Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16 - Iteration and Student Expectations

As promised, here is Part Two of Collin Nuismer's - Central Middle School ELA - MACUL 2016 reflection: Iteration and Student Expectations.


Iteration. I did not know what this word meant before going to MACUL. Now, 3 weeks later, I think this word might define the future of educational design.

Iteration consists of success and failure. It’s a techy word used most often to describe endless variations of code, but my favorite definition of it comes from Jamie Casp’s keynote address at MACUL, “[With iteration] there is no end point. There is no final. Do it, learn from it, do it better, keep doing it.” It sounds so simple, right? Do something, learn from your mistakes, do it better next time, learn from those mistakes, do it better again, repeat for infinity.  In a nutshell, that is the formula to being successful at anything in life. Even babies understand iteration. For example, I’m a tremendous walker. I bet you are too. But, you wouldn’t be such a walking savant if it wasn’t for the grit and determination of the baby version of yourself who constantly fell, got back up, tried again, fell, got up, tried again… you get the picture.

But, I think I may have made a rash indefinite statement in that first paragraph. “[Iteration] is the formula to being successful at anything in life.” What about K-12 education from a student perspective? Is iteration a quality that our students must have in order to be successful in school? Quite simply, no, and that’s a major problem.

Our evaluation system for students creates endpoints for them. Once a student receives a passing grade on an assignment their work is done. They can punch out and head home. I say passing grade because getting an A is not the qualification for passing for every student. Once a student is satisfied with their grade there is no reason for them to spend any more time thinking about whatever it was their assignment concerned. In our simplistic terms of iteration, most of our students follow this process in school: do it, look at grade, re-do if necessary, consider it done.  This is a bigger issue than we realize it to be. How can we expect our students to grow and learn from their mistakes if we say, “Here is the goal. Get there and you will have success.”  Furthermore, how can we expect teachers to be evaluated based on the growth of their students if the students are working within a system that only promotes growth to a certain extent?

Technology in the classroom gives teachers a greater potential to promote student iteration. The breadth of resources available for teachers to give students the opportunity to learn things, do things, learn from those mistakes and keep trying will only continue to grow exponentially. But, the only way we can maximize the potential of these tools is if we create an environment that promotes limitless growth, not limited benchmarks.

It took me 5 paragraphs to get here, but my second take away (my big picture take away) from MACUL is hitting the reset button on the academic expectations we have of our students. The content and concepts we teach in school are not changing. There are still certain things that students need to know at certain points in their schooling, but the things students are able to do with that knowledge are changing, and our expectations of students need to change accordingly.

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