Fearless Students, Fearful Schools

An interesting blog entry titled Fearless learners, Fearful Schools by Will R on the Weblogg-Ed site got me thinking about many of the issues we face here in NZ. While Will focuses his attention on the situation in the US, his point about creating studetns who are life-long learners rather than successful test-takers applies. Here in NZ we’ve managed to do away with a more traditional “test-oriented” senior secondary system, but the problems we are experiencing with its replacement, the NCEA , may well be due, in part, to the legacy of expectations around a “test-oriented” system.

In his post, Will R states: “we have to give our students the tools and the skills to find relevant information and use it well on their own. That we need to teach them to literally revel in the learning process and the collaborative, social construction of knowledge that it creates.”

To achieve this requires an attitude of risk taking, learning from mistakes, of inquiry and exploration. We have to do a better job of shifting the emphasis from learning as being a relatively isolated and independent activity, designed around the transmission and ‘absorbing’ of content – to learning as an act of exploration, being connected, negotiating meaning, taking risks etc. Of course, no end of year test will be able to assess that!

The point Will R makes is that it is the schools themselves (and the culture of our education system) that is actively working against allowing this to happen. He cites the case of a school that has shut down its blogging network in order to protect its reputation as an example of the ‘fear’ that schools/teachers/the system has of being exploratory and risk taking in its own behaviour.

I can’t help but agree that it’s this sort of thinking that limits so much of what is (or isn’t) happening currently in our schools in NZ.

4 thoughts on “Fearless Students, Fearful Schools

  1. I agree wholeheartedly hear. The more time goes by the more I realise the need for risk taking to equip our young people with the tools they need for thier future and their childrens future. I also believe we ned to concentrate on public awareness? Let the parents and caregivers of our children know what kind of environment they need to create to let this take place.

  2. Agreed Eddie, without risk taking being something that is welcomed and encouraged, we will struggle to get innovation. By risk taking I do not mean ‘reckless abandon’, but a considered approach to trying new things that we hope will work work, but that there is an element of uncertainty – RISK! Unless the institution is ‘big enough’ the embrace this and support individuals even if the outcomes are not what were anticipated then I find it ahrd to see how ‘transformational’ change can occur.

  3. Sorry Derek – the need for NCEA ‘credentialing’ at three separate levels has put us back to the ’70s (without the innovative and inspiring rock music and anti-establishment values which were the catalyst for so much positive change IMHO!!!) and as a result youngsters and their families have been poorly served as teachers/schools indulge in a frenzy of meaningless bit-piece continual assessment that destroys deep learning longitudinal courses and trivialises academic disciplines. Before we can make progress, a group of courageous educationalists need to answer some very big secondary school assessment based questions and make radical and wide-spread change. Shall we start now? I’m keen if you are!!! HB

  4. Hi Derek. As usual, you’re on the pulse.

    Schools as an institution cionstruct and maintain social differences between adulthood and childhood.

    Children, found subverting these adult-defined child roles at too young an age (e.g. by the free expression of blogging) are presented as ‘at risk’ and clamped down on.

    Children’s engagements with each other through their media, by contrast construct them as powerful and in control. Hence the disconnect between schools and kids potentially grows.

    Part of the challenge for educators of providing a ‘risky’ learning envirnment is becoming more open to the capacities and roles of children in modern times.

    So for me it goes a bit deeper than getting them to do new activities.

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