I should go easy on this article because it’s written by a student from the School of Journalism at Michigan State University. Nevertheless, since education writing is usually about agreeing with those who advocate for ineffective practices, with little or no investigation of the other side, this article is emblematic of how reporters are trained in education writing.
We start with the standard quote from a teacher about how it used to be and how it is now:
Mindy Willis, a curriculum consultant for Pinckney Community Schools, says the role of a teacher is evolving. When she was in grade school, the teacher taught in a direct manner, the students took notes and then were later tested on it, but she says that’s not how the classroom looks now. Today, teachers are managing their classrooms in what’s called an inquiry-based instruction.
“With inquiry-based instruction, you design learning for students where they’re actually going through a process of figuring things out themselves,” said Willis. “So basically, the kids are constructing their own knowledge based on experiences that they’re having and they’re driving, and the teacher is a facilitator to guide them through that process as opposed to just spitting it at them and then regurgitating that information.”
Notice that the “how we teach now” is contrasted with past practices by denigrating them: e.g., teachers “spitting” information at students who then “regurgitate” the information. Such mischaracterization is a key feature of education reporting and it looks like MSU’s School of Journalism is leading the way.
There’s even a table comparing how it used to be to what we’re moving toward:
There’s plenty to notice in this table, but one thing that grabbed my eye was the description in the “Moving from” column regarding lesson structure: “Lessons contain low-level content, concepts mentioned; lessons not coherently organized.” I’ve gone through many older math textbooks and do not agree with the caricature presented. Topics are presented and built upon in a very coherent fashion. One has only to look at some of today’s modern “spiral process” textbooks (e.g., Everyday Math; Investigations in Number, Data and Space) to see that lessons are anything but coherent. And in the “Moving toward” column, we see that lessons focus on “high-level and basic” content. Hard to know how you can do both at the same time, but what I think they mean is they present a “top down” approach, with concept first, and procedure last–and no teaching the procedure until students “understand” the conceptual underpinning. And needless to say, but I’ll say it, such approach has had disastrous results.
And of course no story on education would be complete without talking about project-based learning. This article does not disappoint in that regard:
Another widespread idea across the country is project based learning. According to the Buck Institute for Education, project based learning is about students creating projects that solve real world problems, then students present their finished project to an audience. By doing this repeatedly, students learn key skills like critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
Yes, the 4C’s: Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Why bother with learning what they need to know in order to do a project–they learn it on the job in a “just in time” manner. And in so doing, learn the 4C’s which are more important than content knowledge.
The authors of this article even cite research that supports the idea that such skills are key for students to succeed in the 21st Century.
In a research study conducted by the Buck Institute for Education that compared various organizations to their opinions on “21st century skills,” most organizations found critical thinking, collaboration and communication as extremely important attributes in an employee. You can access their research in the link here.
Of course, content knowledge is important–for the teacher, that is:
“A lot of people don’t realize just how much content area preparation secondary teachers have to go through to get their degrees, to become certified and to become teachers,” says Bieda.
Well, it’s good that somebody knows the content. I wonder how the teachers obtained that contact. Through direct instruction or Project Based Learning? In any event, that content is being kept a deep dark secret and providing students such information would be “spitting it at them” only to have them “regurgitate it back”. And we can’t have that. Because the new method is working just great isn’t it?
Don’t hold your breath, by the way, for a follow-up story of how students who wind up majoring in STEM fields are getting the education they need.