Wow, I knew that this whole social media thing was powerful. But something happened to me yesterday that I never could have predicted!
I wrote a post earlier this summer called Three Revised Things to Unlearn about Learning. One reader was so……mmmm….let’s call it “inspired”…that when he started his own blog recently his first post was an open letter to ME in response! And even though he and I don’t agree about much, I think that is really cool.
So here’s your Friday homework:
1. Read my Three Revised Things to Unlearn about Learning post.
2. Go read Paul Genge’s open letter to me.
3. Then read my response to Paul (I posted it on his site, but as of this writing it is still pending moderation, so I am also posting it here, for your reading pleasure).
Finally, jump in! What do you think? What do YOU need to believe something works?
My response to Paul:
First off, let me apologize for not getting back to this sooner, after you originally posted it in July. And thank you for the reminder! I’m very flattered that I am the subject of your very first blog post!
That said, I’m not sure that I’m flattered by your description of my blog post as a “caricature.” I’ve seen those artists drawing caricatures before, and my post was intended to be sincere. But onward…
Before getting into the specifics of what you stated in this post, let me first clarify, for your readers, what my background is. I’m a scientist. I was trained originally as an experimental psychologist before expanding into educational psychology and instructional design. When you’re trained as a scientist, you are trained to value certain things above others. (To get an idea of what, see my blog post “How to Argue with a Scientist,” here: https://karenmahon.com/2012/07/24/405/) But the one thing that scientists have in common is that we strive for data-based evidence in what we do, whether we are neuroscientists, biologists, environmental scientists, or learning scientists, like I am. For scientists it’s about the data.
Now, to move on to what you’ve written in your post. If I take some of your points individually, I think you’ve inferred beyond what I actually wrote in my post. For example, I don’t think I suggested that all learning is linear…I’m a huge proponent of non-linear instructional design that allows for adaptive instruction to adjust to learner performance on a moment-by-moment basis, something I think I’ve made clear in many of my posts. In addition, I did not dismiss collaboration….instead, what I did in my post about Richardson’s position was question his definition of “competition” and try to unpack that in the context of how we conduct standardized assessment. Moreover, I think many of the ideas in your “What If” section are very interesting and not dissimilar from what I myself would like to see.
So instead of responding to each and every part of your post, let me just try to clarify my own position: I am all for trying new and different approaches to education. I don’t particularly care for the current multiple-choice version of standardized testing because I think that performance-based assessment is more meaningful. It’s not important to me that everyone (or anyone) else buys into the underlying theoretical approach that I do (behavior analysis). I think personalized instruction that adapts to individual learners is great. And I certainly don’t deny that a school’s culture, a teacher’s personal beliefs and the individuality of the kids impacts what happens in a classroom.
AND when we are making decisions about how to educate kids I want to see evidence that what we do WORKS. I believe that we, as educators and as a society, have a responsibility to turn out capable, confident young adults who can contribute meaningfully to society. Measuring what we do is important not only because we, as instructors, can then modify our approaches to make sure we are fulfilling our responsibility, but also so that we as a larger society can then replicate the approaches that work across many schools. If you, Paul, do something really amazing that works really well in improving your students’ skills, then let’s use it everywhere. But we have no way of knowing that’s the case if we aren’t measuring anything. And as a scientist, I’m just not willing to accept anecdotal “evidence.” Yes, the proof of what a student can do is in the work itself. The work itself IS a measure. It is a performance-based measure. Let’s use it as such. Do I care about assigning that work a letter grade? Not particularly. But I do care about describing that work using some kind of metric that allows me to communicate with other people about what has been achieved. My commitment to measurement is not pedantic; it is practical.
My goal is this: I want to be part of a movement that figures out what works in producing young adults that have amazing skills sets, including problem solving and critical thinking and creativity, that can go out and build a kick-ass world. And like it or not, in order to figure out what does and does not work, you have to measure something. Otherwise all you have is subjective opinions. If for you, as an educator, that is enough, then have at it. But for me, as a scientist, it is not. And I make no apologies for that.
So yes, I care about measuring learning outcomes. The question I pose back to you, Paul, as someone who is clearly committed to education and kids, is why DON’T you?