Is “Traditional” Education So Bad?

I’m the first to say the education system in the US could benefit from some serious changes.  However, the more people I talk to the more I realize that it doesn’t seem quite clear what “traditional” education is.  I’ve attended many events and talks on the need for a new model of education, one that replaces the so-called “traditional” model.  For example, I’ve heard people say that lecturing groups of students and having classrooms are part of that traditional model that needs to be replaced.

traditional classroomLet’s just focus on those two elements of “traditional” education.  This makes me ask, what’s so bad about a classroom?  What’s so bad about talking to students in a large group?  When students watch Khan Academy videos, the presenter of the video lectures them.  Two main differences come to mind – first, we can pause and replay a specific part or all of the video and second, we cannot ask the presenter questions.  That’s one pro and one con.  The other question I ask is what’s so bad about the classroom?  As far as I am concerned, rooms perform some very useful functions in my life.  There’s the office, the dining room, the living room, the steam room, the bedroom, and let’s not forget the best room of all, the bathroom!  One thing you may notice these rooms all have in common is a purpose.  The room has a clearly defined purpose, which empowers it and gives it value.  Perhaps what needs to change is what we call the classroom because “class” does not clearly communicate a value-added purpose.  Maybe we can have study rooms, math rooms, reflection rooms, lab rooms, brainstorming rooms, etc.

The reason I am writing this post is not to make a case for traditional or untraditional education, however anyone may or may not define it.  My point is that we need to be careful of what we include in “traditional” education when we refer to getting rid of it.

I am just as passionate as anyone else about the opportunity to make some value-added changes and additions to the current models for education.  However, I believe there is a lot to be appreciated such as teacher presentations and classrooms.  The opportunity for improvement lies within those elements.  WHAT we do in the classroom can be untraditional and HOW we deliver presentations and lectures can be untraditional.  Technology is on our side and provides us with a powerful opportunity to significantly add value to these elements of education.  Let’s not forget, as awesome and revolutionary as the smart phone was, it’s still a phone.  What Apple did so successfully was add tremendous value to this existing device.

The last thought I’ll leave you with is to consider carefully what is meant by and included in traditional education when it comes up in the next EDU conversation you have.


There is No Such Thing as a Bad Student

I recently read comments on an article about a new platform that allows teachers to sell their lesson plans to teachers worldwide.  In a response to the article, one person commented that the quality of student has decreased and others agreed with his assessment.

How dare we even talk about the “quality” of a student?  A student comes to school as a “tabula rasa” (blank slate) and as teachers, we are responsible for developing a quality student.

An expectation of “student quality” suggests that some students are predisposed to successfully complete the teacher’s work and others are not.  Thus if they do not succeed in a particular teacher’s classroom then it must be the student that is the problem.  To be clear, I am not suggesting that students should be passive participants nor that all the responsibility for learning rests on the teacher.

Mr. Miyagi (left) taught Danny Karate to build his confidence and prepare him for a tournament.

There is a line by Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid that reads, “no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.”  I agree with this line, but I would not necessarily use the word “bad” to describe teacher.  Instead I would replace it with unsuccessful.

I believe every student is capable of achieving great success, the only question is how they will achieve it.  As teachers, it is OUR job to find a way to reach that student.  Can EACH of us reach EVERY student?  Absolutely not.  There are some students we will simply not be able to reach.  However, that is not because the student is unreachable or his quality is low.  It is because that particular teacher could not reach that particular student.  That is not a bad reflection on the teacher.  That does not mean the teacher is bad.  It simply means the teacher was not successful with that particular student.  Thus, this student is simply to be reached by another teacher. Continue reading

Why are More Mistakes Critical to Success?

Previously, I wrote a blog post about how spectacular mistakes can lead to spectacular success.  Without letting go of fear of the former, we cannot have the latter.  In this post I want to discuss why we should get excited about making mistakes – many of them.  Perhaps it’s poor writing fashion, but I will risk giving away the punch line up front:  with every mistake we make, we learn at least one thing that doesn’t work and have the opportunity to discover at least one correction.  If we look at it that way, our technique can only improve with every mistake we make, thus the more mistakes we make, the better off we are.

Since moving back to NYC from St. Louis, I have had significantly more opportunities to spend time with my baby niece.  In the last few months she has been working on walking.  I am not sure there is any better example by which to observe the learning process.  Babies have no sense of self-consciousness thus they cannot be hindered or distracted by it.  Babies simply try and try again.  I have watched my niece walk along the walls, furniture, or while supported by both hands.  One day I refused to take her other hand and only extended a finger for her to hold on to – she complied.  She was doing fine and then she lost her footing and she fell – broke my heart.  Continue reading

Why are Mistakes Good?

Mistakes are often penalized in our current educational system.  For instance, you raise your hand with a wrong answer and it’s often followed by “wrong, anyone else?”  Or you receive a grade on a test without ever exploring your mistakes in depth to learn what was done incorrectly and how it could have been approached differently or why it was very close but simply off by one or two minor details.  Another demonstration of this punishment system is the rewards and positive labels that are assigned to students that make few or no mistakes and conversely the negative labels assigned to those that do make mistakes.  Just imagine how poorly Thomas Edison would have scored in a class dubbed “Making a Light Bulb.”  He would have been “wrong” over 1,000 times! Continue reading