We recently had a bit of a communication mishap in our high school. All intentions were good; we just didn’t communicate well, which led to a series of frustrations amongst teachers. Luckily, all culminated in a fantastic celebration largely run by a group of students.
We have started a tradition of giving back with our senior class, and over the years, this has grown into a senior advisory program focused on student leadership. Each year, a group of seniors, led by a faculty advisor plan and organize events for the student body, and one of these events is our National & Liberation Day celebration. This year, we got started a bit late, and so time was a huge commodity.
Despite the limited time, our students came through and organized an event better than ever. This involved a multi-media presentation that included video, poetry, singing, speeches, skits, and an important guest speaker. It also involved providing a luncheon for 600 people and traditional entertainment. It is an understatement to say it was a big event.
The nice thing about planning with students is that they don’t see limitations. Their inexperience makes their imagination run rampant. This can also be frustrating as they don’t have the experience to consider other factors. Such as missing classes for rehearsals. Or scheduling rehearsals at the last minute. Or forgetting to inform the teachers of the students who needed to be out for the rehearsals. Hence, the communication frustration.
However, the seniors who planned and organized the event and the students who performed were engaged in real-life authentic tasks. What they accomplished on this day was a truly authentic performance task that involved skills from almost every discipline: logistics, timing, management, planning, performance, translation, communication, problem-solving, and much, much more.
Dan Meyer, talks about patient problem solving in this Ted Talk.
He poses an interesting question: What problem have you ever solved where you have all of the given information up front? He also confronts textbooks, which have served to neatly wrap up a problem in an unauthentic way. He quotes Einstein, who said,
“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
Meyer also states that the content should serve the conversation, the conversation shouldn’t serve the content.
Despite all of this, we still run largely traditional classrooms with these same textbooks that package everything into nicely wrapped sections and chapters. If we know that students need more real-life, authentic problem-solving tasks, why don’t we provide more? Why are we so married to what we have always done? Why can’t we let go of long lists of content that we MUST get through?
I think part of the problem is there is value in the content. It isn’t a matter of just dropping the content in place of skills. Ultimately, we have to find a more accessible way to help students learn the content and become more engaged learners.
Our National Day celebration didn’t fit into a nicely wrapped unit or lesson, but I can guarantee that the student organizers learned several valuable skills on this day beyond what they would have gained by sitting in a classroom learning content from a text. I am NOT saying the content isn’t important; I am saying that what they experienced was of greater value in this particular week. Now if only we could find a way for them to be this engaged and this successful without having all of the make up work to complete from missing class all week. As Meyer states, we need more of the authentic in our classrooms every day. It isn’t an option anymore. It is something we must do as responsible classroom educators.