According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “elephant in the room” means that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about. In the current world of United States education, there are many of them, and they are large. In his blog, ‘9 Elephants in the (Class)Room That Should “Unsettle” Us‘, Will Richardson takes these issues head on and encourages other educators to do the same.
While all 9 of these so called elephants are quite literally weighing down the education of our future students, there are three that I would like to focus on.
- ‘We know that most of our students are bored and disengaged in school.’
In a recent Gallup survey shared by Richardson, only 32% of high school juniors said that they were “involved and enthusiastic about school”. HELLO!!! This is a serious issue! Not even 1 out of every 3 students feels like they are getting anything out of going to school for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 13 years of their life and we’re seriously not going to do something about it?! Is this really okay with all other current and future educators, because it seems totally wrong to me.
While teachers may feel bound to teach what their school district and policy makers have mandated, there are always ways to engage your students. Only 17% of students from the same survey reported that they have fun and “get to do what they do best” while at school. Why could we not teach the standards we are given using topics that our students actually have an interest in and want to learn about?
2. ‘We know that deep, lasting learning requires conditions that schools and classrooms simply were not built for.’
As addressed in the previous point, student interest and passion for class topics is severely lacking. Why? Because true learning is not having the contents of a 30 year old text book beaten into you day after day, without every leaving the chair at your desk. The learning that our students long for and the learning that they so deserve often happens outside the classroom. By taking our students outdoors to explore nature, taking them on field trips, inviting guest speakers, exploring careers, and catering our lessons to fit the desires and interests of our students, we can give our students the skills that they will need beyond the 12th grade.
Most students of today are not given enough of a say in their own personal learning. Literally everything that goes on in the average classroom is predetermined and students do not have the chance to inquire and discover on their own. While it may not be possible or practical in most public school settings to give students free reign, we can give them the opportunity to make the decisions that will help them reach our common end goal. Each student learns differently and we should allow them to do so.
3. ‘We know that learning that sticks is usually learned informally, that explicit knowledge accounts for very little of our success in most professions.’
In my experience as a pre-service teacher, I have known this to be true. I have obtained knowledge in all of my education and methods courses, but none of these have even come close to amounting to everything I have learned during my time spent in actual classrooms through field experiences. What students learn in 8th grade algebra or sophomore English, and the grades they receive at the end of these classes are not going to define their future career, success, or happiness. We learn best when we the setting is informal and we are able to discover what we actually need to know simply by experiencing it.
When we give our students skills and opportunities, rather than textbooks filled with insignificant information that is going to be tested and then forgotten, what they learn may actually stick.
There is absolutely no question that what students are actually learning is more important than what shows up on their test scores. A student’s ability to conform and memorize what they need to know for the test and then spit back exactly what the makers of the test want to hear has zero correlation with their ability to learn (for real) and succeed in life. It’s about time we all realize this and work together to make a change for the better.