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.