Think about it. If we could wave a magic wand and instantly transform education and improve our schools, what would we want the outcome to look like?
All students learn. Isn’t it as straightforward as that? An idea that has two simple parts. “All students” – not just some, but all. And “learn” – not just getting a passing score on a test, but acquiring or gaining something of value, something that makes you better, something that becomes an asset as you move through life. Something that helps you realize your promise and be successful – as an individual, and as a member of our society.
It’s time to remind ourselves that what we want for education is this simple: All students learn. We’re not saying that the problems in education today are simple to fix – they aren’t – or that there is, in fact, some magic wand we can wave – there isn’t. But unless we think about learning and teaching differently, unless we change the conversations about education reform to focus on learning – truly helping all students learn and thrive – our efforts to make things better will miss the mark.
Changing the conversation from “how can we improve education?” to “how can we ensure learning for all students?” means framing the problem differently. And it means applying some revolutionary thinking to how we’re doing education now.
We all know that everyone has different talents and different interests. We celebrate personal uniqueness in so many places, and yet our schools still follow a factory model that forces both teachers and students into routines that engage and reward certain learners while marginalizing others.
The fact is that recent research from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and related fields has uncovered that each of us has a range of strengths and weaknesses among the numerous brain functions that influence learning, as well particular subjects, ideas, and pursuits we’re drawn to – our affinities. Collectively, these strengths, weaknesses and affinities shape both how we learn and what engages us – which in turn both influence how much we actually learn and thrive in a given situation.
Research also shows that when educators develop greater knowledge of how students learn, how to figure out the learning needs of individual students, and how to use this insight to help an individual student learn, revolutionary things can happen. Teachers find they have insight into solving perplexing learning issues in their classrooms. Students find self-confidence and greater interest in school.
While other fields are racing to leverage these new scientific insights into how people learn and think (you’d better believe advertisers are already using it to get your attention), education – which is supposed to be in the business of learning – has yet to embrace or apply this research in any significant or systematic way.
Educators by and large do not receive training in how students learn and vary in their learning. Deeply knowing individual students as learners is not something that schools – or the systems that hold them accountable – prioritize or reward.
A significant number of students struggle needlessly – simply because they way they learn doesn’t align with how they are being taught. Many become disengaged. Because they feel stupid. Because they don’t see the relevance of what is happening in the classroom to their lives. Because they don’t feel “seen.” Those with resources may seek help outside of the schools. Others fall through the cracks and become part of other intractable societal problems – crime, incarceration, poverty.
At the same time, we could be doing better by all learners. We could be fostering their ability to become lifelong learners – something we know today’s rapidly changing world demands – by ensuring they understand their own learning profiles. We could be better cultivating individual talents, rather than the mass production approach we currently apply to education.
It is time to put what science tells us about how people learn into practice in our classrooms, in our schools, in our nation.
- It’s time to ensure that the professionals who work in our schools are learning experts – that they understand the process of learning and how it varies from student to student.
- It’s time to place greater emphasis in our classrooms and schools on looking at students as individual learners. Do away with the “one size fits all” approach and find ways to personalize the educational process so that it is both relevant and challenging for each student and manageable for our teachers.
- It’s time to identify richer ways to measure learning – and for holding schools accountable for how well they facilitate learning for every single student.
- It’s time to find ways to develop and nurture individual student talents and affinities. Our communities, our nation, and our world need all kinds of minds to successfully meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Help us create the future of learning. Become a part of the Learning Revolution today.