Tag Archives: learner-centered

Marion Brady Strikes Again!

To foster the optimal development and success of every child districts must allow the option of a Personalized Graduation Plan reflecting the unique strengths, interests, talents, aptitudes, and prior experiences of the student. In this option, individualized graduation criteria would be collaboratively set by the student’s Learning Advisory Team, and these criteria would serve in lieu of any other standard graduation requirements. –Jim Strickland and Growing Greatness Network

Washington Post, “The Answer Sheet” blog by Valerie Strauss Posted April 7, 2015:

Why the conventional wisdom on schooling is all wrong

By Marion Brady

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pinpoint the root cause of poor school performance. Here’s a theory: Because education policy in America is made by non-educators in state legislatures and Congress, it’s shaped by the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom says schooling is primarily about “delivering information.” The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Delivering information isn’t the problem. Kids are drowning in information, and oceans more of it is at their fingertips ready to be downloaded. What they need that traditional schooling has never given them and isn’t giving them now isn’t information, but information processing skills. They need to know how to think—how to select, sort, organize, evaluate, relate, and integrate information to turn it into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.

How do kids learn information processing skills? The same way they learn to walk, read, swim, write, catch a ball, keyboard, and ride a bicycle. They learn by doing—learn to process information by processing information.

Let me try to explain why the delivering-information model of educating makes it almost impossible for schools to pursue the most useful, legitimate, important, satisfying, philosophically defensible aim of schooling: improving learners’ ability to think for themselves.

Imagine a horizontal line representing a continuum of kinds of information. On the left-hand end of the line, insert the word, “Unmediated,” “Unprocessed,” or “Raw,” for information that goes directly to our brains by way of our senses—seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. If a kid walks into a room and says, “It’s too hot in here,” she’s created firsthand, directly experienced information.

On the right-hand end of the line, insert the word, “Mediated,” “Processed,” or “Refined” for information that’s the product of others’ thought. If I say, “Einstein said space and time are relative to the position of the observer,” I’m passing along secondhand (or fifteenth-hand) information that was the product of complex thought processes in Einstein’s head.

The “too hot in here” information goes to the extreme left end of the information-type continuum, creating opportunities for speculation, investigation, and wide-ranging thought processes. Did she enter the room from a colder one? Is what she’s wearing affecting her perception? Is she sensing air temperature or radiated heat? Has she been exercising? What does her metabolism have to do with what she’s sensing? What does the thermometer say? What’s the best way to find answers?

The Einstein information goes to the extreme right end of the continuum. All the heavy-lift thinking has already been done, and relatively few people know enough to do anything with the information except assume—based on Einstein’s reputation—that he was right.

To help kids improve their ability to process information, they need information on or near the left-hand, raw end of the continuum, and the traditional curriculum isn’t giving it to them. Open typical textbooks to almost any page, listen for a few minutes to a lecture or teacher talk, check out the reference section of a library or seek information on the Internet, and it’s obvious that what’s being delivered is on the far right end of the continuum. Learners can’t process it—can’t improve their ability to infer, hypothesize, generalize, relate, integrate, and so on—because the information delivered has already been processed to levels beyond their ability to challenge or question.

As my brother and I say in one of our short PowerPoints designed to stimulate thinking about big issues in educating, what delivered information gives kids is about as interesting and intellectually challenging as crossword puzzles with all the squares filled in. They can’t do anything with the information except try to store it in memory. And, not having thought through for themselves the delivered information to a useful level of understanding, and having no immediate use for it, it goes into short-term memory, then disappears.

We’re kidding ourselves if we assume those “A” grades being hung on American schools based on scores on standardized tests mean that the students who attend them are being taught to think. We’re kidding ourselves if we assume the high test scores of students in Finland or Poland or South Korea mean they’re being taught to think. Standardized tests are sideshows on the periphery of effective schooling because they can’t evaluate original thought, without which humankind can’t adapt to continuous change and survive. What matters is our individual and collective ability to make sense of the world as it was, is, and could be, and the means to that end are far too varied and complex to be measured by machine-scored tests.

There’s a solution to the problem. Choose any idea in any school subject for which a solid case can be made that every kid in the country needs to understand it, and within the property boundaries of her or his school are the kinds of immediately accessible real-world prompts that allow that idea to be studied firsthand. The prompts just need to be identified and examined until they emerge from environments ignored because they’re too familiar.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for acceptance of the obvious fact that direct experience teaches best. It’s been 99 years since Alfred North Whitehead, in his Presidential
Address to the Mathematical Association of England, said, “The second-handedness of the learned world is the secret of its mediocrity.”

There are administrators and teachers not only willing but powerfully motivated to move beyond today’s emphasis on mere learner (temporary) recall of delivered information, but “the system” won’t let them. The system—district offices, boards of education, state legislatures, state bureaucracies, education publishers, chambers of commerce, colleges, universities, Congress, courts, philanthropic foundations, mainstream media—the system assumes that delivered information is what educating is all about, so that’s what gets taught and tested and scores treated as if they meant learning had taken place.

It’s gratifying to see the growing student, teacher, administrator, and parental resistance to the present misnamed “reform” effort. The rate at which testing is wasting the potential of kids’ minds that don’t work in standardized, text-centric ways, is inexcusable. But resistance would be far more effective if demands to stop high-stakes testing were accompanied by demands to get serious about improving thinking skills.

