For tennis fans like me, this is a very exciting time of the year. Imagine you are at the US Open. All the best players in the world are there: Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and my favorite, Gael Monfils. The eager crowd roars when it’s time for the matches to start, but instead of taking the court to play, all the players are marched down to a basement room, seated at desks, and told to answer multiple-choice questions about tennis like: How do you score a tennis match? What’s the difference between a forehand and a backhand? What woman has won the most grand slams in tennis history?
Wouldn’t that be exciting! Wouldn’t people just line up to watch the test? Imagine the ratings! “And Nadal has just taken to the desk. Look at him write, look at him write! He’s a lefty and he’s just tearing through that test. I love how he knocks down those multiple choice questions! Just look at his powers of deduction, see how he eliminates, and marks through incorrect answers! You’ll never see a finer clay court test taker!”
The last time I took a pen and paper test was about two decades ago; I am judged almost solely by what I do, schools, however, seem to care only about what we know. It’s hard to care about how much someone knows, when Google always knows more! And why should knowing about a thing be more important than doing a thing?
Mostly, the outcome, the goal, the end result of school is knowing, not doing. This is not to say that knowing is bad. Knowledge is the first step to doing, but it’s just a step, and about 99% of the time it’s where we stop. We don’t judge athletes, or artists, lawyers, mechanics, or deliver truck drivers by what they know, but rather by what they do. Why then do schools measure only what we know, and never what we do?
This week, my personal teacher challenge is to focus on the outcome of my lessons. As I prepare each and every class, I’ll relentlessly ask myself: “what can my students do with their knowledge?” Which is hard, because it’s easier and faster and we’re certainly more accustomed to measuring knowledge instead of action. But I didn’t go into teaching because it’s easy, or to save time, or to just do what’s always been done. I went in to teaching for the money! I went into teaching to do big things! So let’s work together to reach the peak of education by moving from knowledge to understanding to action: Eduaction!
Let me be specific. It’s election season (it has been for years!) It’s important for citizens to know about the candidates, campaigns, and elections; but only insofar is it leads to their voting or taking part in some sort of civic action. So I’ve come up with a couple of examples from my current teaching practice to illustrate action learning.
- Knowing - good
What date do presidential elections take place?
How old do you have to be to become president?
Who are the top presidential candidates this year?
- Understanding - better
What is a consequence of the American political campaign process?
Why don’t we allow minors to vote for president?
What is the effect of money on the U.S. presidential election process?
What impact will Donald Trump’s hair have on voter turnout?
- Doing - best
Using your knowledge of the US political process, presidential campaigns, elections, and the presidential candidates, make a flyer to post in the hallway or a post for facebook explaining why people should support and vote for the candidate of your choice.
Using your knowledge of the US political process, presidential campaigns, elections, and the presidential candidates, make a physical or virtual voters guide listing the top candidates positions on issues of importance to you and your peers.
Using your knowledge of the US political process, presidential campaigns, elections, and the presidential candidates, organize a voter registration drive or a get out the vote campaign at your school.
Using your knowledge of the US political process, presidential campaigns, elections, and the presidential candidates, hold a mock presidential candidate debate on campus followed by a mock election.
- Imagination: imagine action instead of knowledge as the goal of lessons & assignments.
- Goal Setting: articulate the concrete goal of your action.
- Actionable Intelligence: formulate an action plan of specific action steps that students will take to achieve their goal.
- Roadside Assistance: shepherd students through the difficult and time consuming process of action. Action takes time, you will have to set clear and discrete actions, set goals for the action.
- Evaluation: If we are serious about getting kids to act on knowledge, we must evaluate the results of their actions! Give your students a clear rubric for evaluating their action and hold them to it.
- Self-Assessment: evaluation of lessons learned and actions for improvement.
Next time we’ll walk through a case study for action learning and I’ll share some specific action lessons you can use in your class. For now, every time you plan a lesson, unit, or assessment, ask yourself this simple question: What do I want my students to DO with this knowledge? Once that question animates your work, action will follow. Good luck dreaming! Let me know if I can lead a workshop on making ACTION LEARNING a part of the culture of your school.