Tuesday, March 12, 2013

#Slice2013: Day 12 of 31 - Mental Velcro

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey recently posted a blog about using essential questions to promote transfer and create relevance. The term “mental Velcro” has been incubating in my mind for several days, and I absolutely love the metaphor of sticky learning that transcends disciplines, time, and space. Transfer seems to be the latest buzzword in education circles, and to be quite honest, I find this term to be appealing and infuriating.

According to Jay Mctighe, transfer goals should be our highest aim.
Educators can easily lose sight of their long-term aims, and meaningful learning and student motivation are the casualties. Most students don’t relish a diet of test-prep teaching, yet all too often that is what the curriculum has become. The ever present student question, “Why do we have to learn this?” is generally not answered satisfactorily by a test-prep curriculum. As Grant Wiggins is fond of saying “the goal of schooling is not to get good at school.” The goal of school is to get good at the demands of life and those are invariably embedded in transfer goals and related performance tasks.
When students achieve authentic, deep understanding of a concept they should be able to apply their learning in novel situations where their recently acquired knowledge and skills can blossom and grow. All of this sounds lovely in theory, but what happens when the pedagogy collides with the assessment practices? How can a child achieve transfer on a standardized test with one right answer rigidly agreed upon by a corporation who knows nothing about teaching and learning?

Several well-meaning colleagues have said, “Tenille, if you consistently apply best practices and motivate kids, the test will take care of itself.” I call bullshit on this proposition. Transfer isn’t happening when it comes to STAAR, and to be quite honest, I am growing weary of snake oil peddlers who claim to know the magical formula for getting kids to pass. These archaic assessments make teachers and students miserable, and they fly in the face of all educational research.

Mental Velcro works if we ask our kids to use what they’ve learned for authentic purposes. Genuine learning surpasses our grandest expectations, and these types of performance tasks can’t be measured on the cheap. Instead of getting a shiny gold star on a multiple choice test, our students would be solving interesting problems and asking bold questions that challenge the status quo.
(This slice remains incomplete. I couldn't find a way to tie all my random thoughts together, and after a long day of driving, my brain is mush. I'll revisit it at a later date!)

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