Feb 092014

Child with learning difficultiesThis week I have been asked to share a memorable learning experience and based on this weeks readings, explain why it was memorable. The problem is… I don’t remember much about my “learning” back in the day. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, not many ah ha! moments or warm fuzzy revelations carefully engineered by some master pedagogue. Quite frankly my grade school experience was a struggle filled mostly with misery and frustration.

When I got this assignment the first thing I did was dig up the first and last Psych Ed assessment I ever had done. It was done way back in 1987 and I was trying to get into University. Doors were repeatedly shut in my face because I simply didn’t have the marks to get into any institution of higher learning. Then one day, I stumbled upon a research project at the University of Alberta that was looking at Learning Disabilities. It was this project that got my foot in the post secondary door. The only condition was I had to be a part of the LD project and they would let me take one course, Psych 100.

This psych ed assessment was the first step in establishing that I wasn’t the moron that grade school had led me to believe. It was a relief in many ways, as it pointed out some significant deficits in my short-term memory, auditory learning  and visual discrimination. Learning about why I didn’t “lern nun so gud” was an educational turning point for me.

Going through the materials for this weeks assignment made me realize that the past 40 years of my formal “learning” has all revolved around people and events; I guess this would be considered episodic memory I suppose. I remember in pictures not facts or details. I remember how to physically do things and demonstrate it but could never verbally explain it.  I can’t remember passages from books or poetry, I struggle with my times tables to this day, I forget most of what I read almost immediately after my eyes pass over it… This is my learning life and this has been this way for as long as I can’t remember.

I wish I could give you all an example of some wonderful learning experience I had over the years but quite frankly there hasn’t been any, or perhaps I should say if there has been I don’t remember it. All I know is that somehow information got into the vacuous space between my ears we call a brain.

The only thing I can share with you that I feel has shaped my learning over these many years comes from my very patient and understanding parents.

  1. People don’t care why you can’t do something they just want it done.
  2. University requirements are what they are. Meet them or don’t.
  3. All we expect is that you do the best you can.
  4. You can always make a living at the end of a shovel.
  5. If all else fails be nice, kind and helpful.

That is it… Nothing to see here now move on.




Jan 232014

iStock_000033215132SmallWelcome to this weeks instalment of Questions to Ponder for Learning Design #EDCI 335

This weeks question is:  Are our current schools / teachers / curriculum preparing students for the 21st century?

I am going to start off by saying that the problem with this question is that it is a tad misleading. It would suggest that the role of grade school is to prepare our children for the world but it isn’t. Grade school is designed to prepare kids for further education once they graduate from high school. Preparing kids for the real world is no longer part of our mandate.

Personally I think kids should be able to walk out of high school and become gainfully employed right out of the gate. When I say gainfully employed, I am not talking having a 100K a year job, driving a Porsche and living like a Gangsta. I am talking a good job that provides a living wage and an opportunity to improve their lot in life with hard work and further education. If this was the case then asking: Are our current schools/teachers/curriculum preparing students for the 21st century? My answer would be an emphatic NO!

Unfortunately, over the past 30+ years, under the guise of the tired old mantra, “You need a good education to get a good job”. Society has chosen to warehouse young adults in post secondary institutions, rather than employ them. So ingrained is this “Must go to school” mentality, post secondary education has become a multi billion dollar industry unto itself. At times it would seem that the primary purpose of education is to extract money from parents back accounts, rather than create employees of the future.

In reality kids graduating from high school today don’t need to be ready for the 21st Century, they need to be prepared to spend another 4+ years in a post secondary institution doing exactly what they were doing in high school. So if this is the inevitable plight of our children, my answer to this weeks question is YES! The existing school system does exactly what is required to prepare our children for their continued academic incarceration in the 21st Century.

Unrealistically, I would like to not lecture at all; not as the result of being shown the door by my employer, as will happen soon enough, but because lectures are a terrible way to teach. Since I am scheduled to give them, and can’t see how to provide one-on-one instruction to the nearly 200 students enrolled on the course, I know that I shall in fact stand up and talk for 50 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks – Alan Ryan, 2014.

The problem is that grade school is designed to keep kids from engaging with the real world, not to go out and be embraced by it. Even if we did make kids work ready by the time graduation rolls around, the only thing waiting for them is starvation wages and poverty. The reality is that what we have here is an 21st Century employment problem, not a 21st Century school problem.

I work with kids on a daily basis that are bright, capable and phenomenally talented and need nothing more than to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They could be and should be in the work world making themselves useful to society. Instead they are trapped in a system that insists on “educating them” indefinitely before deeming them worthy of a living wage.

The thought I frequently bandy about in my mind is this.  What if the solution is not to look for a 21st century solution but backwards to the 19th century. Instead of marginalizing our youth in a world of never-ending academia, why don’t we turn them loose to participate in the adult world sooner? The role of school / teachers / curriculum would be to provide “in progress” academic support for kids who are engaged with the real world. We already do this to a small degree with Apprenticeships and Co-ops but why are these programs not the norm rather than the exception?

The question posed is far bigger than any single school, teacher or curriculum. It is a question that needs to be answered by students, parents, teachers, business people and politicians. 

  • If you want work ready kids by grade the end of grade 12, the business world needs to provide living wages for them when they get out.
  • If you want to change what schools / teachers / curriculum teach, then you have to change what qualifies for graduation.
  • If you want to change what constitutes high school graduation, you need post secondary to institutions to change entry requirements.
  • If you want grade school teachers to support each child’s specific interests or “passion”, then provide the resources and the time to make it happen.
  • If you want us to change our teaching practice, then provide us with the time, resources and professional development to do it.
  • If critical thinking, innovation, resilience, adaptability and effort are what is most important in school, then stop placing so much emphasis on grades and value what really counts.

Our schools and teachers are more than capable of delivering a 21st Century education, it is the outside world that needs to do a better job in helping the new age of learning to come to fruition.

Some facts and figures

Registered apprenticeship completions, Canada, 1995 to 2007

Post Secondary Enrolment Trends to 2031

Unemployment Dynamics of Canada’s  Youth

University Tuition Rising to Record Levels in Canada