Friday, May 20, 2011

Why Do We Need to Label Everything?

Earlier this month.  I was having a Twitter discussion with one of my favorite people in the world, Jen Wagner regarding our need to label everything.  I wish I had taken snapshots of that conversation.  Mostly because it talked about the difference between Personal Learning Networks, Professional Learning Networks and Professional Learning Communities.  It ended with Jen saying something like: "Why do we need these different categories? Why can't I just call everyone my friend?" And that got me thinking.  Obviously, since it is still resonating in my brain weeks later.  I never did anything with those thoughts, but they have been ruminating.  Why do we need to categorize our lives?  Perhaps, because they are so complex and full of information, it's the only way we can process it? Perhaps.  But do we also do a disservice to ourselves by saying this information needs to remain compartmentalized in this way?

Then last night on Facebook, I saw this from one of my "friends" (who also happens to be a former colleague, I won't mention names here just to perpetuate the myth of anonymity on Facebook):

"Stressed over how my students did on their exams. I never thought they would do as bad as they did. I knew it was tough, but not that tough. Did they learn anything this year?"

First thought I had was: "Wow it's great to see a teacher that concerned over his student's well being, when so many put exams on 'Set It and Forget It' "  Then the conversation started to unfold.  Of course, there were the cute Facebook responses such as [paraphrasing] 'just give them all A's - the kids will appreciate it'.  Somewhere from the thread grew thoughts of authentic assessment. And then this:

"I completely agree with you! If we want them to use the material, let's make them use it. How about product-based assessments. Make the language assessment be a project that incorporates what they've used all year."

I of course had to throw in my 2 cents about "Project Based Learning".  Which of course is different from "product-based learning" and certainly, different than "student-driven service projects" accomplished by students participating in the East Initiative.  Or is it?

You see, when we place a label on something, we change our expectations of the outcome.  And the same is true for standardized testing.  Those students who don't score as well are expected to fail.  Those in the top 10% are destined for success. Right? Maybe?

Let's forget for a moment the bubble sheets of the classroom or even the dreaded state tests which society hold in such high esteem that many states have suggested tying teacher salary to them.  Let's talk about the SAT's, a national standard that can become a roadblock to the hollowed hall's of learning.  Did you know that Bill Clinton is widely reported to have scored a 1032?  In fact, "A survey of 1,371 millionaires by Thomas J. Stanley, author of "The Millionaire Mind," found that many had SAT scores below 1200, and they averaged 1190. Many of them were told by high school teachers that they were mediocre students but had engaging personalitiesFortunately, for these individuals they were able to "beat" our system or just gave up on it.  Ever hear of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg?

Do we need a way to assess student progress?  Absolutely.  Does it have to be a cut and dry as standardized tests?  Probably not.  Where is the middle ground?  Where and how does learning happen? Until our labels and perceptions start to change our systems cannot.  As my Facebook "friend" said, there is a need for "changing the entire culture of "learning" and school: students, parents, and most difficult, teachers." And he's right!  We need to change our perceptions of learning.  And one way to do that is to change remove the labels we apply to just about everything.

One thing is certain.  I will continue to learn from my friends like Jen and my anonymous Facebook friend, no matter the label or category applied!
Cross posted at: TeacherTechAcademy
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