At issue | Oct. 4 column by Roger Guffey, "Needed for college: student responsibility"
Roger Guffey uses his experience as a community college and public school teacher to advise students who are struggling with the transition between high school and college.
A few years ago, before he retired from public school teaching, the classroom paradigm he described might have seemed acceptable, but his experience predates the rapid technological advances that are changing the face of education. So, I have to take exception with his notion that class attendance is the be-all, end-all to passing a class.
His attendance-as-assessment theory is wrong on numerous levels. If a student can miss six classes and still master the subject, why would you fail him?
What is it you are trying to measure, seat time or learning?
I don't disagree that students must take responsibility for their own learning, but who is to say the best educational opportunity is sitting in front of a teacher? Guffey writes, "Missing the benefit of an in-class lecture will require digging that information out of the class resources independently, and that is not easy."
Isn't independent learning exactly Guffey's point? Where is the ownership of learning when the student is sitting passively?
With technological options available today, an in-class lecture may be the least effective of educational opportunities. The teacher's job is not to neatly hand over the Cliffs Notes to the problems of life, but to equip students with the tools to discover and satisfy their curiosity.
Learning is not easy, nor is it limited to what one can learn in a classroom from a single teacher. Even though I think I am a decent teacher, I'm pretty sure I don't know all there is to know about any given subject. In-class exams may measure progress on the material I cover, but the world's greatest (and most terrible) discoveries come after the exam, when students challenge what they have learned. How many students are turned off by traditional education and stop challenging as a result?
Educators need to examine our practice and determine if our teaching methods are the most effective to meet the needs of today's students, who come to us as digital natives. We have to at least be aware of the amazing potential technology has, and allow it to transform our teaching and learning practices.
We cannot afford to ignore the collaborative, boundless learning environment technology can provide, because students are well-accustomed to interacting with peers and strangers via cell phones, blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Teachers need to guide students through the processes involved in critical thinking, which really isn't a different charge from the past, but it is even more important now to help students with their analytical skills, so they can make important learning decisions on their own. We need to help them consider the ethical considerations of instant technological availability and encourage them to use it wisely and considerately.
There is no point to an education that does not prepare students for challenges in real life. We have to consider modifying our traditional ideas about education as classroom-based, and join the conversations that envision education as innovation.
Guffey is rightly appalled by the practice of awarding learning credit for participation in food drives or busy work. But how is basing a grade on attendance any different from extra credit for a food drive?
As soon as grading at both the P-12 and post-secondary levels reflects mastery of the subject — rather than a letter grade for seat time — we can confidently send students on to community colleges, four-year institutions, or wherever their curiosity takes them.
Students who understand their responsibility for learning quickly learn that the teacher who fails a student for poor attendance has little to offer them. They'll show up to your class because they know what your expectations are. But what about their expectations?
As a teacher, it is my responsibility to know what their expectations are. Responsibility for learning is shared equally by teacher and student.