Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Putting Gladwell's Compensatory Model into Practice or NECC 09 Keynote Part 2!

I've just returned from an energizing visit to Washington DC where I attended NECC, the National Educational Computing Conference. Not surprisingly, my best learning took place in between sessions, at Edubloggercon, in the Bloggers Cafe, and in the evenings. 

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, was the Keynote speaker for the conference on Sunday night. I recorded his talk: click here to listen in new window. For the most part, if you have read the book, you have heard the talk (and vice versa). He has a great message, but I want to know how to put it into practice in the classroom. I put out a call on Twitter to find people interested in talking more about Gladwell's ideas. I was thrilled to have the company of Donna DesRoches, Jen Orr, Laura Deisley and Richard Scullin for this discussion. 

Gladwell spoke about a "compensatory" model of education, where we encourage students to learn how to compensate for their weaknesses, rather than capitalize on their strengths. In our discussion we talked about what this would look like in the classroom. This is what we came up with.

A compensatory classroom would focus, not on where the student is, but instead on how far a child has traveled in his or her learning.  Assessments would be self-referenced, rather than norm referenced. It doesn't matter how students compare to each other, but rather how they compare to where they were before. 

Teachers would encourage students to look at how they are learning, not just at what they are learning. It would be important to assess learning styles and encourage students to work outside of their preferred style.  Students would reflect and share the strategies that worked best for them, taking a metacognitive approach to their own learning. Teachers would differentiate instruction, asking students to try less comfortable learning places and suggesting strategies to help them succeed in those places. 

Students would have more control over what they learn – they would be constantly asking themselves to think about what they are learning and to be looking for their own weaknesses and looking to strengthen them. Mixing kids up would make sense – kids can help each other to compensate

Finally, and most controversially, failure would be valued as much as, or more than success.  If you aren't failing, if you aren't taking risks, then you aren't learning.  Assessments would look for weaknesses, rather than strengths, to encourage students to build on their deficiencies. The things we praise and the ways we praise them would need to change.This is a major cultural shift and would require us to learn to find joy in failure. 

What do you think? What would a "Compensatory Classroom" look like to you? Please share your ideas.

Image Source: Sarah Sutter's photostream on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/sutterview/3670101897/

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