Data Driven Blinders

IMG_3885-2I believe in data, to a large extent.  If I want to understand how to better provide a chance for my students to learn, I need to know what is happening when I am with my students. How many open ended questions do I ask during the time we are together? How often do the students work together, confirm answers with one another, seek out more information? How often does learning last for a day? for a week? A year? If I collect this type of information, I can make changes, and foster a better atmosphere for learning.  I believe this.

But I also believe that what we take as a given, what we think must be true, limits what kinds of data we look at.  If we believe all second graders should be able to master addition and subtraction, there are so many things we will not have time to look at. Addition, subtraction, sight-words…this list of what we ‘know’ children need to know goes on an on. So recently, I have come to believe that our children are in classes where teachers are being forced to teach and keep track of data at the expense of some basic principle which we do not NEED data to know are true.

  1. Children need time to play.
  2. Children need time to interact with each other and care about each other.
  3. Children need to see that their own curiosity can lead to valued and valuable learning.
  4. Children need to continue to believe that they can solve problems individual and with other children, without assistance from adults.
  5. Teachers need to help show what it means to respect other people, to listen to other people, and to support other people. If they do, students can get on with doing what they should do (see 1-4)
  6. Teachers need to take time out to listen to what is being said by their students; they need to take time out to watch what is being done by their students. This is arguably more important than any set curriculum which teachers and students must follow within a given period of time.

I’m pretty sure that all of these 6 things, these very basic ideas of what it means to learn about yourself and your place in the world and be supported in that process, are what educators focus on when they can. But shouldn’t any learning space be set up so that first we make sure that 1-6 is the foundation for everything that happens in a classroom? If we make students feel valued and secure, if we help students take care of each other, if we can show our students what it means to be respectful, I have a feeling that students will happily get on with learning all those things we are so sure they NEED TO KNOW by a certain age.

Data is important, but data always exists within a set of parameters. I have a feeling that the way the parameters are set now have walled teachers and students off from doing the the most important things they need to do for learning to take place…to truly see, understand, and respect each other. We have centuries of data to show that when people don’t do this very basic work, things rarely, if ever, turn out the way we would hope. And hope, well that is the very lifeblood of teaching and learning. With hope, we believe that what we cannot do today, we might be able to do tomorrow. With hope, we believe not only in ourselves, but in each other. With hope, we start to stumble down the true path of learning.




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