Note: This is cross posted at Smart Blog on Education.
If you’ve been watching the news or blogosphere, you may have seen a recent declaration from the President of France regarding homework. In essence, President Francois Hollande would like to forbid homework in schools to prevent students without support at home from falling further behind.
Amazingly, I’ve had the unique opportunity to explore French education (albeit superficially) over the past few days. What follows are a few feeble thoughts…
1. Kids are kids, regardless of where they live. In my jetlagged fog last Friday, I spent most of the day walking around the streets of Paris. Interestingly, schools in Paris appear surprisingly similar to schools in the US. I even snapped this picture of high school kids “hanging out” when school lets out. Look familiar? (I’m pretty sure it’s a genetic, innate quality of preteens and teens to congregate in large groups on sidewalks.)
So, I propose that we need to start thinking BIGGER when we consider the education of children. Kids are kids and learning is learning. So…how can we work together, nationally and internationally to solve educational problems? We live in a networked world. Let’s learn from each other. If a ban on homework works for the French, could it work for the US? Spain? Why or why not?
2. Understanding is constructed most deeply through guided exploration. In short, I’ve spent most of the past week geographically lost in some form or another. To me, that means I’m knee-deep in exploration. While I realize that wandering to and from various visual landmarks is incredibly inefficient, it is also the most effective way for me to personally garner mastery of my surroundings. Consider how this relates to kids. How often to we give kids goals accompanied by extended time for exploration? In a world where coverage is endlessly chased, are we allowing sufficient time for students to construct their own meaning? As part of my work with international teachers while in Paris, Grant Wiggins cited some research which notes that students typically forget academic knowledge at the same rate as nonsense words. What logically follows is that a laser-like focus on the acquisition of knowledge will generate graduates that don’t remember much.
Instead, explore a much smaller terrain, gain mastery, and emphasize the transfer of learning to new situations.
3. The ways in which we design tasks is potentially the most important work that we do as educators. During my time in Paris, I had the enormous opportunity to explore assessment design with teachers from Paris, Madrid, and Berlin. What students spend their time doing in our classes really matters. This work should provide students with an authentic role and be created for a real audience. This makes the real world an extension of the classroom, aiding engagement, rigor, and relevance. Problems in the real world are messy. Students need to see messy problems in the classroom too. A problem that is easily solved isn’t really a problem. Is it?
Despite being far away from home, many of the issues appeared surprisingly similar. I believe we are more alike than different when considering our international colleagues. Perhaps we need to listen and learn more about education as a national community. We certainly have a lot to gain from a continued conversation!