The ___ Gap
Equity, learning, achievement, device, vocabulary. “Gap” all but invites educators to fill in the blanks. Most often it comes down to the timeless struggle between haves and have-nots and how education is—or isn’t—compensating appropriately.
The concept of “authentic” learning is nothing new, but much like suede and tartan the term drifts in and out of fashion. These days it can refer to experiences that encourage students to put down their books and get a taste of the real world (perhaps via a trendy genius hour or 20 percent time). But it can also be one more adjective piled in a string of buzzwords to lend a veneer of change to practices that aren’t much different than what was done before.
Student voice and choice
Increasing student agency has been on educator’s minds for a while now. Letting students decide how to go about tackling a problem or learning a concept ties into a number of education philosophies from UDL to rigor and grit, which all require teachers to give up some control to students and use approaches that students favor, even if they’re out of the teacher’s comfort zone. Plus, it rhymes.
Every educator queried for this article mentioned some form of maker or makerspace as a must-include. And why not? Making and hands-on learning are certainly buzzworthy enough, garnering a White House-approved week of celebration and rocketing out of nowhere into the Horizon Report’s list of almost-mainstream trends. But it can be a fuzzy, overly-broad term to describe basically anything that students create, from coding simple apps to building robots out of cardboard or custom Lego creations. Like with any educational concept, thoughtfulness is key. Are schools making simply for the sake of making?
For some it can be hard to tell these terms apart. Personalized learning, which is kind of the umbrella term, means an instruction approach that takes individual student needs, interests, and potential learning difficulties to customize the course for that particular student. Adaptive learning primarily uses technology such as software to benchmark where a student is, and then adjust the material, pace, or presentation to suit the learner. True adaptive learning, however, is more than just making quiz questions easier if a student starts to pick wrong answers. It looks at why the student got the answer wrong and puts them on a path to figuring out how to correct those mistakes.
A suffix that can be portmanteau’d with virtually any education-related noun from teacher to student to passion, it’s essentially a buzzword defined entirely by other buzzwords. The term has come to mean less about getting people to make money or start businesses (the traditional meaning of entrepreneur), and more about innovation, risk-taking, leadership, and planning for the long-term (aka, grit).
Talk about top-down, this one came straight from the White House itself. And while it’s still used to refer to the Future Ready pledge, more recently educators have begun using (or overusing) it to refer to the ideas espoused in that pledge, namely how to get their schools ready to deal with an onslaught of device, infrastructure, and privacy concerns.
Teach like a Pirate/Rockstar/Ninja…
The cynic might note how many terms on this list have skyrocketed in popularity thanks to the catchy titles of popular books or workshop series. Nowhere is that marketing gimmick more apparent than the “Teach like a …” phenomena, which are basically selling new ways of thinking about technology and the teacher’s role in the classroom. While that in itself isn’t a bad thing and while there’s nothing wrong with a gimmick — you could argue hashtag-friendly “edubabble” is gimmicky itself — devoid of context, words like “rockstar” and “ninja” are empty calories that sound more like a who’s who of fourth-grade Halloween costumes than a strategy to inspire students to take a greater interest in their own learning.
Bonus: It’s not about the technology
Well, it’s not.