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Posts Tagged ‘meaningful

This tweet made me wonder: When we have the capacity to help, do we look to the stars or keep your feet firmly planted on the ground?

With the little or much we have, how to we give back?

Tuition means different things to different people.

Mention tuition in the USA and people might think about university tuition fees and classes in the lecture-tutorial system.

Mention tuition in Singapore you might get an assortment of answers.

A minority might suggest that tuition is the shadow schooling system that contributes to high test scores. I know of at least one international testing group that has started asking survey questions about the extent of tuition. If that group shares what they find, we might have some evidence to back up that claim.

Ask parents and they might say that tuition is a lifeline for their kids to catch up, stay at the top, or fulfill some other academic agenda.

Ask our politicians about tuition, and as of last week, you have this collective response.

That headline hints at the dependence on and mindset towards tuition, not tuition per se.

So what is tuition? It means different things to different people even in our context.

In that tuition continuum, there is tuition that is:

  • nannying (keeping kids occupied, possibly with just busy work)
  • remediation (coaching for learners who cannot keep up with the curricular race or the demands of schooling)
  • extra (kiasu type: repeating what happens in school and even providing content in advance)
  • ensuring As (kiasi type: for kids who are already ahead but what to keep up with the best in the chase for grades)

There are probably other categories and the ones I listed above are not mutually exclusive. For example, a parent might desire tuition to nanny and ensure As.

The last two categories are part of enrichment tuition that blights our social landscape as tuition centres in malls all over Singapore.

Enrichment tuition is probably what is being addressed at the highest levels of our country. After all, this is the type of tuition that emphasizes the academic chase largely for grades and glory instead of the pursuit of meaningful learning.

Meaningful learning that focuses on the individual talents and pitfalls. This is learning that stresses long term mindsets, values, and skills. It is learning that makes a better person and one that contributes meaningfully to community.

Contrary to what enrichment tuition agencies say on their brochures and websites, I have not come across any evidence that enrichment tuition contributes to meaningful learning. However, not all tuition is bad. In its original form, tuition once stood for personalized coaching and testing that supplemented school effort.

Why is remedial tuition necessary?

Schools tend to rely on one-size-fits-all approaches because they follow the industrial model. Kids that do not fit fall through the gaps. The more fortunate ones have parents who pay for remedial tuition as a safety net.

In theory there should not be a safety net. We would like to think that schools should be able to meet the needs of every learner. That ideal is not what happens in practice. Kids are different; school wants to treat them all the same. Learning is messy; teachers are not taught to embrace it.

If you study systems as I do, you can attribute schooling problems to tests that do not evolve with the times. If school is a factory, then tests are quality control (QC). QC determines everything else: What the inputs or raw materials are, who the staff and machine cogs are, what the overall process are, what the supporting processes are. If QC bleeps because it detects something wrong, every other component in the system jumps and changes to diffuse that alarm.

Our tests and QC are not going away or going to be redesigned any time soon. We lack the moral courage to make the changes.

In the meantime, a few ex-teachers and non-teachers coach, individualize, and even innovate because of they love their academic subject and/or the learner. This is the sort of tuition that should not go away because it is learner-focused and may also teach schools a thing or two if schools decide to redesign themselves.

I did not have the heart to answer this question in the #asiaED slow chat. As much as I like to create cognitive dissonance, I know that some teachers will take offense to what I have to say. My response is also longer than 140 characters.

When I ask teachers why they take my courses or workshops on game-based learning, flipped learning, or ICT-enabled change management, some invariably answer “I want to know how to engage my students!”

It is the wrong question for teachers to ask and seek answers to. I hinted strongly at this when I answered the first #asiaED question (why is student engagement so important?).

I think the question should be: How can we maximize student learning?

The question might sound broad, but it is the central purpose of teaching. Engagement is just one aspect of maximizing learning, and one that teachers often mishandle.

Engagement often becomes the end instead of the means. When this happens, teachers might try to be cool, focus on entertaining or distracting, or forget why a strategy and tool were employed in the first place.

Focusing on engagement without a larger purpose or alignment to objectives and assessment is a mistake because teachers will try to feed the part of the brain that is greedy and seeks instant gratification. If teachers cannot keep up, engagement becomes a toggle that can be just as easily switched off as it can be switched on.

Teachers sometimes do not see themselves making this mistake. The students, while in the moment, are unlikely to see it because they are otherwise “engaged”. But if both parties ask “What did we really learn?” and come up empty or provide unconvincing answers, then the problem is likely the emphasis of engagement over learning.

Engagement is not just about fun or letting learners loose. But it is very tempting for teachers to do this because of what they see in the faces of their students when they do this.

Learning is hard, but it does not have to be painful all the time. It can and should be fun, especially when you want to leverage on the natural instinct to play. Learning should also be driven by curiosity and questions because that is another set of attributes we have been endowed with.

But the strategy and tool use should not be merely to engage. The class should not play a game because it is engaging. There should not be a free and open discussion just because it is engaging.

