When you return to school, remember to ask “how” you are going to learn, not “what”

Every year I see notice boards displaying photographs of children who have passed various exams. Each principal’s desk features trophies and each school wall is covered with graphics created by the students.

In fact, the largest online provider of higher education for professionals in India says its main strength is to be ‘on results’ and says that everyone is ‘looking for a return on their investment’.

While degrees, trophies and returns on investment are at the heart of education, we prepare our future generations well for disappointment, anger and frustration.

It is crucial for us to reflect on these kinds of results, especially now, as schools have started to reopen and principals and teachers wait to measure what their students have learned while studying online at the worst. the epidemic. .

I say this because I expect schools to take a huge shock in terms of learning outcomes. That is, when face-to-face classes resume, schools will find that most students have forgotten concepts and ideas they understood two years ago. And instead of supporting our children when they need time to readjust, we risk blaming them for inadequate learning and / or their lack of discipline, and ultimately pushing them harder to perform better and to “catch up” with students from other schools. In our rush to achieve learner outcomes, we relegate the learner.

Outcomes – especially those that are common in schools and colleges – are a by-product of learning, not the goal to learn. Learning outcomes help students and teachers plan their teaching methods. But when the results become a tool to motivate children to outdo others, we will use a byproduct of learning as a learning goal.

When we reserve our praise and pride only for the “best” graphics, trophies and toppers, we reaffirm that a student’s learning path does not matter. Instead, we’re saying what matters is whether what they created was better than what others created – whether they or they were better than others.

Either way, ‘better’ and ‘better’ is someone else’s judgment. We repeat the same mistake when we present the “best teacher” awards. There is ample research showing that the awarding of rewards on the basis of retrospective performance thereafter lower performance. When it comes to a subject as complex as learning and teaching, reducing everything to one grade or a “best” score is simple, but not smart.

Second, educational assessments are inherently subjective, but the myth of objectivity persists. It is as if a student’s score of 65/100 on the board exam, for example in English, was meant to accurately represent their language proficiency. Even in mathematics – which is one of the most traditionally “objective” subjects – assessments are subjective.

In 2005, as a math teacher, I experimented by deciding to anonymize the assessments. The grades have changed. Much to the chagrin of my occupational injury, I realized that I had started noticing a student’s performance as soon as I read their name On paper. Even if someone who does not know the students grades the article, the subjectivity persists.

Experts showed that “a seemingly simple question of the most common and traditional type” produced “assessment information that says as much about the scorer as it is about the student.” At best, even if two experienced, thoughtful, expert teachers independently arrive at a similar student score, this is still only “agreed subjectivity.”

And by confusing this with objectivity, we encourage our students to tie their self-esteem and career choice to someone else’s opinion of how they are “better” than others. “To be better than others” is a harmful psychological and social myth that a good education should shatter or at least challenge – not reify.

My third concern with emphasizing results is that instead of provoking reflection, they paradoxically hide poor teaching and learning. I remember the American writer Robert Pirsig inspiring remarks, in his Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance:

“A bad instructor can go through an entire term leaving absolutely nothing memorable in the mind of their class, bending the scores on an irrelevant test, and making it look like some have learned and some haven’t.”

I bet most of us have experienced such a crazy, results-oriented education.

Instead of focusing on results, let’s talk about learning process – on the (extra) ordinary daily work that pupils and teachers do when they engage in the disorder and the flow of learning.

When students and teachers return to school after COVID-19, please take a break and think about in-person learning, especially since it may seem a little strange. Teachers and students need to determine what they can borrow and adapt from online learning. Reflecting on the process is sacred, an inexhaustible source of curiosity that will keep students and teachers going when they feel stuck.

In her research, American psychologist Carol Dweck has found that results-oriented students give up more easily when faced with a difficult problem than learning-oriented ones, in the clear. Schools should seek out and rediscover the joy of writing this difficult paragraph, solving this complex equation, and painting this complex acrylic landscape. If students find joy in the process, they will also have a better chance that their results will be wonderful.

Certainly, I am not saying that we should ignore the results. They are necessary for certain dramas (as Pirsig also writes) and provide a measurable sense of progress. These are indirect indicators of what someone strength to be good at. In addition, we do not need to transform the education system to move from outcomes to learning. For example, we can start the morning by starting a conversation at school about how we can celebrate the learning journey.

And in the evening, when your child comes home, ask him “how” he learned in school today, instead of “what”.

Gopal Midha holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Virginia. He is currently setting up a School Leadership Research Center in Goa.


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Norma A. Roth