Thursday, July 24, 2014

If Education Took the DiSC

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently released a report called Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective, Educational Research and Innovation

Instead of a test for innovation, I think we should give Education the DiSC

First, some housekeeping. My uncles were giving me grief the other weekend for blogging about the same topic over and over (I believe "one-trick pony" was the exact term...), so I'm hoping to use enough jargon to weed them out before I start in:

Pedagogy. Metrics. Assessment. Correlation. Critical thinking. Active learning. Maker movement. BYOD. Competency-based education. Intrinsic motivation. Growth mindset. 

There, that oughta do it. 

Back to the report: 

According to the United States Country Note, the "top five innovations in organisational policy and practice" are:

  1. More use of student assessments for monitoring school progress
  2. More use of assessment for national or district benchmarking
  3. More use of assessment data to inform parents of student progress
  4. More external evaluation of secondary school classrooms
  5. More parental service on secondary school committees
And the "top five innovations in pedagogic practice":
  1. More observation and description in secondary school science lessons
  2. More individualized reading instruction in primary school classrooms
  3. More use of answer explanation in primary mathematics
  4. More relating of primary school lessons to everyday life
  5. More text interpretation in primary lessons
I have theory about Education as its own, animal-like institution. This past spring, I took the most thought-provoking inventory I've ever taken: the DiSC. The report measures dominance (D), influence (i), steadiness (S), and conscientiousness (C) and it meant to analyze your work style. It's sort of like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator but more complicated and looks at behavior (instead of thinking) and how to adapt that behavior to work more effectively. I still take caution against these types of instruments because it's really - REALLY - easy to make excuses and blame something on "the way I work." This is especially true for me, and this is because of...the way I work. 

My highest dimension was conscientiousness (C), which means I am very precise, accurate, and detailed. Analysis, standards, and perfection dominate my work. In other words, I like to be right and I put forth a lot of effort to make sure that either I am right or I tried my absolute best to be right. If I'm wrong, it was because of something out of my control.  

Sound familiar? 

If Education took the DiSC, it would also be a High C.

Take the heavy emphasis on assessment in the first five innovations. This shouldn't be a surprise; it's pretty well-known that students take A LOT of tests, and this is obviously the kind of "assessment" being referred to here (as opposed to the weekly quizzes, semester projects, informal checks for understanding, or daily exit slips we might also use to assess learning...)

High C's need data to make decisions, and we want to make the best decisions that will make us excel, and we need a way to show those accomplishments off. Sounds like a job for a test score. 

We also like to follow the rules (to know we're doing it right, and well), work calmly and reflectively, and fulfill each task deliberately and steadily. Sounds like the perfect candidate for a testing environment. 

Most of the tests students take are to check their learning progress and try to predict how well students will do on the high-stakes test in order to give feedback to make adjustments as needed. These purposes are, in and of themselves, really healthy things to do. The problem is that this takes up four of the top five spots.

High C's are also often perfectionists, which means we have a tendency to go a little overboard, especially when it comes to making sure it's obvious that any negatives happened outside of our control. Education has had to face a lot of criticism without much proof otherwise that stakeholders will buy into, and assessment is an easy way to use numbers, depending on test scores, to
  • demonstrate our concern and that we're looking for items to analyze and take action on, 
  • talk about how difficult it is to measure quality in education, and/or
  • prove that what we're doing is working. 
On top of that, the assessments being done in three out of the four are to check for progress. This much assessment to check for progress is like taking a taste of the cake batter so many times before you bake it that you end up with half a cake (not that this has ever happened to me). "Overboard" is probably an understatement.

The second five innovations about pedagogy (that's the practice of teaching, uncles), are also spot-on describers of a High C. We tend to put a lot of value on research data and proven methods, probably because they've met certain standards and/or were deemed credible by someone we trust to be accurate and correct. My boss and co-workers tease me all the time for hauling stacks of research articles to meetings and e-mailing report after report in support of a project. It all comes back to proving we're right. All five listed "innovations" focus on elaboration; in other words, the way we tried to "innovate" education was to do more of what we were doing before. We were already teaching science pretty well, and now we're just asking students to explain their answers further. We were already teaching reading pretty well to elementary school kids, and now we're individualizing it. Improvements? Yes. Innovations? Not really.

The best thing reports like this are for is as an example of how mistreated and misunderstood the art of education is. Comparing students, schools, and teachers on an international scale assumes that students are content-eating machines, and teachers are information-feeders. It's pretty easy to ignore all those other variables that go into the quality of education when the players aren't seen as human. Finland gets a lot of headlines for their education system, and there are several concepts that Americans could learn from, but it's hard not to notice something about Finland: 93.4% Finn, 94.2% speak Finnish, 83.7% urban population, ranked #38 in GDP per capita (the percent of population below the poverty line is not available). Those numbers are all from the CIA World Fact Book. Apples to oranges, as they say. 

As a High C, then, Education could take note of the insights my DiSC profile gave me: be flexible in its role, stop defining quality strictly with numbers, and learn to be both independent and interdependent. Most importantly, open up to new ideas and think outside the set guidelines. This is especially important as we adjust to each new problem, prepare students for an unknown future, and are equipped with tools that open up learning like never before. 

The irony of this suggestion should not be lost. True learning is about change, and Education, the very institution charged with learning, has become so rigid in its attempt to be accurate, precise, and correct that it's become blinded to better ways. Keeping to those ways in the name of comfort, evidence, and trust goes against what we promote in our classrooms. To enhance the quality of education, Education itself must become willing to embrace innovation and change "the way we work."

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