Do students learn what we want them too?

… excellent lecture by Robert Duke, a professor of music and human learning at the University of Texas Austin, on “Why students don’t learn what we think we teach” (hosted at Cornell University Videos).

Duke is captivating, and he makes a clear argument that students don’t learn what we think we teach because they’re too busy learning what we’re actually teaching, which is, often, that precision is more important than understanding and that grades matter. The solution, he argues, is to teach, over and over, the things that we actually want our students to remember after the semester is over. And, that we should not defer learning about “The Good Stuff” until after they’ve suffered through boring prerequisites. Instead, we should teach the good stuff first and teach what we really enjoy.

(my emphasis) Came across this via Darren Kuropatwa, original post on “Structure & Strangeness“. Duke makes a good point, and it applies to any level of education. What do we want our students to learn? What are we actually teaching them?


Ask the Hard Questions – self-reflection

For too long, school has acted for too many kids as the greatest extinguisher of curiosity. If we are serious about creating lifelong learners, school needs to stop looking so much like school. If we want to make things better for our children, we need to start questioning what we consider to be the obvious.

This is why the most successful parents and educators are constantly reflecting on their own beliefs and practices. They are in a constant state of acute mindfulness.

And it starts by asking the question: I say I want this, so then why am I doing that?


If many of our kids dislike school, Joe asks us to reflect and ask why? And I agree with Joe, it starts with each individual, do our actions reflect our beliefs? There are systemic pressures, but change can start with some little things in our own practice. Check out the complete post (You say you want this, so then why are you doing that?) for a list of practices to think about – and links to reasons to change them.

Pockets of Greatness

We have a lot of great classrooms, but we need more great schools.  By having a clear vision and creating environments in all areas, where people can push one another, while also feeling that their gifts are recognized, we can continue to get there together.

This is the closing paragraph from another thoughtful post by George Couros, “The Principal of Change”. George encourages schools to have a vision, plan learning goals, then put the technology in place. As stated in this quote, there are many pockets of innovative classrooms, but they do not seem to be the norm, we need to work together, push and support one another for wider change. George’s school, Forest Green, is an example of that.

Sal Khan and the Metaphors of Math Salvation | Hack Education

Let me reiterate: I don’t think Khan Academy is a bad thing. I don’t think Sal Khan is a bad guy. But I do think some of the narratives and politics and metaphors surrounding the two are uncritical at best, dangerous at worst. I don’t believe in silver bullets or a savior. I don’t believe that one person can single-handedly educate the world, or even that such a thing, if possible, is something we really want.

Students or Learners?


Can we “shift control”?


Catching up on some reading, I came across this table in a post by David Warlick, distinguishing between learners and students. Interesting thoughts as he tries to get a handle on this dichotomy;

Relationship with educators
Students are employees, required to obediently follow instructions.
Learners are citizens with a vested interest in the learning society.
Relationship with other “Students”
Students are competitors
Learners are collaborators
Obligation: Students are culturally obliged to work for the teacher & for compensation (below)
Responsibility: Learners are motivated by an understood and realized “value” in their work, especially when it is valuable to others.
Institution defined grades and gateways to college (another institution) and a good job (another institution)
A sense of ongoing accomplishment that is not delivered but earned, and not symbolic but tangible and valuable — an investment.
Mode of Operation
Compliant, group-disciplined, objective-oriented, and trainable
Persevering, self-disciplined, group- and goal-oriented, resourceful, and learning in order to achieve rather than achieving learning.
..with packaged knowledge and tools for recording packaged knowledge — prescribed and paced learning
..with tools for exploring a networked variety of content, experimenting with that content, and discovering, concluding, and constructing knowledge — invented learning
Measuring what the student has learned.
Measuring what the learner can do with what has been learned.
via (2¢ Worth)

Regardless of the word we use, how do you view the students/learners in your situation? How we view learners is reflected in our actions as educators.

Writing … giving up?



Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. … For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. … A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

— Ira Glass

originally from April 30, 2011

Came across this from someone (I can’t remember) on twitter. Although not about academia, it does have parallels, writing is creative work, it takes time, practice. I often find it a struggle, I reread, rewrite, procrastinate … almost give up. This quote certainly applies as I work thorugh my Ph.D. program.