Being the edu-nerd that I am, I often look at parallels between my experiences inside and outside the world of schools and education, (see Bubble Wrap for another example). Now, two-and-a-half weeks into my Thailand & Vietnam holiday, such parallels are jumping out at me, and I think of them as ‘traps’. It seems that everywhere we go on this holiday there are tours being offered and trinkets to buy. The packages and prices are all designed to steer you to the ‘deluxe’ version, “…for just a little bit more, you can also get…”.

Then on the way to your destination the washroom or lunch break also happens to be a great place to buy more trinkets and souvenirs and artwork and…. (insert ‘local’ artisan specialty here). This is also known as a ‘Tourist Trap’- you are committed to the tour, now let’s see how much money we can extract from you while you are here.

One parallel that I see in education is the ‘Textbook Trap’: “Buy our textbook and get the free online supplement! Oh, and by the way, each teacher will want our Teacher’s Guide, and don’t forget the Blackline Masters and the Student Workbook will save your students hours of copy-time so they can focus on the learning. Also, notice how we have designed the books to build upon themselves, you’ll also want to purchase for the next grade too. Of course if you bought more then we can increase your savings to 40%!”

… And there is the trap, you aren’t buying a textbook, you are buying a program. You are ‘investing’ a significant portion of your budget in a fixed ‘paper’ product designed with both features and flaws that become, over time, what teachers ‘deliver’ to students: A fixed/set curriculum, (that is based on, but is not necessarily the mandated curriculum).

That brings us to the next trap, the ‘Curriculum Trap’. I hear curriculum as an anti-technology ‘excuse’ all the time. I won’t even get into the Standardized Testing Trap: “It’s easy to integrate technology into the lower grades, but I have so much content to deliver that I can’t ‘waste time’ with a project like this.”

Instead, I’ll look into another aspect of the ‘Curriculum Trap’… The whole idea of curriculum being ‘fixed’: “After chapter 1 we will do chapter 2, then we get a little crazy and do chapters 4 & 5 before going back to do chapter 3.”

I’ve never seen a curriculum with a requirement of ‘Chapter 3’, and I’ve never seen a textbook that could teach a curriculum better than a creative, imaginative teacher. My kids may not remember what they did on the beach in Ko Phi Phi over a one week span, but they will remember sleeping in a floating hut just a one minute kyak ride away from viewing wild monkeys in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand. They will remember repelling from a 50meter tree after zip-lining from platforms equally as high. And they will remember riding on the neck of an elephant. These events were not part of our planned vacation, they were the side-trips, the unscheduled add-ons that became the memorable moments.

Comparatively, the ‘meaningful’ learning experiences of my education were the side-trips and ‘teachable moments’ that just came up… Discussions about world events and personal interest stories that were meaningful though not mandated or designated as essential.

The opening scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan can exemplify the horrors of war more than any textbook, just as Cry Freedom can teach students the racism of apartheid in South Africa. It’s one thing to talk about Leonardo Da Vinci and still another to watch one of his inventions at work on YouTube, or digitally turn the pages and read one of his notebooks, an opportunity only recently provided to the masses. We have to make time to be side-tracked by things that interest us and make learning memorable.

And one final parallel is the ‘Pro-D Trap’. Professional Development in education has become a fixed-time-and-date ‘event’. There is almost nothing professional about it… Punch-in, do your time, punch-out. The greatest reward a presenter can offer to participants is, “if all goes well then we’ll be out of here an hour early”. Yet, we have entered an era where anytime, anywhere learning is possible. I wrote my last post on a 3.5 hour van ride from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. I’m writing this on the return trip a day later. I’m ‘unplugged’, but I’m thinking, reflecting & learning. I’ll be adding these posts to my blog over the next couple days and hopefully others will comment and contribute to my… perhaps ‘our’… learning.

And yet we somehow try to compartmentalize our ‘professional’ learning into ½ & 1 day sessions and we even divide those up into 45 minute, 1hour and 1.5hour sessions. Often these sessions are not even contextually meaningful: “We’re going to talk about blogging for the next hour, and you’ll know how to sign up for one when we’re done… But we don’t really have any time today to look at, comment, or discuss effective examples of blogs.” Hmmmm.

In the last two Pro-D sessions that I ran, I provided ‘play time’ in the agenda. I also provided choice: “Here are a few different resources that you might find useful. Go to one of them now, ‘start’ you learning here, use me as a resource too.”

We need teachers to participate and interact with tools that engage learners and learning. We need them to take their own learning outside of their Pro-D sessions. We need them to try, to participate and to have a safe environment to make mistakes and learn from, and through, the frustrations of their mistakes. We need them to take this ‘real learning’ back to their schools with them and be the lead learners in their schools and in their classrooms.

It’s easy to fall into these traps, it’s harder to recognize them for what they are and step out of them.

6 comments on “The Trap

  1. Hi David! I’m glad you are enjoying your holidays as you really deserve them. And I’m even more happy because you still have time to reflect and share your thoughts with all of us. As usual I totally agree with your view. As teachers we have to be aware in order not to follow in all those traps you’ve mentioned. In this era, it is very difficult not to be tempted to buy all the wonderful books, resources, etc that are available in the market. However, we have to remember that we are the ones who know our students’ likes, dislikes, needs, and so on. Therefore, we are the ones who can provide the best lesson to our UNIQUE students. We have a lot of skills for doing that and with the help of the internet we can create wonderful, creative, totally up-todate and fit for our students lesson (in opposition to a coursebook fit for all and a bit out of date lessons)
    Enjoy, kisses from Argentina

  2. Sabrina,
    Your last point really hits home with me… Yes ‘we’ know our students best, and as professionals it is our job to meet the needs of individual students. We create idividual plans for struggling, or learning challenged or gifted students… Why don’t we do this for every student?
    You’ve given me much to think about. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Hi David

    Thank you for this post. As I kept reading, I couldn’t believe how closely it reflects my reality and feelings on the other side of the world! I am falling into all these traps all the time, and as you rightly point out, it is hard to step out of them. It will be interesting to see if all this new thinking about many educational practices, which are still largely taken for granted, will lead to profound changes, and how soon!

  4. Play time – yes! That, is a great idea. I must admit though, sometimes I might choose a Pro-D session that is shorter so that I have more choice, more variety – I wonder how long a session with play time built in would be. Oh no, I think I’ve just fallen into another trap…

  5. One assumption I noticed here: you seem to be equating curriculum with content. They are not necessarily the same. If the curriculum IS content, well then of course it makes sense to fall into the textbook trap. But if curriculum is MORE than content (ideally, with content as an umbrella rather than a driving force), then a school will never fall into the textbook trap, because we’d never sign up for the tour. 🙂 We’d be creating our own, back-packer style. And it would be different every time we did it.

  6. Sinnika,
    Like you I hope to see profound changes soon, yet I don’t really see a lot of new thinking as much as I see new tools that open the pathways for some of our thinking to come to fruition.

    Your guest post on my blog told me that you do not fall into the pro-d trap and your thinking is exactly what we need to get out of the trap.

    I think many teachers and schools equate curriculum with content & that there is a huge knowing/doing gap in education. The assumption you mention is very insightful and yet I see a lot of textbook schools and very few back-packers… And it isn’t just schools, my current parent community demands textbooks, and on this break many of them are paying tutors to have their children preview the content. It’s a huge trap perpetuated from many angles.

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