Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Disrupting the Classroom- Book Review

The central idea Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen is that in order to fix public education there has to be a disruptive change to the system.  What the author means by disruptive change is that there has to be an entirely different approach than what is currently in place.    He outlines is how in most industries that have undergone substantial change, it is a disruptive change, not just a reform of the old system, that leads to that substantial change.  In education then, pouring resources into schools and demanding change is most times "the equivalent of rebuilding an airplane mid-flight- something almost no private enterprise has been able to do" as basically all reforms are trying to change the same old system.

Some quotes and ideas that struck me particularly are:
  • "The system was designed at a time when standardization was seen as a virtue."  This of course is referring to industrialization and the move to factories and mass production.  In turn, teachers naturally teach to their strengths.  Students also learn with their strengths.  The factory model ensures this and creates a disconnect between the teacher and the learner because of it.
  • Of the various forms of intelligence (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, interpersonal, naturalistic), people really only excel in 2-3 and "…even a heroic effort by a teacher to pay attention to multiple intelligence patterns is, because of the way the system is arranged around monolithic architecture, almost guaranteed to fail."


Problems with Disruption, According to the Author
Disruption is not necessarily a good thing.  No Child Left Behind was seen as a disruptive measure, but has led to the lasting, significant, negative effects in the school system.

What is more, disruptive innovation generally works because nonconsumers are targeted.  This means that in industries that experienced disruptive innovation, the new product or change targeted consumers who did not buy the old product, but were enticed to buy the new one.  Every child in the U.S. is already a consumer of education (most of public education).  Because of this it is very difficult to create a truly disruptive education measure.  Cramming disruptive innovation into old markets/models simply does not work.

Parents and Performance
"80 percent of the variation in public school performance results from family effects,…not school effects."  This is the idea a whole chapter opens up with and ends with, effectively.  This is also an idea that teachers have been talking about for decades, but with little acceptance by the general public.  The brevity of the chapter on the impact of a student's home life struck me as odd given the fact that the book itself admits this is the most important factor contributing to a child's overall success.  Perhaps it's so simple and glaringly obvious that it doesn't really need that many pages to explain.  

The Main Take-Aways as Outlined by the Author
  • Few reforms have addressed the root cause of students' inabilities to learn.
  • School reformers have tried to "bash the system" and confront it head on, which fails every time.
  • We need a modular system- one in which there are specific schools designed to serve the needs of students with particular learning styles and from particular backgrounds.
  • The tools of power and separation need to be used.  This is much more top-down than teachers prefer, as school leaders have to create a new school with a truly different model.
Recommendations Outline by the Author
  • For Elected Officials and Administrators: Don't just try to fix the current system.  Help grow online coursework that gives students choice, but don't assume a total online model is different or will fix the system.
  • For Philanthropies and Foundations: Fund the innovations. Fund research still necessary that will help us determine how students learn.
  • For Entrepreneurs: Work to create platforms students can use to learn and teach one another and allow teachers and parents to create tools for learning for the kids.
  • For Teacher Training Colleges: Stop educating new teachers for the past.
  • For Graduate Schools:  Study the outliers in education rather than the trends.  They provide more insight. 
  • For Students, Parents, Teachers: Demand access to online courses if there is no access at the school.  Create new tools when possible.

In a Subsequent Interview, the Author said:
The idea is to use computers to do what they do well (individualize instruction) in order to free up teachers to do what they do well (relate to students on human level).

Closing Thoughts on Trying Teaching
Our school is very much wrapped up in the movement to push learning online and into blended models.  My own concern is that when test scores go up on crappy standardized exams, people will think that computers have fixed the problem and the tests will spread even more.  When computers can deliver certain kinds of instruction well, I fear we'll move to a computer lab model with very little human interaction because it will be cheaper.  Politicians will then point to the budget and "student achievement" on the exams for which the computer programs are great at prepping students and claim success, while students' ability to interact with other humans, think creatively and think critically will diminish.

That said, I do agree with the author that the best thing we can do is move certain kinds of instruction online in order to allow teachers to get back to teaching.

1 comment:

  1. older generations, such as my own (gen y rules) shows signs of losing the ability to relate to other humans. an example i have is at work we us a form of instant messenger that is very effect, while we are on the phone. we don't have to stop talking to the customer and can leverage coworkers for assistance. after a couple weeks on the job i noticed something very interesting. coworkers who sat right next to each other would instant message during down time instead of simply looking up from their screens and speak. this struck me as very odd, but given how reliant we have become on technology I wasn’t all together surprised.


    Frank Lawson

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