Over the last five years, I’ve really been wrestling to understand the changes that are needed to create the schools that our students deserve.
For me, that wrestling started when I realized that it was becoming harder and harder to truly engage my students in the lessons that I was teaching. Instead of being active participants in class — something that I’d never struggled with before — my kids were increasingly passive and disconnected from the work that we were doing.
Sure, they were still playing the “grade game” — turning in tasks that showed mastery of the standards. But there was little to no real inspiration in their efforts. It was clear that they saw school as something to be endured instead of enjoyed.
So I started thinking about the differences between ENGAGING and EMPOWERING learners.
The way I saw it, traditional schools stripped learners of any real agency — and learners without agency are uninspired. What’s more, I want kids to leave school convinced that they can change the world around them for the better — to see themselves as people with both the capacity and responsibility to be a positive influence their communities.
That’s when I started tinkering with purpose-driven learning — the notion that kids are most motivated when they are wrestling with causes or issues or problems that are meaningful and purposeful beyond the classroom walls. If I could use problems as an invitation to learn the required curriculum — an idea that Garfield Gini-Newman calls “problemitizing the curriculum” -I could meet the expectations outlined in the required curricula while simultaneously creating learning experiences that my kids really WOULD care about.
But I’ve always struggled to explain in clear and simple terms what this change in education should look like — and that’s kept my thinking from spreading widely beyond my own room.
It’s easy to SAY that empowerment trumps engagement and that purpose should stand at the center of the classroom learning experience, but what exactly does that MEAN? How would learning experiences be restructured if that shift stood at the center of the work we did with kids.
That’s why I was jazzed to stumble across this Erik P.M. Vermeulen bit describing the expectations of millennial learners on Hackernoon in my stream this morning.
In it, Vermeulen writes:
“The world has really changed. Education has become less about the transfer of “fact”-based information/knowledge and much more about exploring and building the future together with the students.”
That’s SUCH a powerful statement, y’all. Read it again.
And then ask yourself a simple question: Are the bulk of your learning experiences about transferring facts or about exploring and building a better future together with your students?
Chances are that if you work in a traditional school, you’re still transferring facts. And if so, chances are your kids are bored.
How do you fix that?
Constantly remember that transferring facts is a heck of a lot easier and more inspiring when it happens as a part of an attempt to explore and build a better future together.
Kids need purpose, too — and all too often, that purpose is missing from the work we do in schools.
If you want to learn more about using causes as levers for learning, consider checking out Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences — my latest book for Solution Tree Press.
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