The world changes, kids change, tools change and teaching changes to meet these shifting forces but kids still learn through their experiences. The teacher as purveyor of all knowledge needs to shift to learning by doing through meaningful experiences.

I’m coming out as a “progressive” educator, a “constructivist” even, who believes in developmentally appropriate curriculum and methods that teach “the Whole Child.” Why all the quotation marks? Because these terms have somehow been run into the ground to the point of becoming almost unusable.

Maybe we need new words, maybe we don’t, but my beliefs about how kids learn have not changed.  The world changes, kids change, tools change–and teaching changes (or should) to meet all of these shifting forces.  But kids still learn through their experiences.

Humans learn by doing and interacting with people and things over time. John Dewey said this almost one hundred years ago, and in 1916, Lucy Sprague Mitchell and the others who started Bank Street College began putting that vision into practice. They created a new model of teaching and began training teachers to observe and understand the cognitive and social development of children and to lead of the kinds of experiences that would help kids develop into strong, thoughtful members of society. (Read a brief history of Bank Street College of Education here.)

Checking out this 1940’s video on Progressive Education (see below) sent to me by my colleague, Nancy Toes, I’m wondering, how much have we really changed?

Important Note: Though I love the above screen shot from this video, the skills of a “progressive” teacher that successfully facilitates experiential learning are far more than just those mentioned.

In 2011, children are still commonly lectured and drilled throughout their schooling.  The drills are slightly different.  There are more sophisticated tools now.  The content and the way we present it varies more, but the basic roles of the teacher as chief thinker and the student as follower of instructions remain far too prevalent and fixed in time.

To my knowledge we have never implemented “learning by doing” with consistency, proper preparation, support and follow-through in public schools.  It is disheartening that today so much money and time are focused on whether students got the right answer on a test. And now we obsess over how many got that right answer? What percentage? How much did they grow since the last test according to the data?  All children are required to learn everything at the same time and demonstrate it in the same way–on the same day.

Kids don’t really grow like that.

The narrator in the 1940 video says, “The happiest moment for the schoolchildren of that sterner era [before progressive education] was when school let out.”  For too many students that is still the reality, but it is one that can totally be changed–not with fancier drills, but with meaningful experiences.

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