Real Learning…Square Holes vs. Many-shaped Learners…

I have been doing a lot of thinking about what learning really is. I guess this is in part due to the fact that I am a teacher. Somehow, my job is to pass on learning or to get students learning. Have you ever thought about what a strange and weighty concept that is? I mean, my paycheck comes for the precise reason that I am given a room (or rooms) full of students and am supposed to somehow help them to learn, to make meaning out of things and understand or try to understand them.

I guess a big part of this is determining what I think learning really is (and at this point – I would say I am far from understanding it). Is it memorization of unimportant trivia so that you can spit it out on a test or exam? Is it conforming to some kind of standard?
It is easy to question this stuff, but I know, for instance, that the purpose of a standard is supposedly good. There has to be some way of knowing you can move on to the next grade, because our educational system uses this kind of system. Therein, I guess, lies the problem– school is a system ; it is maintained and standards are created/enforced by a government office/ministry, but students are individuals, not replicas, so we are, in a way, trying to put a many shaped block (individual and unique students) into a square hole (what we call school or curriculum).

Now, the government (the BC gov. / Ministry of Education) recognizes this– I don’t want to come across as saying they are the ‘bad guys’ here– they clearly state ‘students are unique and learn in different ways and at different rates of speed.’ They say that students should be able to express their learning in a variety of ways…but in writing this I want to ask the following:

How many of you have walked into a final government or Provincial exam to see a group of desks – one with posterboard, magazines, scissors, glue & markers; one with a video camera; one with a recording device such as a tape recorder or more current ipod avec italk; one with paper and pen.

This is it exactly! We espouse to the idea of choice, but when it comes down to it, the end result, that all important final exam (which here is worth %40 of a student’s mark) is a square hole– it is a paper and pen exam.

Doesn’t this show our collective hand as far as what we really consider learning? What is the purpose of providing these ‘various’ opportunities for learning when the ‘big test’ of that learning in the end doesn’t call for a poster, a drama, a video, etc…


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