I like to browse the TED Talks site because there are so many interesting topics and speakers. Sometimes inspiring, sometimes funny, sometimes educational – always with something to learn or provide a new perspective. I tend to look for things on technology, math, education – topics that are of interest to me because of what I do in my daily life. I found this recently uploaded talk from Sal Kahn, the founder of Khan Academy. He’s done a couple Ted Talks I think, but I hadn’t seen this one before, and found the topic to be one that I have pondered myself. Shouldn’t our education system be built on helping students master concepts rather than focused on learning specific content in a specific order to pass tests? Our current system is designed to push a group of students through a set curriculum at the same pace, where those who don’t quite make it accumulate gaps in learning, and therefore start the next set of curriculum behind. And the gaps keep building, creating a group of students who are left behind, or don’t think they are capable of learning some things (like math, or science), when in fact, had they been allowed the time to master, they could have learned and gone beyond.
It’s an interesting idea – one that would be very difficult to incorporate into our current education system – a system that is very resistant to change. I do know there are schools and classrooms, often charter schools, that are focused on this idea of mastery over testing. I think the Common Core at its core is based on the idea of mastery – building and mastering basic content knowledge prior to moving on to the next steps/content. However, when placed in an educational system that compartmentalizes students by grade and by subject and assesses by testing, the focus will always end up being on passing the ‘test’, so we will always leave some students with gaps.
I am not sure what the answer is – personalized learning is a big ‘buzz’ word these days. With technology and the ability to differentiate classrooms for students, maybe ‘mastery’ is becoming a focus. So perhaps there are changes afoot. Maybe ESSA will de-emphasize the standardized testing frenzy our education system is currently suffering from and we can focus on helping students become masters of their own education. We want students to learn from their mistakes rather than hit a wall and stop learning or trying new challenges because they “can’t”. Let’s hope that change is afoot in education – as Sal Kahn says, it’s an imperative – “I really think that this is all based on the idea that if we let people tap into their potential by mastering concepts, by being able to exercise agency over their learning, that they can get there.”
Watch the Ted Talk – it’ll make you think, and as an educator, maybe think about making a change.