Sunday, February 5, 2017

Along for the Ride - An Analogy for the Classroom

When I was young, I lived about thirty miles away from Flint, Michigan. That's where we'd head every so often when my parents wanted to do some shopping. I remember my mom laughing with a friend once, saying even though she had made the trip so many times, she never could have driven there herself. She just trusted my dad to know the way.

Of course, as a kid I never gave the details of the trip any thought. I recognized some buildings and roads enough to know I was close to the mall. I couldn't have listed the names of the roads we took, though, or directed a driver how to get there.

My mom and I were along for the ride. We got in the car at home and out of it at the mall. Shopping was the goal.

As the title of this post suggests, I've found a strong parallel between travel and the classroom. I shared this with my teenage daughter once when she was struggling in her math class. It seemed to connect with her and (at least so far) it has been the last time she had trouble keeping up with that subject.

I told her about how some students think class is like just such a trip. Maybe we could imagine everyone on a bus going on a field trip. They all board the bus at the school, they all get out at the destination. They were along for the ride and they arrived.

In class, this amounts to listening to the teacher, maybe even taking some notes and doing an assignment. Their butts were in the seat, writing is on the paper and credit was achieved. In their minds, they arrived.

I see many students who genuinely believe that's all that mattered.

The problem with this, I told my daughter, is that the goal of the classroom is not just to arrive. It's that everyone and anyone on that bus would be able to drive there themselves. 

Getting to a place was not the only goal. The how and why of the route mattered too.

So consider how differently a passenger spends his time on a trip when he knows he has to drive it himself. He'd be paying attention to every turn, trying to remember street names and landmarks. He'd be asking the driver questions if he missed something.

I've been learning a lot about John Hattie's work lately and he gives us this insight on what a good learner pays attention to.

"Their role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains. This includes evaluating their own progress, being more responsible for their learning, and being involved with peers in learning together about gains in learning." (From Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning)

So ask them regularly, are they along for the ride or preparing to drive the bus?