Back in 1993 (20 years ago!) I was one of the original teachers hired at Mililani Mauka Elementary School. Prior to starting the school year, all of us newly-hired teachers were asked to read several articles about "thinking dispositions," I was overwhelmed and had no idea what the articles were talking about. However, in time and after receiving training from David Perkins of Harvard's Project Zero, all of us teachers gained a greater understanding about thinking dispositions. We then collaborated to design meaningful and relevant project-based units and to explicitly teach the thinking dispositions throughout the day, When we taught these units, we saw how engaged our students were. Although we had our curriculum plan of what we wanted our students to learn and what resources we would use, teaching and learning were guided by the students' questions and their curiosity to find out more than what we had written into our plans. In fact, learning often went way beyond what we originally envisioned.
When I became a principal ten years ago, one of my goals was for every grade level to collaborate on creating interdisciplinary units and to embed content standards to make learning more relevant for students. Today, every grade level has created units and review and revise them yearly. However, with the emphasis on statewide assessments and making Adequate Yearly Progress, these units are sometimes set on the side in order to provide students with more time to practice reading and math skills. Perhaps it was my fault in setting a goal every year to make AYP. Perhaps I needed to rethink how we measure success for each student and to reflect on what is the real meaning of "quality education."
It was serendipitous that I was able to read this wonderful blog, "Deeper Learning: Highlighting Student Work" and view the videos. It brought me back to what I believe we need to focus on in education -- students doing meaningful and quality work with teachers coaching and guiding them. The video on "Austin's Butterfly" is amazing; listen to the students' comments as they view each draft of Austin's drawing. In order to get this kind of quality work, however, teachers need to guide students to understand how to give and receive specific feedback in order to improve a product. This disposition needs to be nurtured from the time a student is young, and the work itself needs to be "important" with students applying what they've learned to a real-life situation.
Some of these kinds of projects are already happening at Hale Kula. For example, after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in November 2012, our third graders brainstormed and decided to collect money to help families who were devastated by the super storm. Our fifth grade Hope Garden is an example of sustainability, and students lead tours for the community during Earth Day activities. Additionally, our sea urchin project is a great example of how our students are making a difference. We know how excited students are about learning when they can participate in "real" learning, so this kind of learning needs to be the norm and not the exception.
As a youth soccer coach, I remember planning my practices to include working on skills and drills, oftentimes, the very ones the players had difficulty executing during the previous game. Then we practiced those skills in controlled, game-like situations, and then hopefully, the players would be able to understand and use those skills during a real game. Music, art, and foreign languages are similar in that students practice and then apply their skills in order to improve or showcase what they have learned. The problem with school is that often, we teach and then have students practice skills, but they never have the opportunity to apply these skills to a real-life situation.
Engaging in quality, meaningful work, not just practicing skills -- that is my goal for every student at our school.