By Thom Markham
As Common Core State Standards are incorporated from school to school across the country, educators are discussing their value. It may seem that educators are arguing over whether the CCSS will roll out as a substitute No Child Left Behind curriculum or as an innovative guide to encourage inquiry rather than rote learning. In reality, as time will prove, we’re arguing over whether content standards are still appropriate.
Everyday there is less standardization of information, making it nearly impossible to decide what a tenth-grader should know. Beyond the core literacies of reading, writing, computation, and research, the world-wide culture of innovation, discovery, multi-polarity, interdisciplinary thinking, and rapid change depends on the explosive potential of the human mind, not entombed truths from the past. Increasingly, any standards-based curriculum is at odds with the outside world.
There is only one resolution to the debate. Sooner or later, inquiry-standards will take precedence over content-based standards. Education’s core task is to prepare young people to generate new ideas, filter them through a net of critical analysis and reflection, and move the ideas through a design process to create a quality product, either as an idea or a material object. Students need information, facts, and specific knowledge for a successful outcome. But that information must be gathered during the process of creation, in a usable, just-in-time format not found in “subjects.”
If you’re a teacher in tune with the needs of your students, you sense the disconnect between the curriculum and reality. You’d like the freedom to respond more directly to student needs, but standardized information and testing remains a barrier to innovative teaching.
So how can you, as a teacher, help move the dialogue forward? First, you can focus on becoming a highly-effective project based learning (PBL) teacher. When done well, PBL is the most effective method education has at the moment to introduce and practice inquiry-based education. Continue reading