Cognitive Dissonance

If you read this blog, you know I love technology and the possibilities it has to offer a 21st Century Education. Over the last year, I have participated in a sustained series of professional development workshops to introduce project-based learning in my school. We have been trained by the BUCK Institute, and I deeply believe in many (not all) of the essentials of PBL. In addition, the name of this blog clearly proclaims my adventurous spirit in the classroom. I have an eye for the future and usually on enjoy traditional education when it's in the rearview mirror. I think that sets the scene.
A few weeks ago, I attended a talk by Mike Schmoker about his book Focus. For a more comprehensive book review you can read here. I sat next to my superintendent, who I have the utmost respect for, who brought me to the talk, who seems to be buying into much of what Schmoker is saying. Basically, Dr. Schmoker calls for a return to the basics. His main contention is that education has tried too many new things before we mastered the basics of literacy--reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking. To say he has an ill view of technology would be an understatement. He cites well respected education researchers such as Robert Marzano and frankly makes a solid case for turning back the clock.

So, I walked away with some serious cognitive dissonance--probably more than I have ever suffered. It isn't often someone makes me deeply question my core educational beliefs. It stung a little, but after CONSTANT reflection... I feel like that is all I do, I have come to some important conclusions.

  • I think Dr. Schmoker is right about the basics--there is value to carefully analyzing a common text with the entire class, picking it apart, taking notes, and writing more papers about what we read. I used to do more of this, and I need to bring that back more often, but NOT all the time. I think his favored activity will work nice of outlier standards that I can't efficiently wrap into a PBL. 
  • To promote literacy and deny technology is to promote walking as exercise and deny going to the gym. Technology reaches and engages so many learners and differentiates (which Schmoker is also against) literacy in ways beyond a teachers ability. 
  • PBL is a fantastic method to engage students and make learning relevant, but basic literacy often stands in the way when students don't have skills to engage the content. So, I want to use Schmoker activities to build the skill sets to make PBL more effective. 
  • Schmoker's methods are designed for the 20th Century and don't promote creativity. We live in a different age in a different economy where test scores and text literacy are not completely sufficient. 
I could go on because I did learn a great deal from this experience. I think its good to challenge your views, even those we hold closest to our core identity. Last year I swung my pedagogy pendulum to far out and it needed to swing back a bit. If we remain too locked into one mindset we ignore the natural evolution of ideas, and no one want to win the Darwin award.

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