We have schools because we hope that someday
when children have left schools that they will still be able
to use what it is that they’ve learned.
And there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science
that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is
that they’re studying, unless they learn to ask questions,
to do things hands-on, to essentially recreate things in their own mind
and then transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear.
The student may have a good grade on the exam.
We may think that he or she is learning, but a year
or two later there’s nothing left.
If, on the other hand, somebody has carried out an experiment himself
or herself, analyzed the data, made a prediction and saw whether it came
out correctly; if somebody is doing history
and actually does some interviewing himself or herself, oral histories,
then reads the documents, listens to it,
go back and asks further questions, writes up a paper–
that’s the kind of thing that’s going to adhere,
where if you simply memorize a bunch of names and a bunch of facts
and a bunch of– even a bunch of definitions,
there’s nothing to hold onto.
The idea of multiple intelligences comes out of psychology.
It’s a theory that was developed to document the fact
that human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths
and that these strengths are very, very important in how kids learn
and how people represent things in their minds,
and then how people use them in order
to show what it is that they’ve understood.
If we all had exactly the same kind of mind and there was only one kind
of intelligence, then we could teach everybody the same thing
in the same way and assess them in the same way, and that would be fair.
But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds,
different kinds of strengths–
some people are good in thinking spatially, some people are good
in thinking language, other people are very logical, other people need
to do hands-on; they need to actually explore actively
and to try things out– once we realize that, then education
which treats everybody the same way is actually the most unfair education
because it picks out one kind of mind,
which I call the Law Professor Mind, somebody who’s very linguistic
and logical, and says, “If you think like that, great.
If you don’t think like that, there’s no room in the train for you.”
If we know that one child has a very spatial–
a visual or spatial way of learning, another child has a very hands-on way
of learning, a third child likes to ask deep philosophical questions,
a fourth child likes stories,
we don’t have to talk very fast as a teacher.
We can actually provide software, we can provide materials,
we can provide resources which present material to a child in a way
in which the child will find interesting and will be able
to use his or her intelligences productivity, and to the extent
that the technology is interactive, the child will actually be able
to show his or her understanding in a way that’s comfortable to the child.
We have this myth that the only way to learn something is read it
in a textbook or hear a lecture on it, and the only way to show
that we’ve understood something is to take a short-answer test
or maybe occasionally with an essay question thrown in.
But that’s nonsense.
Everything can be taught in more than one way,
and anything that’s understood can be shown in more than one way.
I don’t believe because there are eight intelligences we have
to teach things eight ways.
I think that’s silly.
But we always ought to be asking to ourselves,
“Are we reaching every child, and if not,
are there other ways in which we can do it?”
I think that we teach way too many subjects
and we cover way too much material, and the end result is
that students have a very superficial knowledge–
as we often say, a mile wide and an inch deep–
and then once they leave school, almost everything’s been forgotten.
And I think that school needs to change to have a few priorities
and to really go into those priorities very deeply.
So let’s take the area of science.
I actually don’t care if a child studies physics or biology or geology
or astronomy before he goes to college.
There’s plenty of time to do that kind of detailed work.
I think what’s really important is to begin to learn
to think scientifically, to understand what a hypothesis is,
how to test it out and see whether it’s working or not;
if it’s not working, how to revise your theory about things.
That takes time.
There’s no way you can present that in a week or indeed even in a month.
You have to learn about it from doing many different kinds of experiments,
seeing when the results are like what you predicted,
seeing when they’re different, and so on.
But if you really focus on science in that kind of way, by the time you go
to college– or, if you don’t go to college, by the time you go
to workplace– you’ll know the difference between a statement
which is simply a matter of opinion or prejudice,
and one for which there’s solid evidence.
The most important thing about assessment is knowing what it is
that you should be able to do.
And the best way for me to think about it is a child learning a sport
or a child learning an art form, because they’re
as completely un-mysterious– what you have to be to be a quarterback
or a figure skater or a violin player.
You see it, you try it out, you’re coached.
You know when you’re getting better.
You know how you’re doing compared to other kids.
In school, assessment is mystifying.
Nobody knows what’s going to be on the test,
and when the test results go back,
neither the teacher nor the student knows what to do.
So what I favor is highlighting for kids from the day they walk
into school what are the performances and what are the exhibitions
for which they’re going to be accountable.
Let’s get real.
Let’s look at the kinds of things that we really value in the world.
Let’s be as explicit as we can.
Let’s provide feedback to kids from as early as possible,
and then let them internalize the feedback
so they themselves can say what’s going well, what’s not going so well.
I’m a writer, and initially I had to have a lot of feedback from editors,
including a lot of rejections.
But over time, I learned what was important, I learned to edit myself,
and now the feedback from editors is much less necessary.
And I think anybody as an adult knows that as you get to be more expert
in things you don’t have to do so much external critiquing;
you can do what we call self-assessment.
And in school, assessment shouldn’t be something that’s done to you.
It should be something where you are the most active agent.
I think for there to be longstanding change in American education–
that is widespread rather than just on the margins–
first of all people have to see examples of places which are
like their own places where the new kind of education really works,
where students are learning deeply,
where they can exhibit their knowledge publicly,
and where everybody who looks at the kids says,
“That’s the kind of kids I want to have.”
So we need to have enough good examples.
Second of all, we need to have the individuals who are involved
in education, primarily teachers and administrators, believe in this,
really want to do it, and get the kind of help that they need in order
to be able to switch, so to speak, from a teacher-centered,
“Let’s stuff it into the kid’s mind” kind of education,
to one where the preparation is behind the scenes
and the child himself or herself is at the center of learning.
Third of all, I think we need to have assessment schemes
which really convince everybody that this kind of education is working.
It does no good to have child-centered learning
and then have the same old multiple choice tests
which were used 50 or 100 years ago.
Finally, I think there has to be a political commitment which says
that this is the kind of education which we want to have in our country,
and maybe outside this country, for the foreseeable future.
And as long as people are busy bashing teachers or saying
that we can’t try anything new because it might fail,
then reform will be stifled as it has been in the past.
>>For more information on what works
in public education go to edutopia.org