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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Unintentional Learning

Yesterday I attended the Dalton State College ETTC Spring Consortium. In the afternoon session we conducted a 2-hour Whale Done! activity. This is among the newest resources from Ken Blanchard. The basic ideas are taken from the killer whale trainers at Sea World. It is about developing good relationships with co-workers in order to achieve high productivity and satisfaction. The three main concepts: 1) develop trust, 2) accentuate the positive, 3) redirect wrong behavior. It's really nothing earth-shattering or different from the One-Minute Manager from a generation ago, but the whales make it more fun to learn.

Well, yesterday I learned what I was supposed to learn (it was really just reinforced-but still good). I also had one of those AHA moments. It has led me to a paradigm shift of thinking, and I hope I can communicate it well here.

In education (generally speaking) we identify problems only when student test scores are not where we want them. This is the driving piece of decision-making. To make it easy, I think we rightly ask, "How can we increase student test scores, the primary indicator we choose to use, so we can verify student achievement? What can we do to help the student?"

I do not have any problems with these questions, once I accept that testing is the only proof that is acceptable in our current arrangement. We identify the problem (or area of improvement). It looks like this: Problem = Low Student Test Scores.

Here's where my epiphany arrived. In Whale Done!, and most management guru books, when the behavior is not what is wanted, those with the "bad behavior" are the ones who recieve the redirection. EX: When the whale went left after being told to go right, the trainer did not acknowledge the wrong behavior, but redirected the whale with more interaction to go in the correct direction -- then the correct behavior was reinforced with a back rub or bucket of fish. It was the whale's behavior that was wrong, so the whale is who was retrained.

In education, when the student scores are too low, we focus on the teacher by retraining them and offering "new" methods of teaching classes (they've had at least five in getting the degree). How many different ways are there to develop inconsequential lesson plans? The original plans may not be the problem. The redirection is the problem. Teachers teach, students fail, so teach them more of the same in the same way...what's up with that!?

Why don't we realize that the "unacceptable behavior" is the behavior of the STUDENT, not the teacher. Blaming the teacher is too easy, and we shouldn't take it anymore. [The scene in Network flashes in my mind.]

In the whale training situation it works like this:
  • Unacceptable behavior - whale goes in wrong direction
  • Initial reaction - trainer does not acknowledge whale's incorrect behavior
  • Redirection - trainer immediately becomes more "hands-on" with whale to get the correct behavior
  • Acceptable behavior - whale goes in right direction
  • Reaction - trainer acknowledges whale with personal interaction (back rub, fish, etc.)
  • Repeat acceptable behavior - habit is formed and behavior is frequently revisited to make sure it sticks
In education it works like this:
  • Unacceptable behavior - student(s) score too low on high-stakes, standardized test
  • Initial reaction - months go by until results are received so there is no initial reaction
  • Redirection - student(s) are in next year of school, and have forgotten their original behavior. There is no redirection to the one with the "unacceptable behavior." In the interim, teachers are targeted for retraining by doing the same thing with a different name [new program].
  • Acceptable behavior - students are never given the opportunity to be immediately redirected, so they are unsure of what to do to achieve acceptable behavior status. They become frustrated, and continue to underperform.
  • Reaction - teachers don't know if they are encouraging the correct behavior or not in their students. We can only encourage effort not acceptable behavior.
Some will say, we need more tests then. No, we need results immediately, not during the summer, when student accountability is lost. We have the technology to do this. Good night, if we can vote for the President of the United States on a touch-screen computer, and have results within a day or two, we can definitely have tests on the same touch screens! If these money-grabbing testing companies want to stay in business, then by golly provide the touch screens for schools. The cost would be a wash in a few years when there was nothing to print. Editing and implementation would be instant. And, for those who believe scientist Al Gore, this would also reduce Carbon Dioxide levels because we save more trees, thus helping the global warming issue (if you believe in such a thing).

At this point, here is what we are doing:
  • Students commit bad behavior, teacher is retrained.
  • Students commit bad behavior, administrator jobs are at risk.
  • Students commit bad behavior, student avoids any redirection efforts.
Why should whales get better attention than our kids? I still believe our kids want to do well, they have just been trained to repeat unacceptable behavior under our current methodology of test result reporting. Unfortunately, I don't think educated people (politicians or DOEs) will change their behavior to correct the problem. Almost makes one wonder if these people really want the "problem" corrected.

Where is there more money to be made and power to be brokered?
  • If all children make it, none are left behind, and schools can teach the children of their community...
  • OR if many children don't make it, appear to be left behind, and government-selected consultants come in to "save the day" with a rehashed bag of tricks?
I think I'll call that my "inconvenient truth."

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