Mastering Anything Includes Social Involvement, Top-notch Information and Application to a Life-like Situation. by Renate Caine
About a month ago I had a fall down the many stairs in our home. 911 produced instant results and a wonderful crew from our two local communities, Pine Cove and Idyllwild, California, who managed to get me into the ambulance and deliver me to the emergency room at one of our local hospitals.
Learning requires a positive social environment where people can be honest and listen to each other.
Ever the educator, I agreed to help train new trainees riding in the ambulance with me who needed experience. They had to run through a series of checks and that required them to practice working with an actual patient. Their teacher, who had asked for permission to use me as a subject, was in the ambulance with us.
Despite excruciating pain I began a conversation about learning. I opened with my favorite topic, that when most people hear the word “learning”, they think of memorizing or replicating something. As we talked we began to admit that most of us believe that doing well on a test in school is the true goal and proof of having learned something. And sure enough they mentioned some of their classmates who had impressed them with their high test score on a recent test.
And of course, that is a part of it. But where would we be without applying what we know to some real life situation?
Information alone is never enough.
Any fireman will tell you that the tests they pass focus on information they need as they go about their job, like identifying the purpose of their equipment or recognizing possible chemical interactions from particular materials as they encounter fire. But no fire department would ever dream of hiring a fireman who didn’t also have hours and hours of opportunities to test their knowledge in life-like situations. The same goes for lawyers and doctors. In the end, it is what one knows and can do under life-like, often high-pressure situations, that really counts. That is the true mark of mastery.
So if genuine competence comes from information and application to real life situations, why is that not emphasized in schools instead of filling in bubbles on a paper-pencil test? Shouldn’t schools and students have to show parents and the community how well they can apply what they are learning? They do this with music and all forms of art, and also in sports, but when it comes to academic subjects like math, biology, chemistry or history, only what you can answer on a test really matters. Why is this happening?
There are at least two reasons, it seems to me. One is that we have lost sight of the fact that every academic subject also has a performance component. You have to do something both in order to understand and show that you understand. When a student who has spent yearns “learning” math can’t function at a check-out counter, or work out how to set up a basket ball court of the right size, you know he or she doesn’t really know what the tests might say that he knows.
A second answer has to do with the notion of efficiency. In the early 20th century, education was organized according to a model of the factory where speed and efficiency, and the number of products produced mattered most. In essence, schools were modeled on assembly lines; such things as personal interest, individual differences and talents, meaning, purpose and application other than that dictated by the teacher, were ignored; and a very simplistic notion of measuring outcomes by using test scores was adopted.
If learning requires more than replication and memorizing for a test, how do we change our collective belief?
It is proving to be nearly impossible. Almost everyone believes in testing as the best proof of learning. All of us are guilty of supporting this outdated model every time we praise students and schools for high test scores without demanding clear evidence that our kids can use and apply complex skills for everyone to see. And, there is now a billion dollar industry based on standardized tests, test preparation materials, publishing specific standards that can easily be reduced to specific skills to be tested. The public loves it because it is all so tidy and measurable. The only ones who suffer are the students who remain forced to comply – all too often unchallenged and bored. This is especially true for those who do not fit the mold.
Please explore www.nlri.org for the Natural Learning Research Institute. It is designed for educators, parents and the public. Watch the many videos and find out more about what great learning and teaching look like. Primary designers include Andrea Bond, Carol McClintic and myself. Let us know what you think, watch us grow and develop and tell others about the site.