big picture

We did an interesting activity with Post Its in my education class yesterday, so I thought I would share some of my insights about the activity here. Just as some background info, the goal of my education class is to answer the following two guiding questions:

  1. What is worth learning?
  2. How do we know that students are learning the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that we care most about them learning?

The Activity

Every student in my class wrote down five things she was good at on a separate Post It note. Answers ranged from activities like biking to life skills like time management. Afterward, we each walked around and took turns talking to other people. For each interaction, we exchanged one of our Post Its with the other person, and asked her one of three questions regarding the talent written on the Post It:

  1. Why is it important?
  2. How do you know you’re good at it?
  3. How did you get good at it?

The “listeners” wrote down answers on the Post Its. After everyone had given away all five of her Post Its, we sorted the Post Its based on the question that was answered. From there, we tried to find patterns among people’s answers to the three guiding questions. What we found was enlightening (at least for me).

What We Found

1. Why is it important?

The answers to this question fell into three categories: social (i.e. it makes other people feel good), mental (i.e. it makes me feel good), and knowledge (i.e. it is good to know).

The interesting thing about the current education system is that it places the stress almost entirely on knowledge. What happened to learning things that are good for social or mental reasons?

2. How do you know you’re good at it?

The answers to this question fell into four categories: feedback from others (i.e. other people tell me I’m great), direct comparison with other people (i.e. I beat so and so in a competition), accomplishing a personal goal (i.e. I survived this difficult course), and lots of practice (i.e. I spent so much time practicing that there’s no way I couldn’t be good).

Schools test for knowledge by giving students assessments. The test results then provide feedback to students. For everything else that isn’t knowledge-based, there happens to be many other ways to measure success.

3. How did you get good at it?

The answers to this question fell into three categories: external reasons (i.e. my parents made me), intrinsic reasons (i.e. I just love it so much), and practice (this is pretty self-explanatory).

The interesting thing is that even if you practice something a lot, if you’re practicing it wrong, you’re never going to get good at it. This ties back to why we need assessments in the first place (to tell you, hey! you’re doing it all wrong…).

Conclusion

I just thought this was a neat little exercise that structured our thinking around the two guiding questions. What is worth learning? How do we know when we’ve sufficiently learned something?

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