Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thank you, David Perkins

                Recently I vented my mock indignation about the title of David Perkins’ latest book, Making Learning Whole. I promised to post on it again after I had read the book. I recently finished it, and I have one overall reaction I want to emphasize:
Read this book!
It’s an important book, one that should be an integral part of any conversation about education. Perkins mixes idealism and practicality, theory and reality, with plenty of excellent true-life examples blended in. The essential idea is that we learn best when we are doing so in a holistic, integrated, natural fashion. The metaphor Perkins uses throughout—broken into seven categories—is baseball. You can quickly see how apt the metaphor is, and it’s easy to substitute many other experiences.
                I found myself nodding and notating more in this book than I had in many years. Since you will, of course, be reading it, I don’t want to give too much away. But I’ll gloss over a few of my favorite parts:
·         Every section ends with a great set of prompts that begin “I wonder…” They force reflection on the ideas from the chapter. I could see a teacher reading the chapter and then journaling, then adding to an entry as ideas arose.
·         Perkins’ coining of the term elementitis to capture the piecemeal approach to education, which leads to “an informational backdrop rather than an improving and enlightening body of understanding” (Kindle edition, loc 252).
·         His argument that, unlike the irrelevance students often complain of, that education as playing the whole game “gives the enterprise more meaning” (302).
·         The contention that the “real criterion of understanding has to be performance” (964).
·         The vision that, instead of individual work being so dominant, students engage in “extreme team learning” (3247).
·         His notion of education resorting to a “hearts-and-mind” (1600) approach. I simply can’t capture it in a bullet point.
I know I’m giving such a positive review because I’m a member of the choir . But I’m also trying to be gracious. I already said I was mad about the title. Now I’m neon-green-eyed with jealousy that I didn’t write this book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Skin Deep

     Today Seth Godin posted an interesting take on the sunscreen industry and marketing ethics. As usual, Godin nails the issue with some provocative questions. At the time of the year when high school rankings are getting some press, the piece serves to remind us of what can happen when education is reduced to some piece of very limited data. If someone ranks a school by number of AP tests taken--and not how students did on said APs--that's not much different than moves pulled by the sunscreen industry in the name of short-term profit.
     The sunscreen analogy becomes fitting in another way. Too much of what passes for quality in education is only skin deep. What about the soul of education?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Superman or Superteam?

                Bill Taylor recently posted a piece on www.hbr.org titled “Great People are Overrated.” He uses a comment from Mark Zuckerberg as his starting point: "Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good…They are 100 times better." Of course, Taylor goes on to show numerous examples of why this is not the case. (On a personal note, I am thrilled to see the Dallas Mavericks and F.C. Barcelona as two of them.) Taylor ponders whether one would rather have 100 pretty good people or a single exceptional person. Here’s the real kicker, from another Harvard Business School professor, Boris Groysberg:
After examining the careers of more than 1,000 star analysts at Wall Street investment banks, and conducting more than two hundred frank interviews, Groysberg comes to a striking conclusion: star analysts who change firms suffer an immediate and lasting decline in performance. Their earlier excellence appears to have depended heavily on their former firms' general and proprietary resources, organizational cultures, networks, and colleagues. There are a few exceptions, such as stars that move with their teams and stars that switch to better firms. Female stars also perform better after changing jobs than their male counterparts do. But most stars who switch firms turn out to be meteors, quickly losing luster in their new settings.
While I have some initial reactions, I haven’t quite figured out the implications of this for education. They strike me as vast. Yet I can’t crystallize them in an articulate fashion. Thoughts?

Friday, June 17, 2011

How Dare David Perkins!

Here I am, posting all year on an education blog called To Keep Things Whole—and one of the hot education books on people’s summer reading lists is David Perkins’ Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. Totally opposing my thoughts, is he?
I’m faking the outrage, of course. (Should I have used mockery tags?) I’m actually quite a fan of Perkins, and I loved his book Smart Schools: Better Thinking and Learning for Every Child. I suspect I’ll find many more similarities than differences in our most recent writing. Plus, as co-director of Harvard University’s Project Zero, where some of the real cutting edge thinking is going on, he certainly has earned the right to call his book whatever the heck he pleases. Perkins is one of the educational thinkers to whom people should pay attention. All those reasons are why I’ve just downloaded Making Learning Whole to my Kindle.
Still, the difference in title raises an essential point. Perkins’ title suggests that we have to take discrete parts and unify them.  My contention is that learning begins as a naturally holistic activity, only that too much of education breaks it up in convenient but artificial fashion.
I’m going to begin reading it today, and I’ll report back soon. In the meantime, your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blog? What blog? Oh yeah...Summer Blogging

This past Monday felt weird. It was the first time since starting this blog that I didn’t see that box on the calendar as a monstrous deadline, fangs gnashing and drool flying as it snickered at me. Despite my keeping a little notebook of ideas, I always struggle with all the final decisions—from starting point to ultimate point.
But it’s summer. The kids finished school on Friday (strange how it already feels empty without them here), and the urgency of certain things departed with them. Don’t misunderstand. I love the reflection that comes with maintaining this blog, and I still plan to post when I feel inspired. That likely will wax and wane. I probably will try doing some different types of posts. Plus I’m likely to store some posts up for the next school year.
What else will I be doing this summer? Plenty of action items at school; after all, I have a year under my belt and plenty of ideas that we’ve thrown on the table. Two wonderful vacations: San Diego and Boston. Re-establishment of an exercise routine. Lazing and lollygagging. Focused time with family. Some time off the grid (though I’m thinking about a new gadget. iPad?).
So, regular readers and followers, don’t forget about me. Just don’t count on Mondays.