Eight Things That Can Be Done

While much of this book is about the role that technology can play in revamping the schools, the ideas here do not depend on computers. The schools of tomorrow, with or without new technologies, can improve by following some simple suggestions this book brings out:

1. Doing, not reviewing

Today's schools are dominated by the need to assess student performance. Test scores and grades measure the wrong things and thus cause the wrong things to be taught. What is important is achievement. Good software should allow its users to achieve goals that are worth achieving. Eliminate test scores and grades, and the endless repetitive reviewing and cramming for tests that goes with it, and replace this with levels of achievement that are objective, relevant, and highly motivating. This can be done with good software, but it could also be done in today's classroom.

2. Possible answers, not right answers

Today's schools, and the culture in which those schools live, are obsessed with the accumulation of facts. We have so many lists of what everyone should know that we have succeeded in convincing people they are ignorant, but to what end? Real measures of knowledge are not fact-based at all. Experts may not be able to recite facts, but they usually can do things that only experts do. Facts are only useful when they help one accomplish some goals; they should not be learned out of context. Knowledge should be taught when it is helpful for accomplishing some goal. There should be less emphasis on right answers and more discussion of open questions, for which no answers are known.

3. Fun, not discipline

Many parents and educators have confused instruction with discipline. Just because there is little discipline in today's schools, it does not follow that when there was discipline, there was also a great deal of learning. The two have little to do with each other. Learning is best accomplished by children when what they are learning interests them, relates to their goals and is fun.

There is no reason why we cannot make everything in school enjoyable. Discipline must be self-imposed to be of any real use, and it will be self-imposed by any child who cares about the goal he is trying to accomplish. Children are quite apt learners when they really want to know something. We must create environments in which children are curious.

4. Interest groups, not age groups

Today's schools are organized by age groups in grades. Why? Because they always have been. This causes us to lose the use of some available teachers, namely the other, more experienced, children. Children can learn from each other and will do better if they were organized by similar interests instead of similar ages. We must eliminate the concept of first grade, etc., and replace it with achievements within interest-based groupings. We must learn to ask what children have learned to do, not what grade they are in.

5. Visible projects, not invisible rejects

Today's schools emphasize the production of good scores. We must abandon entirely the whole notion of scores, grades, exams, and all other competitive measures. Children need to feel a sense of accomplishment, to show others what they have produced. We must enable them to produce. What they produce ought to be visible, real accomplishments, skills or actual work products, that can be shown off, not as objects in a competition, but as a show of pride in what they can do.

6. Hearing and needing, not listening and reading

Today's schools are essentially passive experiences. Teachers teach and children listen. Learning is better when it is active not passive. Instruction should only occur when children express the desire to know. Every time a teacher asks children to listen they ought to ask themselves if they believe the children genuinely want to hear what they are saying. If the students don't want to hear it, they won't hear it, no matter how much we threaten them.

7. Motivation, not resignation

Children are discouraged from pursuing their own interests in school. The job of a teacher is to expand the horizons of the student, to cause the student to have more interests not less. It is a good idea to allow teachers to advertise different possibilities and let teachers teach what they know best in response to the expressed interests of the children. Motivation is a terrible thing to waste. Everyone doesn't have to learn the same stuff. No more standard curricula!

8. Fun fun fun

Learning is fun and school isn't. Making school fun doesn't mean having the teacher dress up in a clown suit, or making teaching into Jeopardy. It does mean making learning fun in school in the same way that it is fun out of school.

This list does not detail everything that could be done to fix education. Nevertheless, it gives an idea of where to begin. High-quality software could help make these changes possible.

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