Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hattie vs. Papert - Part 1

Author's Note:  What started as a concerning week is looking like a year long (or longer) journey of discovery,research, and inner conflict. This will be at least the first post in a series where I argue with myself about John Hattie's Visible Learning Research as it contrasts with my beliefs and the work of Seymour Papert. 

Monday was one of the most stressful days to prepare for since I started in De Pere. That's right - more stressful than TEDx, preparing for board presentations, or teaching lessons in classrooms. Why?

Education is an incredibly complex machine. Research can be used to support or decry just about any strategy or methodology. Currently, as a district, we put a lot of stock in Fisher and Frey (The Gradual Release of Responsibility model) and John Hattie (Visible Learning). This research puts the focus on particular structures that classrooms must have in place, as well as an emphasis on collaborative learning and common assessments. To be clear, NONE of those things are inherently bad, or even bad at all.

Now, as a disclaimer, let me just say that I love my district. We have committed professionals trying to make education as awesome as possible for our students. That isn't the point of this blog post.

In past few years I have been enlightened by Maker Education, and more recently, the writings of Seymour Papert. I know that taking stock in simply one person's thinking is often dangerous. We want our students to back up their thinking with a variety of supports, and I think the same. After all, Papert, although highly regarded at MIT, Harvard, and any serious academic circle, doesn't receive ANY time of day at all in undergrad or schools. Hattie, on the other hand, has over 800 different studies that he has analyzed about what works in education. He also believes that the education system as a whole is doing well.

Here is where I'm concerned about overthinking it. Based on my interpretations of Hattie's work, a lot of the areas I believe strongly in and champion do NOT make an impact on student learning. Problem/project based learning, personalized learning, creativity, inquiry, team teaching, and worst of all, student control of learning. In fact, according to his research, student control of learning barely results in any achievement at all.

So here is where I am stuck, and concerned. Are the methodologies and beliefs that I consider to be paramount to education actually not going to help them become successful adults? Is the dream of self-directed learning a recipe for disaster? I want so badly to believe in Papert's work and that if we can just get his vision "right", then we can unleash incredible learning opportunities for our students. The biggest reason I still support Papert over Hattie is because what do Hattie's numbers boil down to? Achievement on standardized tests. That means so little to mean. But it means a lot more to public schools.

And yes, I said Papert over Hattie because I don't believe the two can coincide. It is almost like two paths diverging in the woods. In one route, you head down the Hattie way, and work on good things that make education as it exists better. The other route is far riskier. If we truly embrace the work of Papert and those that aim to foster constructionism, school is completely different. Students will not learn the things they've always learned. They will take wildly different paths. It is quite unlikely that any school that goes this way would perform as well as tests as they would the other path.

Ultimately, I believe that the Papert path can lead to great motivation and engagement in learning for the student. I believe it can improve the school experience for the student in an authentic way. I believe that it can result in incredibly well-adjusted adults because they grew up as children with opportunities to practice with decisions and control.

Some would say that I'm just the "tech guy" and that I shouldn't be overthinking these things. I should just do my job and work to support our teachers. However, as a "tech guy", I believe in Papert's work and that we should be using technology to let our students be creative and discover learning in their own personal way. That is the most effective use of technology there is.

Unless, of course, I'm wrong. And that is what I'm afraid of.