This is one of those posts where I might just ramble on but I am trying to clarify some thoughts in my head…
When talking about new and innovative ways to teach students, a question that I constantly get is “where is the evidence that this works?” The problem with trying something new, there is rarely evidence to support it because it is new. That being said, I am seeing many educators be the “guinea pigs” themselves and trying out new strategies for learning on themselves and with staff. If there engagement and learning is improving from their own experience, it is more likely to make an impact on students. We have often believed that teachers should be experts on “teaching” when the reality is that they should be experts on “learning” first. Immersing themselves into learning opportunities will help them get closer to that standard than simply reading about teaching techniques.
As I have started to think about the “where is the evidence” question, I am wondering if it should be asked right back. Where is the evidence that what we used to do was knocking it out of the park for all of our kids? When I went to school, many students struggled then in school and it wasn’t the utopia that so many people have made it out to be. Are grades the measure? If they are, do we look at factors such as socio-economic status and their impact on test scores? Do we believe that any one thing is a direct result to improved grades? If you look at any school division that has improved, do they usually only have one initiative that they can directly correlate to a numerical improvement, or are there multiple factors? Does critical thinking improve learning? Does helping students make healthy choices improve learning? Or would a combination of both have an impact? Or would one make an impact on one student, while the focus on another might be the different for another student? It is tough to make standardized assessments on individuals; each person is unique and needs different things.
This brings me back to a conversation this morning that I had with one educator who had mentioned that her admin “didn’t think that kids would do well with this type of learning”. What I told her is that we should never limit a kid to what we, as adults, think that they can or can’t do. There is a saying that “whether you think you can or you can’t, you are usually right.” It is one thing to have this mindset for ourselves, but when we decide our kids “can’t” before giving them a chance or showing a belief in them, their opportunities to grow and achieve something great are limited.
So I guess the next time when I am asked, “Where is the evidence that this works?”, my response might be that nothing works for all people. It never has and it never will. Some kids will do better with pen and paper, and some adults will do better with a laptop; we have to be able to provide options that work for our students, not just ourselves. I also believe that sometimes our faith in our kids could be as important (if not more) as some of the evidence we collect. If we believe we can help our students do amazing things, continuously grow, and make the world better, isn’t it more likely to happen?