Thursday, July 2, 2015

Training vs. Educating

In his new book, Creative Schools, Ken Robinson makes a distinction between training and educating students.  The essence of the difference is that educating a student is more holistic, whereas training refers to learning a specific skill or piece of information.

This distinction got me thinking.  When, for example, we teach a student how to factor by showing them several examples of each "type" of quadratic that we want them to factor, and then having them practice each type tens or hundreds of times, are we actually educating them, or are we just training them for a specific skill?  I would contend that this is training, and not educating.  And if we're honest about it, it's training them for a skill that is very limited in terms of its usefulness.  I'm willing to bet that even those who are currently working in a STEM-related field have not needed to factor, foil, integrate - the list goes on - at any time in the recent past.

However, if we help the students learn to factor by leading them to discover the process and allowing them to work through the different "types" (especially in the context of applications), and in the long run become just as proficient at the skill of factoring, we have, by the way the material was covered, educated them instead of trained them.  In addition to the specific skill, we have also improved their problem-solving skills, allowed them to make sense of the material themselves thereby making it more meaningful and more get the idea.

I think this gets to the heart of one of the main issues in education.  If we look at a curriculum - any curriculum - and see a list of skills, and understand our job as getting the students to be able to do those skills, then our focus will change from educating the students to simply training them.  The assessments we give will focus on whether or not they have learned the skills, and so long as the students can accomplish this - regardless of whether or not they actually understand what they're doing, why they're doing it, or how it can be useful - then we will have done our job.

Of course, the current standardized testing - PARCC, AIR, etc. - isn't about just the skills (though they are still important), but rather is about the using the skills, especially in ways that are not seen in the textbooks, and therefore are not normally seen in classrooms.  These tests are not about second-guessing the kinds of questions that are going to be on them so we can be sure to cover those "types" of questions in class, but rather are about checking the kids' problem-solving skills.  So even if a teacher thinks that teaching is all about training the kids in specific skills, the standardized tests should get them to rethink their position at least a little.

Needless to say, since I'm solidly behind educating the students rather than training them, I'm not worried about any changes that may come to state testing. If you educate the kids instead of training them, then they will be ready for both a skills test and a problem-solving test...and will not recoil from whatever may be thrown at them, since they will be accustomed to working on exercises the likes of which they have not seen before.  Sounds good to me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Jonothon. Are you continuing to write your own problem sets for your Harkness classes? I am considering moving toward more of that type of pedagogy and not sure the Exeter Problem sets are what I need. Any suggestions where to begin for either Honors Precalculus or Honors Algebra 2? Thanks for your help.