Given learner diversity, given the accelerating rate of social change, given an unknowable future, no one really knows what information needs to be delivered. Given the WorldWideWeb, delivering information isn’t a problem. Given abundant, daily evidence of humankind’s ability to create messes it doesn’t know how to clean up, helping learners improve their ability to think is Job One.

Educators can solve this problem, but there’s no point in their even trying as long as the rich and/or powerful are on their stumps peddling the myth that what ails America’s schools are educators clinging to the status quo and kids with insufficient grit to do what they’re told to do.

The “reformers” are the ones stuck in the status quo. The Common Core State Standards are the status quo with the screws tightened. High-stakes tests are the status quo with life-destroying potential for those who can’t guess what the test-item writer was thinking. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are the status quo with performance bars raised high enough to produce failures “proving” public schools need to be handed off to charter chains or privatized.

Kids, teachers, and taxpayers are being taken for a very expensive ride to nowhere worth going.

Here, from my younger brother Howard, is a link to a pdf for those who may be interested in re-purposing schools—turning them into living laboratories that capitalize on the teaching and learning potential of immediate, here-and-now, firsthand experience:



Individualizing Instruction – Simple (not easy)

111Alaska Perfect Mood Food 2I was just teaching a unit on working with discouraged learners and discussing tailoring teaching…whereas I heard: “I don’t have time to do that many lesson plans!” Ummm, who said you had to have 28 lesson plans for 28 students? But that is a common ‘reason’ to avoid doing it. Could it be an excuse? Or maybe simply people do not KNOW HOW…and as we are in education, it is okay not to know something – even if you are a teacher. But the best learner in the room should be the teacher or they are not a true educator. So, let’s at least remove ignorance of what can be done…

I have been an ardent fan of “tailoring instruction” since 1969 when I was suddenly by right of being a graduate student at FSU involved in the Elementary Teacher Preparation Project where we trained every single student in teacher ed. to individualize and then in the school where we were filming these “kids” doing their clinicals (with smaller kids ;-) the teachers on staff got so excited they asked us to train them! So we had an add-on grant and trained every K-3 teacher at Walter T. Moore School to be able to individualize. We explained to them a good teacher accommodates learners recognizing that each is different, i.e., AFFIRMING diversity. One way a school has done individualized instruction is not the same as another…so let’s talk about that.

I reckon there are – as my nine-year old buddy, Ira, used to say – “lebbenty-lebben ways”* to individualize instruction. You can do IPI – Individually Prescribed Instruction – where you look at what is “wrong” or “deficient” in a kid and then “build bridges” of curriculum to where he or she is supposed to be (according to some charts somewhere, or common core standards, or the state standards, or scope & sequence of the content provided by curriculum publishers). Delivery systems are boring workbooks (like Wisconsin’s famous DPI Bluebooks – Yawn!); or, buying content provider’s work kits, like the SRA Reading Kits, or make up your own. I prefer an online delivery system for at least some of it because there is so much content on the Internet now…but you have to screen kids as not many kids have the self-discipline until they are 30 or so.

Those are “deficiency-based” models…or “pothole pedagogy”…filling in what is missing or what the kid is “behind on” and not very motivating or positive in nature. And boring, to boot!

Then there is my preference, the strengths-based model, like the January Education Model** that is also learner-centered but where we begin with building curriculum around students’ natural interests, talents and abilities…THEY help by proposing projects at some age….later they can file a “green sheet” which is a template for a self-designed project…it can be with other students also, such as I used to do with gifted kids…they had to have an individual project and a group project everyone in the room worked on.

Learning or Interest Centers work well, too, where you have “Stations” set up for, say, Science, Math, Reading, History, Art, etc. and kids can choose from a list or learning activities and do their own record keeping.

There are a lot of options that allows teachers who MUST teach CERTAIN content do it in their way. No one says it MUST be Sit’nGit or SageontheStage, i.e. lecture. One can work in small areas in any course where students get a choice to tailor the course to THEIR ideal way of learning. Look below in the PS at one of my graduate students said.

Think on it.

Let me know if you can add anything to this list of possibilities for individualizing instruction.

Dr. DJ

PS – A teacher a year or so ago listed how she individualized instruction. Pretty creative: [This will all be a quote from that teacher, but note she says “a FEW I have used”]:

Individualization can be accomplished in an almost infinite number of ways. A few I have used are listed below:

    1. Using a pretest to determine prior knowledge
    2. Allowing proficient students to design their own exploration.
    3. Modifying delivery of content based on student needs, learning styles, etc.
    4. Providing choice in student demonstration of mastery. (test, project, verbal answers, etc.)
    5. Changing the environment to promote success (standing desks, preferential seating, lighting, etc.)
    6. Providing choices in daily academic tasks (ex. leveled assignments, number of problems)
    7. Modifying tasks (length, size, format, font, etc.)
    8. Creating learning contracts.
    9. Changing location to promote success. (ex. quieter room)
    10. Use of supplemental tools (ex. iPad, calculator, times table)
    11. Collaboration (small group, pairs, peer tutor, etc.)


*CRABAPPLE – A True Story of Hope & Miracles – The magical ninth year in boys by Anthony Dallmann-Jones – soon to be an eBook!

**FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION by Anthony Dallmann-Jones and Nine Extraordinary Educators