Sunday, April 15, 2007

Musings of a Concrete Random

Like about 19% of you, on the Gregorc scale of learning styles, I am a concrete random. In my case that explains my extreme multi-tasking learning style, my eternally messy desk, and my tendency to create metaphors to understand or explain new concepts. I love metaphors. . . except I also rapidly see their flaws; so just as rapidly, I am creating disclaimers to point out where the comparison breaks down.

As I opened the current issue of Edutopia , the first item to catch my random attention was an ETS ad using the metaphor of The Perfect Storm to illustrate three forces that underlie a "tempest. . . that's threatening American prosperity and tearing at our political cohesion." The three brewing forces the ad identifies are
"• economic restructuring that places a premium on literacy and numeracy skills
• uneven distribution of these skills
• sweeping demographic trends that are changing the population and workforce"

Stripping away the adver-ganda, we teachers see these storm clouds of achievement gaps in our own backyards, so that part of the metaphor works. However, meteorologists can't stop a tempest. I'm optimistic that we do have on-the-ground influence, though maybe not as much until the mandates of NCLB emphasize learning, not testing. [See NCTE recommendations for
changes in NCLB]

On the facing page is the Edutopia Editor's Note with a different metaphor: educational reform ala Dell Computer's practice of mass customization.
Of course I see the flaws in using computers as metaphors for learners; we've been victims of "students as widgets" metaphors for the last thirty years. But the column goes on to highlight a law proposed by Arizona' state superintendent of public education, Tom Horne, to require that each middle and high school student will have a customized learning plan by 2011. While these plans wouldn't be IEPs, they would "guarantee that all students get one-on-one advice from educators in identifying a career path. The plans would require teachers to assume the role of academic guidance counselors, frequently checking on students' progress and helping establish career goals." It seems the students and their achievements, not their test scores, would be the focus. Worthy undertaking.

But we concrete randoms are also pretty good with irony:
Metaphor 1. Given the legislative preoccupation with testing and the amount of time spent prepping and actually taking tests, isn't ironic that a testing company is "acting decisively to ensure a bright, secure future for our children and our country"?
Metaphor 2. Arizona wants teachers to counsel students about their career paths, but wants lexiles [see my March 31 blog] to counsel the students about their reading choices. If students are to rely on the advice of teachers who know the students and know the territory of post-high school planning, surely they should be able to call on teachers who know the students and know the territory of young adult literature for help in selecting books.

The closing of the Editor's Note on the proposed Arizona personal learning plans: "The upside of the idea is that it could push students to be more active in deciding what they are learning and understand why they are learning it. And isn't that what public education is all about?"

No metaphor needed.

[p.s. The Edutopia website contains a wealth of features, including the online version of their magazine. You can also receive a free subscription to the print copy of the magazine. Edutopia is sponsored by the George Lucas Educational Foundation.]


Anonymous said...

Metaphors are obviously powerful things. They are how we make discoveries real. How they affect teachers is most remarkable, I think, because they bring with them a series of assumptions that we might otherwise doubt. Metaphors are like myths in this way. The real point is that we seemed to be faced with conflicting myths and metaphors. Testing treats students as walking, talking points of data, and yet we are to individualize for many learning styles to prepare for the unknown future using technology (of patched together servers, a predatory Internet, and faulty wiring) none of which takes into account children who are frequently adult in their habits if not their intellect, and parents who are acting conversely. We have become very self-conscious as scholar-teachers, constructing and de-constructing our social-political realities, conferencing about policies with people who have not, or not recently, been inside a classroom with students who do not teach themselves, that maybe we can move beyond the conventional wisdom and legends, leading to a 75 year turn-around of teaching ideas and ask ourselves one question: what do the children need?

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