. . . they need more power.
I’m sitting in my hotel room at a conference. It doesn’t matter how fancy they make things, the art is bland and anticeptic. I suppose people don’t go to a hotel room to listen to a statement or to feel something deeply or to question social norms.
I flip through the cable channels. Half the shows are voyeuristic “reality” shows helping me to see the melodramatic lives of teen moms or mafia wives. The other shows are reruns of sitcoms from decades past (as if cable tv has become the world’s largest fridge to house yesterday’s hit shows) or shouting matches on a twenty-four-seven news cycle.
The hotel art and cable tv both illustrate a flaw in differentiation. More choices do not lead to higher quality (The Paradox of Choice examines this well). The overall quality decreases as executives try to tailor to each person’s tastes while also remaining a broadcast medium.
I experience this when I read most newspapers or check out my latest issue of Time. It’s as if each media outlet is scrambling to deal with the splintering of media while still reaching the largest audience possible.
The beautiful thing is that I have internet access here, which means I can access alternative and social media. I can find blogs that challenge my thinking and then post comments or write my own blog. I can listen to podcasts with a perspective that I won’t find anywhere else and then tweet about it to my PLN. I can listen to artists that I’ll never hear on the radio, not because of a lower quality, but because the artists are unique in their approach.
It’s not that I have more choices. Instead, I have more freedom. I feel empowered to engage in the media with a critical eye. No more bread and circus. I get customize my media experience to fit my needs for relevance, meaning, creativity and ideas that challenge my thinking. This is admittedly dangerous. I can get narcissistic and narrow-minded. Then again, I can get lazy and dull with cable tv. Every medium has its costs.
So, back to the classroom. I want schools that look less like cable tv and more like alternative and social media. Like cable television, students are often bored in a standardized classroom. Delivery is often bland, resorting to old ideas repackaged in a new framework. The end result is an incessant mental channel surfing, where students are looking for meaning, relevance and a chance to participate.
However, to do this, we need to make some paradigm shifts. I can think of a few. I’d love for you to add some more:
- We need to shift from differentiating instruction to customizing instruction.
- We need to shift from teacher-centered delivery to a dialogue between students and teachers in the learning process.
- We need to shift from common resources to a learning commons. In other words, we need to let students bring their own devices, access quality literature, visit their world, serve in their community all within a larger context of democratic knowledge.
- We need to shift from rigid work to fluid learning. I am not suggesting that students simply play all day (though there is a place for play). However, I want students to create individual and whole-class projects. It’s why I love having students write personal blogs and then paint collective murals. It’s why group assignments often allow from cross-group collaboration. If students own their own learning, then the issue of who did what takes a back seat to who learned what.
- We need to shift from standardized to authentic assessment. We need to take on the mindset that assessment is ongoing and helps spur better thinking. It doesn’t have to fit within the narrow lens of behaviorism.
- We need to shift from static to fluid learning spaces. Visit a Starbucks and you’ll see a chance to stand, sit at a couch and sit at tables. Unlike McDonalds, a decent coffee shop will not bolt down hard plastic furniture in a method of differentiation (booth or table) but will invite customers to redesign the space when necessary.
- We need to change from behavior management to ethical thinking. Empower students to think about their actions through dialogue rather than time-out chairs.