Keeping a Comment For Myself

The Bay of Fundy at high water
Image via Wikipedia

I write a fair number of comments on other blogs. I often think that some of my best thinking, if not my best writing, is posted at other people’s blogs instead of my own. It occurs to me that I can take some of those comments and give them another airing here.

Today’s post is in response to a post on The Edurati Review titled Making the Shift Part 1: No More Objectives. I suggest you read it, but I think my comment in response also stands on its own. This is what I wrote:

Over the history of schooling in the US there have been migrations from content to skill and back again. At the moment we are in a content-heavy era precisely at the wrong time. It is the wrong time because we are in an era of increasingly rapid change that is simultaneously broadening and deepening the trove of information that might be considered essential for teaching in school.

This broadening is evident from the overcrowded curricula that teachers are required to present and that students are expected to learn. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; there has been an incredible explosion of knowledge so profound that the percentage of it that any one person can know continues to decline despite individuals actually learning more information.

If the amount of information available is deeper and wider, it becomes important to increase what one knows. Doing so takes skill, specifically research skill, organization skill, interpretation skill and discernment skill. Students who acquire these skills will be better equipped to determine what is important to know, learn it, recall it and use it.

So we realize it is very important to teach skills and the best way, perhaps the only way to increase competence in any skill is to practice, practice and practice some more. Practicing skill requires something to practice on or with. Potential pianists need pianos, doctors need cadavers and drivers need cars and roads. Students need information on which to practice their skills, and that returns us to content.

The shuttle between content and skill exists because one cannot exist without the other but it is not clear what the ideal balance between the two might be. Sometimes we overstress skill and need to introduce more content and other times, as now, content is over emphasized and there are cries for more skill instruction. The ebb and flow is never equal but it is as constant as the tides.

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3 Responses to Keeping a Comment For Myself

  1. Tara Seale says:

    The image in this post is amazingly metaphorical for teachers and students. We are tied to a lonely dock with out the resources available to voyage into the adventurous sea. Teachers are handicapped because they are not provided with training and tools for a 21st Century environment in which information is available at a click and the skills to present, collaborate, and disperse information using 21st Century technology are essential to students who want to be successful in this world. Students are also tied up to the dock because education typically hampers or even forbids the skills they want or the skills that are culturally acceptable, such as, Facebook, cellphones, and ipods.
    Great questions are brought up in this post, the balance of skill and content. More importantly, how will students practice the skill if they do not have the tools needed for practice?

  2. Ira Socol says:

    As I dig and dig into moments of significant learning and communication system change in history I see a fairly standard pattern – When students most need skill development, schools, operating as agents of a frightened ruling class, retreat into pure content instruction. It is only in periods where skillsets are stagnant that schools – now staffed with people comfortable with those skills – begin again to teach skills.

    It is a basic fact that schools are run not for the benefit of children, but for the benefit of the adults currently in power. Those adults are now frightened of new skills which might overturn their grip on status – they know the Dewey Decimal System but don’t understand Google. So they reach they teach what’s in books on the shelves, which keeps students dependent on the power structure in both the choosing and the finding of that content.

    Pretty frustrating.

  3. Michael J says:

    There is a post at Jim Burke’s blog that I think speaks directly to your point focused on the teaching of English. http://bit.ly/45tOBi

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