currently ranked 11th in the world in math and science education. Now why can't the US get this right?
I have been working lately with universities at the undergraduate and the graduate levels on curriculum mapping. It's obviously a different focus than would be used for elementary and secondary levels but it yields even richer data as we uncover gaps, overlaps and areas where universities can work together to build on their curricular and instructional strengths and identify areas that need improvement in written curricula. The universities have been extremely forthright in their sharing of needs and challenges and it is a delight to work with educators who want to get it right to improve the learning for their students. I have tremendous respect for these Asian universities and their endless desire to improve their educational offerings - not just chase the almighty 'research and publish' mindset.
I am eager to continue this critical work in the line of mapping at the university levels. This is where our future teachers, doctors, environmentalists and citizens are trained after all....
I have been doing a lot of thinking about curriculum lately. I recently visited a government-sponsored regional training center here in Asia complete with four state-of-the-art training rooms. The center only just opened last month, yet the schedule at the center is completely booked for the next three months. I walked past the three occupied classrooms where training activities were in full swing and I could only wonder how many of the trainings being conducted were accompanied by a curriculum for the trainer to follow. If the trainings taking place there that day are typical of how most trainings operate, there were probably few that employed the use of well-crafted and tested curriculum. And yet, NGOs spend more money on capacity-building activities, such as trainings for particular individuals, than any other activity.1
My guess is that most trainings that take place do not have a formal curriculum in place. After all, it costs too much time and money to develop something quality. ASTD estimates that quality training curriculum takes approximately 40 hours of prep time from analysis to evaluation PER hour of instruction. Yes, that is a LOT of prep time but it's quality time, ensuring that time spent training is of the highest quality. As a curriculum designer, I feel strongly that no training should be held without a standardized curriculum - to do so without a curriculum is likely to waste the time of the trainee, the trainee's supervisor, the trainer and the poorly planned training allows minimal transference of knowledge and skills back to the workplace. Think of the time that trainees are away from their workplace - the lost productivity when they are stuck in a training room watching endless powerpoint presentations. Think of the money needed to rent the venue, put trainees and trainers up in hotel, payment of per diems, travel to and from the training, the cost to feed everyone. Why is it that we can make sure to get all the logistics right but be unwilling to ensure that the reason everyone is there in the training room - the actual training - is learner-appropriate, utilizes appropriate methodologies to teach knowledge, skills and attitudes, and provide continuous formative assessments against well-crafted objectives?
1. Riddell, R. C. (2008). Does Foreign aid really work? Oxford University Press, USA.
My son came home from school the other day talking about 'making connections'. He said that we are all connected and that we need to use our minds to see how we are connected. Wise words for a 5-year-old and kudos to the educator who didn't think he was 'only 5' and knew that he was able to grasp such abstractions. Everyday now he talks about how various things/people/places are connected and how he, too, is connected to said thing/person/place. Wow - amazing things take place in a learner's mind when s/he is pushed to think critically.
My son is preparing to enter Kindergarten this year. As we are living in Thailand and my son doesn't speak Thai fluently, we have decided to send him to an international school here in Bangkok. We are told that the school where we would like to send him is the "best". When I ask how it is the "best", I am told that they have well-paid teachers, a phenomenal curriculum, terrific activities for all kids, and a great library. As soon as I heard the part about the well-paid teachers, I felt that maybe it is the "best". In my work, I have seen teachers make abominable pay - such that they need to seek additional part-time work to make ends meet. As a struggling new teacher 20 years ago, I held two part-time jobs - working at a dentist's office and he second at a health club. As a new teacher, I also struggled mightily with the tremendous workload of a teacher and I easily worked 60 hour weeks as a teacher and additional 10-15 in my part-time work. How can anyone expect all that that we expect of our teachers when we simply don't compensate them accordingly?
So, I say I will happily pay to send my child to a school with well-paid teachers since this is why it is considered the "best". And yes, the tuition is an eye-popping amount but my son's teachers will be fairly compensated and have the time to dedicate to making my son's l;earning experience a solid one, not worrying about what shift she has to work at the local burger joint in his/her off-hours. Education may be expensive; but ignorance carries a fair higher price.
An educator nomad traveling and teaching her way around the world. Fun stuff.