Reflections on Deeper Learning: Chapter 6 – The Worst of Times, The Best of Times

About seven years ago, our entire faculty read Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap. His work, along with other key readings, films, and articles, inspired Mount Vernon to create the Mount Vernon mindsets. I was excited to read this chapter because the introduction chapter of Deeper Learning alluded to Wagner’s earlier work and promised to deliver “practices that promote true innovations” (p. 13).

The chapter started bleakly: The Worst of Times. A few highlights low points:

  • The gap between the rich and the rest of us in America is at its highest point in 100 years
  • The college attendance rate in America is the highest it has ever been, BUT evidence is mounting that college might not be the sure investment it once was
  • In fact, we really should worry about the debt accumulated by college graduates: it’s over $1 trillion nationwide, and it’s the only form of debt that is not eliminated by filing for bankruptcy
  • There is a profound mismatch between what students learn in college and what employers say they need
  • Data shows that after two years of college, many students may not be any better at communicating or thinking critically than when they started college
  • The number of charter schools has expanded exponentially, even though research shows that they are no more effective than comparable public schools, on average
  • The Common Core standards were adopted by many states, but there is one big question: Are these the right standards? And are we creating a college-prep, one size fits all curriculum that will not meet most students’ interests and needs?
  • Student engagement remains a largely ignored issue in education

The chapter ends on a higher note: The Best of Times

  • Expeditionary Learning schoools focus on giving students work worth doing
  • Play, passion, and purpose are all important in stimulating young people’s intrinsic motivation (I might add that older people appreciate those things too)
  • Wagner points out that “traits like perserverance, tenacity, and the ability to recover from setbacks and to self-regulate are more important to adult success than talent or IQ” (p.170).
  • Wagner also points out that in the US, what gets tested is all that gets taught. On that note, he recommends utilizing better assessments such as the College and Work Readiness Assessment and the PISA-based test for schools.
  • He also highlights the importance of digital portfolios. These showcase evidence of growth toward/mastery of skills like creative thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Other thoughts:

The need for educational innovation is clear. Wagner and others spell out the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous problems we are facing right now, and we need people who can help make a dent in some of those issues.

I’d be curious to learn more about how colleges are shifting their educational practices. The phrase “college ready” appears in our school’s mission statement, as I’m sure it does in countless others, but is that a worthy goal? What exactly does “college ready” mean, especially if “there is a profound mismatch between what students learn in college and what employers say they need” (p. 161).

As in Suzie Boss’ chapter, digital portfolios come up again as a vehicle for students to showcase their strengths in knowledge, skills, and dispositions. I am totally on board. But to take myself as a case study, I haven’t really been asked to keep or show an eportfolio throughout my own education or career. With the exception of the requirements to graduate with my BSEd in social studies education, I have not been asked to present an eportfolio to anyone, ever. I wasn’t required to keep one in high school, or for my BA in history, or for my MEd in middle school education (at least, not that I recall). I wasn’t required to show one for college admittance (not for undergrad, not for my masters, not for my specialists degree). And I wasn’t asked to show one as part of my application for employment, either for a public school or an independent school. So… if eportfolios are so important, who’s the audience? Who’s actually expecting to look at these things? Maybe outside the education sector, they are much more relevant?


One thought on “Reflections on Deeper Learning: Chapter 6 – The Worst of Times, The Best of Times

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  1. Katie, you raise such an important question – who is the audience for eportfolios? If we cannot answer THAT, then how do we show the relevancy to our students? Why should they invest the time and effort into this if they do not know how they will use it?

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