Let adolescents grow up

Let’s give adolescents a chance to grow up, writes Ted Kolderie of the Center for Policy Studies in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Adolescence “infantilizes” young people, he writes, citing psychologist Robert Epstein, author of Teen 2.0, on adolescent stupidity.

Deny them serious responsibilities, keep them out of real work, give them virtually no contact with adults, tell them they have no function except to be schooled (and marketed to): Why wouldn’t they behave as they do?

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High schools are filled with disengaged students, writes Kolderie. “Though not everyone’s aptitudes are verbal/conceptual/abstract, today only academic success is rewarded.” There are few vocational schools or opportunities to learn from experience.

Young people can do amazing things when they’re challenged, he writes. “In his history of the Battle of Britain, Michael Korda writes that by late summer 1940, more and more of those flying the British Spitfires and Hurricanes were, in our terms, high school seniors.”

How could we tap the talents of the young?

We’d begin by changing school to let young people advance as fast and as far as their efforts and abilities will take them, in every field.

In traditional school, students are sorted by age and “instructed” as a group. Most students move a grade a year, however much (or little) they’ve learned.

If learning were personalized, those who needed more time would get more time and would learn more. Those who could go faster would go faster and would learn more.

. . . Finland, much praised for its students’ success, ends compulsory education at 16. Students move to “upper secondary,” almost half of these into vocational school that leads on to postsecondary “polytechnics.”

A competency-based system would let young people “test out” of conventional schooling, Kolderie suggests. Some might start college early. (“Dual enrollment” in college classes is a growing trend for high school students.) Others might start learning a job, like young Finns.

Khan Academy goes to school

Salman Khan’s free math and science videos have moved from YouTube to classrooms, reports the New York Times, which looks at a San Jose charter school that’s using Khan’s lessons — and student-tracking software to teach ninth-grade math to students at very different levels.

(Teacher Jesse Roe) can see that a girl sitting against the wall is zipping through geometry exercises; that a boy with long curls over his eyes is stuck on a lesson on long equations; and that another boy in the front row is getting a handle on probability.

Each student’s math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures.

The Khan-enabled classroom makes it possible to target instruction to each student’s level, while mapping each student’s math comprehension for the teacher. While some see Khan’s mini-lectures as too “sage on the stage,” the net effect is to turn the teacher into a “guide on the side.”

Diane Tavenner, chief of the Summit chain of four charter schools, turned to Khan to teach the fundamentals after small-group problem-solving proved  slow and unreliable.

Khan Academy remains free, thanks to foundation support.

 

Technology can personalize learning

Brookings is hosting a conference — available live online — on education technology.

Using Technology to Personalize Learning and Assess Students in Real-Time, a new Brookings study by Darrell West, looks at new ways to teach made possible by technology.

Imagine schools where students master vital skills and critical thinking in a personalized and collaborative manner, teachers assess pupils in real-time, and social media and digital libraries connect learners to a wide range of informational resources.  Teachers take on the role of coaches, students learn at their own pace, technology tracks student progress, and schools are judged based on the outcomes they produce.  Rather than be limited to six hours a day for half the year, this kind of education moves toward 24/7 engagement and learning full-time.

Technology alone won’t remake education, West writes.  Schools will need to change their organizational structure and rethink teaching and assessment.