Sharpening Our Focus

Higher Ed August / Special / Uncategorized / August 16, 2018

-by George Hess-

The recent announcement that FLGI was changing the focus from Flipped Learning to “Reaching Every Student Every Day” was an exciting development. To be clear, Flipped Learning has never been the goal, only a means to an end. It’s never been about the videos and always been about reaching all students using active learning. Refocusing on the educational goal, rather than the technique, is a crucial step in the maturation of Flipped Learning. There are now strategies for every classroom, regardless of the level of technology, and each intended to engage students better.

Skeptics among you may think that Reaching Every Student Every Day sounds suspiciously like No Child Left Behind, which I’m sure you’ll agree was a miserable failure. NCLB was a political solution developed by politicians.  Flipped Learning is a pedagogical solution designed by teachers. NCLB was about having all students achieve specific benchmarks. Every teacher knew this was doomed to fail; it was an impossible goal. The results were that students and schools were labeled as failures and punished for it. Aside from the punitive measures, the real problem was how they measured success.

The benchmarks are the problem. Benchmarks are teacher-centered, and by defining what and when students are expected to learn, we guarantee some will be left behind. We rely on test scores because they make for good copy and talking points, and appear to be easy to understand. But that ease is misleading. If you don’t understand what is being measured, the results will likely be misused.

In the pre-internet world, the skills measured by tests (principally the ability to recall and process information) were essential. But now, with all of the world’s knowledge a Google search away, while it’s still useful, memorization is only one of many skills that students need.

Our #1 goal as educators should be to foster the love of learning, encourage children’s innate curiosity, and develop lifelong learners. All children are born curious. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t learn to walk, talk, or interact with the world. Most children come to school ready to learn. But what if they don’t? What if they aren’t prepared to learn what and when we want them to. For these students, it doesn’t take long before they are labeled as “slow.” Once the label is applied, children will live down to it, and their instinctive curiosity will be replaced with frustration.

To be genuinely student-centered, we need to ask what it is that they are ready to learn. All children are good at something and few, if any, are good at everything. We need to identify what each child is good at, what interests them and go from there. Play to their strengths and help minimize weaknesses. When students are interested and engaged, they will learn, often going beyond the intended outcomes.  But if they aren’t, no external motivation can make them learn.

Our function as teachers should be to improve the student’s ability to learn. They need to know the questions, not the answers. We should help them develop better research abilities and come to better conclusions, regardless of the context. This also includes giving them permission to fail. How many times did Edison fail to make a working light bulb?

Assessment should be based on growth, not achievement. The question we should be asking isn’t “Does it raise test scores?”, but “Do students want to learn more?” Are students more self-directed? Are they still curious? Do they demonstrate the ability to guide their own learning? Growth assessment is student-centered, measures things far beyond standardized tests, and almost by definition, accommodates differentiation.

No methodology is better prepared to support these changes than Flipped Learning. Since students can engage with instructional materials as they need them, they can follow their own learning paths. Allow students to choose what they want to learn, and then guide them to develop the knowledge and skills they’ll need. Just about any non-traditional subject can be used to teach the three Rs. But it goes beyond that when students collaborate, do research, use technology, and come up with creative ways to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

For some, I know this may seem to be a bridge too far. Standardized tests and the data they generate are thoroughly entrenched and will be difficult to dislodge. But, it has to happen if we are to prepare students for the 21st century. It’s not enough to merely object to testing. We have to have a better way. Fortunately, we do, and we can Reach Every Student Every Day.


George Hess
Dr. George Hess
Dr. Hess is currently Associate Professor of Music at Sunway University in Malaysia. Previously, he was on the faculty at the National University of Singapore, Central Michigan University, Alabama State University and the University of Northern Colorado. He holds degrees from the Berklee College of Music and the University of Northern Colorado. George is a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty. George is an educator, guitarist, composer and author. An award-winning teacher, he has taught music technology, jazz and theory at leading universities for over 25 years.

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