Preschool teachers have always known it. Children learn best through "managed messing around". Walk into a great early childhood learning environment, and you'll notice a wide variety of materials. You'll see children interacting with those materials, with each other and with the teacher in multiple ways. Some might be building with shapes (and learning to share), some painting, some creating their own story with puppets, and others looking at picture books. Sophisticated structures support this jumble of activity, as the teacher carefully observes, questions, provides powerful feedback, assesses learning, and nudges children forward. In this classroom, children learn to formulate and answer their own questions as well as the teacher's, experimenting until they find solutions that work. They practice communication, collaboration and self-regulation, and they learn what it means to be a productive citizen within a classroom community. These are
twenty-first century skills
, and this is
Fast forward to high school, where we traditionally see a more narrow range of choices for students. Here it is less common for students to create their own questions and search for answers. Mistakes are more likely to result in low grades than in a renewed search for creative, innovative solutions. Students' access to learning is largely determined by a bulleted list of objectives rather than by their own capacity, talents, and interests. Why is that?
a. because students have to pass a test that measures a narrow range of skills and content.
b. because we don't have time for meaningful learning, since students have to pass a test that measures a narrow range of skills and content.
c. because they must be prepared for ___________ (college, employment, life) where there are no choices and no do-overs
(Note: Those who believe this aren't listening to Virginia's employers or University faculty)
d. all of the above.
The good news is that high schools in Virginia are changing, as Arlington Superintendent Patrick Murphy described so well in this space last month.