Let me say that if you find that you don’t have time in the school year to read Tony Wagner’s “The Global Achievement Gap,” do consider reading Chapter 6, “Closing the Gap: Schools That Work,” pp. 207-253. In it Wagner profiles three schools, High Tech High in San Diego, “The Met” in Providence, RI, and The Parker Charter School outside of Boston. Wagner’s study of these schools makes you want to close the book and take action, knowing that it is a reality somewhere else, if not at your school.
A refrain kept running through my head as I was reading this chapter. During our kitchen remodel a contractor once told me that it’s more costly to renovate a house than to build one from the ground up. These three schools were built upon founding principles that make this kind of learning possible. From the beginning they had teacher/parent/administrator buy-in, they built the grading infrastructure in such a way that allows for project-based, student-directed learning. Finally, the level of attention given to the individual student makes 1-on-1 student-teacher contact an everyday part of the experience.
Question: So what’s standing in the way of us emulating these models in our schools?
Answer: Our schools.
In order to refocus attention on the individual student, and in order to make as emphases something resembling Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills, we need to reach 100% of the staff and faculty, rethink the texts we’re using (and if we should be using texts), reconsider the validity of the 100 pt grading system, re-evaluate validity of the “mile-wide, inch-deep” AP content.
One thing that I think we have GOING for us is that class size may be LESS of an issue than once thought. In the process of exploring the viability of a Foreign Language PLC, we’re discussing whether or not class size will be deleteriously affected. If we continue to deliver instruction by the teacher-centered model, then yes, class size is important. But if we change to student-centered, paired or small group inquiry-based learning, with the teacher acting as facilitator, then the model works theoretically up to 20 students. (Some schools are already there, however we’re right around an avg of 14/15 students per class.)
Wagner’s book has left me with a sense of hope and determination. My desire to effect change in my teaching has been there for some time, but undeniable exigencies of the existing system and the inspiring examples of 21st century learning that Wagner presents in “The Global Achievement Gap” have strengthened my will to do so.