Normally, I’m not big on articles with titles like “12 Things That Will Disappear From Classrooms In The Next 12 Years.” But the link had been shared by Leslie Farooq, whom I’ve gotten to know and learned to trust through ongoing interactions and Twitter chats, and she had included an enticing quote - so I decided to click through and read it.
Intriguingly, nine of the 12 things have already disappeared pretty much entirely from my classroom, and a tenth thing occupies a much smaller percentage of time than before. And the two other things - passwords (increasingly being replaced by fingerprint scanners) and the daily schedule are not entirely within my control. Though even there, the school is putting together a faculty-student committee to take an intensive look at the daily schedule and refashion it, and a few of my students did have iPads with fingerprint scanners last year.
The nine things that do not exist my classroom? Letter grades (gone for years from all our middle school classes), tests (but not assessment), computer labs (replaced in our school by Chromebooks), gender labels (other than to learn about the full diversity of gender identities, or perhaps if I have recently heard a student refer to herself as a girl), Common Core standards (never had them), teacher’s desk (I sit on the floor with my iPad), student desks (we use beanbag chairs for discussions; there are also tables for small group and individual work if the kids want them), filing cabinets (I’ve been 99.99% paperless for years now), and textbooks (students design the units in my classroom, so there’s no textbook in existence that would meet our needs).
The one thing that partially exists? Whole class/Direct instruction. While most of our learning takes place in discussion and through individually chosen student research, writing, and presentations, sometimes students’ questions or my own judgment based on things I hear them saying suggests the need to sit back for a moment and go over basic information. The big difference here is that these moments are situational and responsive and specific to a particular group of kids, not predetermined by some outside entity.
With all that in mind, I found myself caught up short when a mutual friend of Leslie and me, Jenn Borgioli Binis, took issue with the article. I’ve learned to trust her as a deep thinker who, as I try to do, works hard to bring nuance to discussions and to listen to other people. Her objection, as it turned out, had less to do with the specific points in the article than with concerns over who is pushing different education agendas in the pendulum swings that too often characterize education.
This focused me on my privilege as an independent school teacher: I can continually seek new evolutions of my teaching without undue and unfair pressures from the outside to follow the latest trends and to meet test score targets. If I see a new idea, from whatever source, I’m free to evaluate it in context of the educational research I know, our middle school’s philosophy, and our school’s mission. And if the idea still seems good to me, I run it past my students to see what they think. Generally, they confirm my thinking, but not always - and even when they do, they often bring up an important new point that hadn’t occurred to me.
As I so often do, I left this discussion thinking that public school teachers need to enjoy the same advantages I do, to the benefit of their students. And as I so often do, I left this discussion appreciative of what my online social network brings to my life.