An educator should design for meaningful learning instead, i.e., help learners to

  • associate meaning
  • find meaning
  • negotiate meaning, and
  • create meaning.

As much as possible, an educator should bring the real world into the classroom for every concept and lesson so that learners associate these with their lives now or near future. There should also be a clear alignment to objectives and assessment.

Sometimes the real world application must be delayed. In these situations, learners should be pushed to find meaning. This is like trying to justify the importance of a concept or lesson.

Whether the authenticity of a lesson is quickly associated or gradually found, all learners should be allowed to negotiate meaning. Given that each learner is at a different starting point, the overall strategy could be to provide opportunities for flexible learning. Only then do the tools to enable this sort of learning come into focus.

Side note: Promoting flexible learning is easier now given the variety of tools and resources learners have access to. Theoretically. Schools often limit kids to standardized textbooks and pencils. Outside of school, kids have access to computing devices, knowledgeable individuals, a supportive community, etc.

Negotiation is a messy process and teachers need to model and guide students in their thinking. A possible old school analogy is a shepherd guiding his sheep in a general direction.

Negotiation is somewhat ephemeral, so learners should be required to show evidence of learning by creating. The purpose of creating is to externalize the thoughts and feelings of learners so that their peers and instructor can help them along.

All this is difficult and this is what makes lessons truly engaging.

For some teachers, students looking excited is a sign of engagement. I can relate. But I also try to create the conditions of the furrowed brow, a heated argument, projects that fail forward, and deep reflection. My learners are truly engaged when they struggle meaningfully.

I LOL’d when I read how a journalist described 3D printing as a 21st century skill (paragraph 6).

I will put this bluntly: Many technology uses in classrooms are not meaningful. Certainly not as meaningful as the ones in life.

Video source

Consider this 3D printing of an artificial hand for example. It is hard to beat that for meaningful.

How did this happen?

I would attribute this to innovative thinking, open sharing, and learning by doing. These are a few of the same principles if we are to integrate (not just use) technology to enable (not just enhance) learning.

Recently I had to remind my son how to clear and rinse a dirty dish instead of just dumping it in the kitchen sink. That incident spawned lessons on values, Science, a brief the history on language, and perspective taking.

When my son left an uncleared dish in the sink, I realized that he should not only learn WHAT to do but WHY he should do it. The why was not limited to “because I said so”.

The lesson in values was obvious. He had to help out around the home because we do not have a maid. It was the responsible thing to do.

But I decided that he also needed a Science lesson to know why dishes are harder to clean if you leave them unrinsed in a sink. I had to teach him why gunk is hard to remove or starts to smell. I had to teach him about oxidation.

I had to link oxidation with something he was familiar with, our need to breathe. He understood how oxygen was necessary to burn fuel. The good thing about this type of oxidation was that it gave us energy.

But oxidation could also be a bad thing when you consider things like rust. Which was the common name for iron oxide otherwise known as ferrous oxide. Which was the link to the Latin roots for some of our English words.

I pulled us back to why oxidation was bad not just because it could cause rust, but also how it caused fats in food to turn rancid and smell.

In the end, it was an opportunity to look at something from different perspectives. Oxidation could be helpful or harmful. My son thought he was helping by putting the dish in the sink, but my perspective was that a job half done was one not done at all.

Later on I reflected on how contexts create moments for meaningful learning. Teachers need to think and operate outside their content silos to take advantage of such learning moments.

My son remarked that this was the best Science lesson he had, especially when compared to the ones he was getting at school. Flattering words.

I will only know that he has learnt something if he consistently rinses his dishes when he puts them in the sink. And if he can tell me why.

I read Seth Godin’s blog entry about marketing a brand name and thought about how it applies to education.

He concluded with: Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning.

I think that effective educators do not just teach stuff. They make meaning too.

They do so by connecting with their learners (they reach them to teach them). Educators make learning meaningful by bringing in context and relevance.

They spread the love of what they do by showing their passion for learning, not by pressing for good grades.

They focus on what matters: The learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching.

Do we have to teach naked? That’s a provocative a title, but thankfully it is not the headline for another school-related scandal. Teaching naked refers to bare bones (or bare skin) teaching.

Instead, the article explores the discrepancy between what technologies professors use in class and what students expect to use:

…students and teachers have potentially different skill sets, but more importantly, we’re at the point where it seems apparent that we prefer different kinds of technologies to learn, communicate, create, connect, and participate…


The author of the article then suggests the SlideShare presentation above on how to bridge that participation gap. Know what they like and don’t like: They don’t like death by PowerPoint; they do like archivable podcasts and social media. My takeaway? Meet them where they are already at rather than build elaborate bridges that no one uses.

But there is a problem with only doing that. They are not necessarily into Google Docs or wikis or shared concept maps or even blogs. Yet these tools (and their accompanying methods) are useful now and in their future. My suggestion? Use the social bridge to connect to these tools and strategies. Meet them where they are at, but also bring them on other meaningful journeys.

In other words, it is not prudent to teach naked because the environment has changed. Put on the bits that will make your body of teaching meaningful and engaging!

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