Education seems to be frantically pursuing right answers to the wrong questions.

QUESTIONS: What is Wrong with Education

We know that when students are tested in environments similar to those they learn in, that they recall the information better. (This makes us wonder why students are taken out of the classroom and put in a gym or computer lab and expected to recall the material.) We also know that chewing gum or even certain smells can improve test scores. (Anyone starting to see the preposterousness of this?) We work hard to differentiate in the classroom but we don't differentiate our test giving at all — no videos, audio, or anything unique even for those with special needs. (As someone ranted to me yesterday on Twitter (see below).)

I even found this other research study that shows that distractions don't necessarily hurt learning. In fact, if you're equally distracted when you learn as when you recall, you have better recall. (See the bottom of this post for the research summary. And why are we trying to make everything quiet during testing?)

All of this to say, we are gum chewing, environment manipulating and all kinds of gyrating to do what we can for even a miniscule jump in a test score. Test scores rule the day!!! OK. Does anyone see the insanity of this approach? What about life? What about living? What about nurturing?

Education seems to be frantically pursuing right answers to the wrong questions. There is no doubt, we are asking the wrong questions in education. It doesn't matter if you have right answers.

The right answers to wrong questions never make wrong questions right. For example, the Nazi generals during World War 2 asked for more efficient ways to kill prisoners. They may have gotten some “right” answers to that wrong question but the question itself is repugnant and should never have been asked. Wrong questions are WRONG. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! You're not going to get the right results until you get rid of the WRONG questions! Wrong questions get wrong results NO MATTER WHAT.

What is our central question now in education?

How can we improve test scores?

WRONG! Wrong Question.

One of the right questions is:

How can we improve the lives of our students both now and in the future?

There are other right questions we can be asking:

How can we help students find their strengths?

How can we empower and nurture those strengths?

So many of our problems in education stem from the wrong questions being asked.

It is time for brave educators, parents, and politicians to question the questions. 





Summary of New Research on Distractions and Learning

  • Surprising new research may rewrite learning theory as Brown University scientists contend that distractions do not necessarily impede the learning process of a motor task.

    Investigators discovered that if attention was as divided during recall of a motor task as it was during learning the task, people performed as if there were no distractions at either stage.

    Thus, the real issue is that inconsistent distraction can impair our recollection of the task. As long as our attention is as divided when we have to recall a motor skill as it was when we learned it, we’ll do just fine, say the researchers.

    tags:research distraction education bestpractices

    • It was as if those who were denied the same degree of distraction during testing as they experienced during learning suffered a disadvantage.
    • In the end, it didn’t seem to matter what the distraction was during recall, as long as subjects had had a distraction during learning. Everybody who had been distracted in both learning and recall performed better than those who were distracted while learning but undistracted during recall.
    • There just had to be the same degree of distraction at both times.
    • Another task is to figure out what might be going on in the brain to allow divided attention to be a boost for recall, rather than a hindrance for learning

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Jessica B March 5, 2015 - 5:15 pm

My students are currently in “testing mode” due to the newly implemented state test in New Jersey. I understand that student learning needs to be assessed and I am not opposed to having teachers assessed through student work. However, the way we are testing our students today goes against all of the guidelines that teachers are given for developing solid assessments. As educators, we are responsible for preparing our students for their future college experiences and careers. Yet, in college and at a job, people are encourage to ask for clarification, collaborate with others, research and use all available resources. Why would our assessments not follow that lead? I have seen the incredible work that my students produce when given the chance to clarify instructions, collaborate, and write passionately about what they believe in. If people took the time to see the difference between the work students produce on a single test and the work they produce in “real” environments, I would hope people would start asking better questions, other than “how can we improve test scores.” I have always questioned the approach, but after reading this, I am also questioning the purpose. How can we get it right when the question is wrong?

Vicki Davis March 6, 2015 - 6:07 am

Jessica, you are correct. I so agree with you. I actually realized this as I was tweaking my spotlight session in Ohio. I was traveling and realized that the answers are so disturbing because we are asking the wrong questions. WHY CAN’T WE SEE THIS!!!! My heart breaks for kids who are in schools during this time when so few will step off the merry go round of messed up priorities.

Susan March 5, 2015 - 5:29 pm

Bravo! I just blogged on this myself. When we do what is in the best interest of students, student learning and achievement occurs. We must make this the central focus of education. Thanks for speaking up for students!

Vicki Davis March 6, 2015 - 6:08 am

You too, Susan. This is so important! It is time to start waking up and setting things straight.

Dahlia Constantine March 6, 2015 - 8:38 am

Vicki, this blog haunted me as I considered my own role in aiding this flawed system of testing. I say I am against the ridiculousness of giving every child the same bizarre test and yet I am administer these tests to my class each year. You have given me much upon which to reflect and another dose of courage to do what is right for my kids.

It is time to be brave and purposeful about what we do – we have both research and justice behind us.

Amanda March 11, 2015 - 10:39 pm

This post really got me thinking about the education system and how often students are being tested. I am currently a student at the University of Illinois, in the special education program and we have an entire class focused around testing students. Although there are so many different assessments published, they are very costly and all basically test students in the same way- give students X amount of questions to answer in X amount of time. You raised a great point in this article about how important differentiation is in the classroom, but when it comes to testing it is never even really thought about. I think that the points you made are very relevant and I hope to take part in implementing changes to how testing is run as I enter my first job.


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