Ken Robinson talked about Peter Brook who posed: "What can you subtract and still have theatre?" Robinson then drew parallels with education and said that we should stick to the essentials of education, but not add anything that does not help it. My question is: what exactly are those essentials in education? I have the answer to that question for myself, but I'm not sure it applies to any other teacher.
One of the things I did a few years ago, but that I got away from, was that I came up with a list of 7 things that drove my teaching. The list was all about the seven essential things that I wanted my students to learn, and that I could teach them. They were global enough so that everything that was important to life would be included in the list, but they were specific enough that it wasn't so general that I could justify anything.
I did not keep these essential things a secret either. I tried to make them as explicit as possible to my students. In fact, I told them to ask me, "What is the BIG IDEA?" over the course of each lesson. My intention was to start each lesson with this objective, but of course, I forgot, so my students knew to trigger me with the question (they even competed to be the one to ask), and it was my job to tie every lesson to at least one of these essentials. I try to make each lesson applicable to their lives right now, not some nebulous time in the future (i.e. "Learn this because you might need this in the future." What a load of hooey!) Did I really need to learn the Prime Ministers in order when I can Google them now? And exactly where do I need to use dividing by negative fractions? And why are kids still getting marks for colouring their assignments in high school? School is supposed to prepare children for the rest of their lives, not just the world of school. But it doesn't. School seems to be content on perpetuating itself. Why are we learning this? You might need it later in life. Because it will go on your report card. To get you ready for the next grade or high school or university. None of these reasons can be important to the here and now of students, so I created the essential list to let my students in on the learning, not put it on the shelf for later.
Why Create Such a List?
Creating a list of the essential things that I want all students to learn was a really important exercise, and I urge you to do it for yourself if you are a teacher. The list helps to justify what you do, and you'll see what is really important to education and to you. It is also liberating because it helps you get rid of everything that is not important. Why do it if it is not effective in reaching your objectives or if it is not important? In telling students how each lesson ties to each of these essential things, it makes learning explicit to students (and myself). They'll see the importance of the lessons because they are applicable. (i.e. This is how your learning will help you, in your life. Today.) If I couldn't reconcile the lesson with my list, I wouldn't teach it.
If you do decide to make your own list, here are some tips:
- Keep the list to under ten. Brainstorm a bunch of things, and then sort and combine until you have a manageable number.
- Remember that the items are not mutually exclusive. You'll find a lot of overlap. Life is like that.
- Make your items teachable, doable, and important.
- The list is NOT written in stone.
So, over the next blog entries, I will talk about the 7 things on my list that I think all students should learn. If you are at all interested in creating your own list, I suggest you do so before you read mine because the process is important, plus I do not want my list to impede or colour your list. The most important thing about your list is that it comes from YOU (because you are the one who is going to have to teach it, justify it and live it).