I was deeply inspired by a short op-ed piece in the New York Times last week, written by a rising high school freshman, Julia Fox, from Petaluma, Calif. She was answering a question about standardized testing and how students learn stuff. It’s a subject lots of smart people, a.k.a. talking heads, like to talk about, but Julia wrote about it more eloquently than any of them, in my opinion.
Julia’s brilliant teacher (just my opinion based on evidence) had students in her class collaborate to write a novel during the national Write-a-Novel Month, and Julia herself said she learned more from actually doing the writing than she had ever learned by preparing for standardized tests. She’s right as she writes, and the rest of us need to listen to her voice.
I work in school testing myself, and most of my co-workers I’m sure would agree with what Julia wrote. Kids learn by doing. There is no substitute, and there isn’t even a close “second-best” way for kids to learn. As I wrote on this site’s front page in late July:
… The single best way for kids to learn, by far, is unfortunately where most money has been excluded from our education budgets. It is “autonomous, firsthand, curiosity-driven, wide-ranging, self-directed, trial and error, immediate feedback, personal experience” [quote from Marion Brady]. Somehow, we focus more on the third-place learning technique while ignoring technology’s ability to deliver—at very cheap prices, by the way—on the No. 1 strategy.
The word “cheap” doesn’t even scratch the surface. Google Docs, where Julia’s teacher had her students write, as well as our Answer Maryland site, where you can also create documents, books, videos, and the like, are free.
Here’s an excerpt from Julia’s piece:
My English teacher opened a door for me to express my passion for writing this past year in a way that might not have been possible if we focused only on the year-end tests. … She tossed all of the planned curriculum out the window for the month of November. Throughout the month, she informally assessed us and guided us in the right direction.
Immediate feedback by teachers who actually care about their students and their long-term success is not where many educators would take our schools these days, but we need to get back on that path and get off of the one we’re on. Students for whom learning is fundamental and fun are screaming at us from the highest mountain—or at least in one of the nation’s biggest newspapers—and they’re telling us, in plain language, what kind of teaching is effective with them. Time to stop our adult discussions and listen for a change. Thanks, Julia.