Standing Outside the Gateway to Learning

Although we have thought of learning in multiple metaphors such as the drawing out of learning, or the experiential element of learning, or even, the sit and get method of teaching and learning, the singularity of these metaphors leads us to believe in more simple terms that learning can be organized into a system of education. However, it cannot be so easily organized because our current system is a mile wide and an inch deep. A more complicated metaphor describes our current organization of K-12 schooling as if we are standing outside the gateway to learning. What we organize is only the beginning of what a life-long learner needs to do. The act of educating assumes so much about the teachers and learners: for example, the process of drawing out, the experience our students are having, and the teacher’s work of translation of huge concepts into simple words and sentences. We just are not getting how complicated it is. It is as if we are standing outside the gateway to learning, looking in through a portal, and pretending that what we can see explains it all.

Performance Assessment

In designing assessments in K-12 classrooms for different subjects of learning, I realized the frustration of reducing learning to an evaluation on paper. I turned to my work in theater to see about performance assessment as a way to evaluate the dynamic actions of student learning. I was hoping to capture what students know and can do in real time through an experiential assessment. And indeed, when you ask a student to give a speech, or explain their work, or act out some role in government, they are tasked with bringing what they know and can do forward into a public evaluation for all to see. LIke lawyers in a court, or architects in front of a city council, the logic of their thinking is revealed and the assessment of their work is visible. A performance assessment is close to understanding what has been taught and what has been learned.

Arts Integration

More recently, in measuring the integration of art into regular classrooms in disadvantaged classrooms I have noticed the importance of measuring creativity. But the questions and assumptions keep coming in ways that extend my thinking, asking me to dig a little deeper to find a more accurate set of measures for student learning. It has made me stuggle to construct a more valid and reliable scientific model for learning where upon I discovered that I have only been talking about the gateway to learning, rather than the model for how it works. It was at the edge of assessment, where I had to assess creativity in both art and english and math and science, that I realized how superficial my work was attempting to become. In agreeing to be trapped by time and space, teaching and learning misses the power of the mind to hold and project energy anywhere.

For in our obsession of real and tangible objects of learning that are easy to evaluate and build an assessment for, we miss the real depth of teaching and learning revealed in our movement of our eyes that select these objects, the outcome of which may well mean that teaching and learning are a dynamic process of our choosing, in our time, at our will, and for us to see. Wholly made up from our minds is the real learning and our current system of education is simply a look into the gateway of learning. The tree outside the columned-hall of learning is actually the art we create for our learning, and the larger, deeper learning awaits our creation, as we peer into the columned building where so much more exists because we say so.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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