My earlier blog post, here, describes a fast-paced, performance-oriented school setting in which students become prepared to compete for careers at Google. Students who currently worry about grades and brand-name colleges need to remember that skills, tools, and thinking strategies are also important, according to the author's interviews with Google recruiter Laslo Bock. Well-developed creative and analytical capacities-- which may or may not be signalled by a transcript of good grades-- are requirements for most 21st century jobs.
That being said, as educators we must remember that a professional job at Google is only one of many paths that students can take to live meaningful, productive, and caring lives.
Some contemporary jobs simply don’t require high-level cognition, creativity, or analysis. So how do we make school meaningful for students who may ultimately land in (or, for a period of time land in) one of these jobs?
I believe that students’ own quests and personal interests are an important part of preparing them for Google or elsewhere. As students deepen their care and knowledge of the world, they reinforce important learning patterns that allow them to persevere in challenges, participate as a team member, and contribute to healthy relationships. While some may have their sights set on innovation, others may want to provide a service or experience for others. If all of my students leave high school prepared to invest in an area that matters to them, that’s my value-add.
Friedman, Thomas L. "How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2." The New York Times. 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
Thomas L. Friedman’s articles on getting hired at Google give us a lot to think about as educators. As Friedman references the hiring practices of Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations at Google, we learn the number one thing recruiters look for: cognitive ability. In other words, smarts. They’re looking for smarts. Only “smarts” used to be evidenced by top marks and admission into prestigious colleges. Not any more. Even with a high GPA, think-on-your-feet-ability is the new smarts; it's the new predictor of value-add to the company. If students were truly being trained to compete and collaborate in this environment, our assignments, our assessments, our inputs would look very different.
I think that students could adjust to demonstrating value instead of simple knowledge. Sure, knowledge (and memorization/exercise) is a part of the process, but what matters now is "what can you do with what you know?" Students should practice this process long before joining the professional world, and also before college. If assessment were to change, students could apply what they learned in class to do, make, generate or perform something.
My favorite high school math teacher used to tell us that the exams were like Math Fashion Shows. It was a time to show off, strut-your-math-stuff, and to apply what was known to specific problems in a given time frame. I agree that students should practice more problem-solving and skill application in order to build deeper, sharper cognitive skills.
Friedman, Thomas L. "How to Get a Job at Google." The New York Times. 22 Feb. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
Shawn Cornally makes an interesting point about motivation in school. Students are rewarded extrinsically--with points—which damages the circuitry for higher-level motivation. A more sustainable way to engage students at school is to permit them to pursue their own questions. When this can happen, the role of the teacher is not primarily to remind, motivate, reward or punish—things I feel I do waaaaay too much of for my tenth graders—but to “manage the 100 different threads of learning that are taking place.”
I agree that it would be more enjoyable (for all parties involved) if I were to spend my teacher-energy as a consultant rather than a disciplinarian/reminder. Uggh! It can be so exhausting! Stay on task. Sit in your desk. Keep writing. Look at the prompt. Did you read the instructions?
But I can’t help but think that these issues of dependence may be solved when students start to take a bit of control over their learning. With little skin in the game and a faulty rewards system, why should they demonstrate care, urgency, and attention?
Mr. Cornally’s proposal for a binary grading system applies especially well in science and technology, but for Humanities, I’m not quite sure how it would work. I’d have to think about it more. I also get a bit concerned about my students' ability to generate worthy questions. Is that horrible to admit? I’d like to embrace this style, but perhaps start small, a 10% type of project. Students would be permitted to use 10% of our classroom time to freely work on answering a topical question they want to solve.
It’s definitely time to re-think the reward system in school. Low student motivation has been one of the biggest surprises to me so far. And I myself graduated high school with high marks but little capacity to structure my own learning. The root of the issue with motivation really breaks my heart: students simply don’t see why they should go to the trouble of answering someone else’s deep questions. When students are held back from managing their own learning, they learn to either “play by the rules” or “get outta the game,” both of which damage the learner.
Overhauling the grading system represents a huge change to the educational system, but there are some pioneers to follow. At Reed College in Oregon, students are encouraged to focus on learning and not on grades. There’s also Bennington College in Vermont, where students may request optional letter grades. Both of these colleges turn out top-notch graduates and have highly ranked classroom experiences. Students are learning, and enjoying the process!
TEDxEastsidePrep - Shawn Cornally - The Future of Education Without Coercion. (2011, June 07). Retrieved December 02, 2016, from https://youtu.be/gPeKdXhGcZQ