Thanks to uber-education-blogger Joanne Jacobs for the link. Noteworthy comments:
My daughter’s freshman English class is assigned a novel packet where they have to complete seven of fifteen activities. Activities include, doing a collage, making a poster, making a dust jacket for the book, writing a letter to a teen magazine describing their reaction to the book.
Time spent learning to write effectively . . . haven’t seen it yet.
When the school’s objective is something fuzzy like building kids’ critical thinking or cooperation skills, artsy projects can easily evade the label “inefficient”. Both teachers and lay people are able to convince themselves that projects are not time-wasters –they have faith that intangible, immeasurable psychic benefit is occurring. What will it take to convince America’s teachers that schools’ #1 mission should be to transmit bodies of knowledge?
I wish Arne Duncan would focus his reform energies on discrediting Teachers College and making E.D. Hirsch dean of a new federal school of education in DC that would teach wise, empirically-proven ideas to a new batch of teachers. Then compare the results of these teachers with those from conventional schools of ed.
All that said, I do think there is SOME place for projects in schools. I was a die-hard fan of the intense, rote Chinese style until I read Educating Young Giants recently. Chinese schools are admirably efficient, but do seem unduly dreary. It convinced me that there is SOME merit to progressive ed. Some of my seventh graders are positively electrified at the prospect of making skits on Aztec history (I give other options for introverts)–that cannot be bad.
Sometimes moments of ineffiency improve overall efficiency. Students (and adults) need mental and physical breaks to maintain attention and reduce frustration. I know a good deal of experienced no-nonsense teachers who assign frivolous activities like this for no other reason than to give kids a break.
That being said, I’ve also seen plenty of teachers focus solely on these activities because they themselves don’t have the focus necessary to teach a coherent, effective curriculum. They support their choices by offering the false assumption that easily witnessed engagement is a proxy for effective learning.
One of our high school history teachers just assigned her students to make a collage representing current events. Wasted time is something I think about every time a recommendation for longer school days is proposed. No thanks!