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Saturday / September 23

Walking the Talk: Chapter One

A big part of our efforts at QISA last year was the research, discussion, and writing of (insert shameless plug 🙂 Aspire High: Imagining Tomorrow’s School Today. Russ, Kris, Gavin, and I had numerous back and forth conversations about what a school that genuinely meets the needs of today’s learners in today’s world should look like. We have known for some time now that the inherited, industrial model of school is no longer working for most students. “Sit n’ Git.” “Sage on the Stage.” Call it what you will, half the students in this country don’t see a reason for school in that mode and the other half seem to be mostly just playing the game—going along to get along. In Aspire High, we tried to develop a vision of what’s possible literally tomorrow, not simply a dream for ten years from now. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction:

At one time, the challenge effectively answered by the old system was that information was bound and the world was relatively stable. At this time, the challenge that must be answered by any new system of education is that information is boundless and the world we are graduating students into is far less stable. Technology, globalization, and a host of other patterns and trends have reshaped our social, economic, and civic landscapes, yet the building within which we educate our children has remained, for the most part, unaffected by these shifts. When our children come home from school the question: “What did you learn today?” is now quaint and confining. We should be asking: “What did you discuss or deconstruct or disagree with or dream about or design or dare or decide to do in school today?”

The first chapter in this effort is to have students teach. All of us who are teachers know that the best way to learn something is to have to teach it. Given the ready availability of information, guiding students to research, vet, understand, digest, process, and eventually present new learning to their peers seems a viable way forward even within most more or less traditional schools.

Despite the degrees in theology I professed last week, a significant gap in my own academic background is World Religions. It turns out that seniors at Catholic Memorial learn World Religions. I teach seniors. You see where this is going?

Starting tomorrow and going through the end of the semester (mid-December) students will teach about one of sixteen religions we are learning. There are three basic tasks they need to accomplish: research, presentation, and writing a five page paper. I have created a rubric for the overall assignment, a scoring rubric for the presentations (to be peer assessed and self-assessed, as well as, assessed by me), and a rubric for the paper. The research requires an interview with a participant of the religion. I had to calendar the entire rest of the semester, thinking carefully about assessment opportunities along the way, homework from our textbook that parallels the presentations, and breathing space. I had to consider that Judaism (because of its connection to Christianity) and Islam (given world events) would each need an extra day. I did the first one (Eastern Orthodoxy) to model expectations. All in all setting this up carefully ahead of time required far more time on my part than I think I will gain back for not having to “teach” on those days when the students are teaching. I still need to be as well versed in the religious traditions being presented as the students presenting in order to properly assess their efforts and fill in any gaps that a poor effort may create.

For all this I think the effort is well worth it. Students will learn as much about the religions they are not teaching as they would from me and will learn far more about the religion they are teaching than they ever would from me. Not only that, they will learn how to learn deeply enough to teach and how to present in an engaging and informative way (all parts of the rubric). Skills that I trust will serve them in college and career. I look forward to sharing in a future blog, what this teacher learned from his students.

School Voice Chronicles

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Written by

Michael J. Corso, Ph.D., former high school teacher turned adjunct professor of education and administrator, has been the Chief Academic Officer for the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA) for 15 years. In that role he provided professional development and training in Aspirations and Student Voice theories and frameworks to thousands of educators and students in hundreds of schools. Out of those experiences he co-authored numerous books and articles on the subject of School Voice, including Student Voice: The Instrument of Change (Corwin 2014) and Aspire High: Imagining Tomorrow’s School Today (Corwin 2016). While he is still connected to QISA as a special consultant, he has decided to return full-time to the high school classroom. While many in education move from practice to theory or policy, Mickey has chosen to move from consulting back to the classroom. This blog is a weekly window into his journey of trying to practice himself what he has preached to others for over two decades as a researcher and PD provider.

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Latest comments

  • Teaching is the real learning. All students should have such a great opportunity to teach and at the same time demonstrate their knowledge. Would be great if you could video some of the students and with permission provide links for others to learn from.

  • A bit too quick to hit the post button. Apologies for the typos.
    * I recently attended
    * Gradgrind ran a school where pupils were treated as pitchers…

  • Interesting, Mickey, as always – thank you. As you well know, Professor John Hattie stresses that setting up students so that they may become their own teachers is a line well worth pursuing. I look forward to hearing of the outcomes. As I do the release of Aspire High. Quite remarkable that you are promoting this valuable discussion, alongside Russ, Kris and Gavin, and playing it out in the real world, too. Along with a colleague from Bader I recently attend a showing of Most Likely to Succeed (High Tech High). We were enthralled by the possibilities shared in the documentary. Adopting such practice in a UK school right now would amount to nothing short of professional suicide. I say this because of the onerous accountability regime we are all subject to, delimited by standardised tests that are based on broad curriculums that smack of the sentiments expressed by Charles Dickens’ character, Thomas Gradgrind – ‘a creature of mere fact and no humbugging sentiment’. In Hard Times, Gradgrind ran a school where treated as pitchers which were to be fille dto the brim with facts. I better leave it there 🙂 Keep up the great work. Simon

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