Originally Posted February 2012
I fell into teaching in an unlikely way. I was a kid who didn’t like school, so my rationale for becoming a teacher was to make the system better than it was when I went through it. “If I was president,” I used to say, “schools would be places where kids could learn about things they were interested in.” Somehow by the time I was in the 7th grade, the word “learn” equaled “school” which equaled “rigid and boring.” “My classroom,” I said with confidence after a few years of homeschooling, “will be a place are really interested in the work that they do.”
Now that I’ve been invested on the other end I realize how complex educating really is. When my classroom is functioning best my students have choices. They can choose seats, work with different partners, pick projects to work on, and gather resources around the room as they see fit. When I’m patient and listen I see my kids explore, struggle, discuss, and finally discover for themselves. These are the moments when I feel like a real educator. But these moments seem to be more and more difficult to justify.
Unfortunately, while students who are primarily engaged in Project-Based learning turn out to be better field practitioners, they don’t score as well as kids who follow a main stream classroom models on standardized tests as. As a novice teacher I steal time from students’ discovery process to drill so I can guarantee they’ll be ready to pass state mandated tests. Test dates can’t be prolonged for discovery processes to unfold and so we prepare our kids to take and pass tests.
Below I’ve created a graph to represent my beliefs vs. what actually happens in the classroom. The text in blue represents technology I use to achieve these two very different learning goals. Double click to enlarge it in a new window.