Want school reform? Must read for educators.

by Steve Wyckoff on February 12, 2010

I spent a lot of time thinking about what needs to change in schools, how we do school reform. I also spend a lot of time listening to books. Over the last several months I’ve listened to six books that make great connections for me. I’d recommend the following six books for every educator.

Drive – Daniel Pink
How We Decide – Jonah Lehrer
Talent Is Overrated – Geoff Colvin
The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
The Element – Sir Ken Robinson

So what do all these books have in common? They all deal with motivation, learning, and great performance. Let me give you the Reader’s Digest version of what I took from these books, but please read them and let me know what you think their importance is.

First of all there is a common thread through the six that motivation and excellence are linked to interest. Individuals who have high intrinsic interest in what they’re doing are better learners. So for schools this means that we must allow students to have choice in what it is that they’re learning.  School reformer Phil Schlecty always said that teachers don’t know what their job is. He said, ” That a teacher’s job is not to teach kids. A teacher’s job is to create work that is meaningful and engaging to the student, whereby they learn the things that we want them to learn.” He’s right on target according to these authors. We have to give kids work to do, but it has to be meaningful and engaging to them.

The second thread that runs through these books is that there is no such thing as inherent talent. There are several studies that are referred to that show two things. One, and individual must spend approximately 10 years and/or 10,000 hours involved in the pursuit to become an expert. But time alone is not enough, the individual must also spend that time in what the authors referred to as, “deliberate practice.” That’s practice that focuses on improving each and every facet of the performance. By the way, the performance can be physical or cognitive, it doesn’t matter.

So what does that mean to us in schools? Well the sad truth is what we have students practice most often for 10 years and/or 10,000 hours, is passively being compliant. We ask them to sit in the seat, do what they are told, do it when they are told, and do it how they are told to do it. If they run into trouble we tell them to raise their hand and we will answer their questions, and solve their problems.

Our current system is designed to reduce the deficits that our kids have. We identify what they’re not good at and we try to raise them to mediocrity. What we should be doing is identifying what they are good at, and letting them become experts in that area. In the real world if you can shine at something you can be a success, in spite of your deficits.

Does that mean that we ignore their deficits? Absolutely not, but we should improve on those deficits as part of the deliberate practice they do in the area that they have a high interest. So they will become experts in an area with the supporting skills and knowledge necessary.

So schools, start figuring out how to create educational experiences that are, long-term, engaging to each and every student on an individual basis, and allow the student to become an expert in what rows their boat in the 21st century. – Steve Wyckoff

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