Monday, April 26, 2010

One and a Half Years (1.5)

I've been reading a lot of information lately about reinventing schools that can be responsive to societal demands while maximizing relevant experiences for kids that they can be passionate about. This juggling act is under way at my new school, and I truly believe that they hold the keys to something that could truly be transformative for many other places. Certainly, there are rough edges to polish and debris to clear from the messy work of getting to this point, but the types of learning and understanding that kids truly need are sitting in front of us. There is one piece of information that I can't seem to run away from though, and this is the idea that the best teachers, the truly great ones are able to grow kids by 1.5 years in 1 year of schooling. These are the teachers that are closing the learning and knowing gap of students below proficiency and stretching the top learners to new places that they didn't think that they could go. This 1.5 years statement is a confusing one that I am trying to figure out how to discuss. What does it mean to grow a student's technology literacy by 1.5 years or have a student grow 1.5 years in social studies or science? It is easier in literacy and numeracy to measure this, but if we truly want to be a school that defines its success beyond test scores, then we really need to figure out what 1.5 years of growth means for the things that we deem as important. I want to be the leader of a place that has each teacher growing his or her students at this rate. This would be a measure of having an excellent place of learning, one that cares about kids so much that we aren't happy until we are growing minds, hearts and souls at this rate.


  1. Let me challenge your thinking a bit. What does "one year of learning" mean? In my life there have been moments of huge leaps, and moments of relative "calm." In some periods new information and skills pour in, in other periods those gains are consolidated, personalized, applied. In some years I learn more watching HGTV and The Food Network. In others I learn reading philosophy or by drifting more or less aimlessly through historical documents. Just last night I advised a high school student - stuck in the 21st century while trying to write historical fiction located in Roman-era Gaul, to go to sleep with his window wide open for a week or two and to try to dream his knowledge into an emotional experience. Will he learn at 1.5x the annual rate these two weeks?

    One of the things I think schools do wrong is their consistent attempt to quantify the individual human experience. We constantly - our Anglo brains calculating - seek to reduce all to the countable. I understand this is not your goal, but when we make it our method, it becomes our goal whether we want that or not.

    So to me the best teachers, the best schools give kids the opportunities and the tools to grow at the rate they need to grow at. They do not block learning by imposing time constraints, or by insisting that "this" is the time to stop learning "A" and start learning "B." They do not block learning by insisting on method over knowledge. They do not block learning by preventing kids from interacting with the world.

    I believe - absolutely - in kids' ability to learn. The problem is, that, at worst, schools stop learning. At best they only slow it down a lot. The question is, how to do we do the least damage to the learning process?

  2. Thanks for the push. My thinking continues. I love the idea about opening the window.

  3. I have the easier role here. I'm the agent provocateur. You have to figure out how to please a wide range of constituencies with conflicting goals. And let's face it, what kids often need is at odds with what "the community" wants to give them, even what their parents expect them to get.

    So somehow, we need to come up with an understanding of student learning which we can express, but I don't think we can get there until we start to see "rolling evaluations" - where is the student compared to last week, last month, last year, four years ago? - what does he/she need? how will we begin to try to meet those needs?