Will Richardson’s blog was one of the very first educational blogs I followed. For close to a decade I have been reading, learning and engaging with Will. As a school principal at Riverside Secondary, I would regularly send out links to staff from his previous blog (here), and I continue to follow his current blog here. I have also referenced his book on Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms as a staff study group book. Along with Alan November, Chris Lehman, Dean Shareski and a few others, he has profoundly influenced my thinking around the possibility of learning and schooling in the future. With this background, I was naturally interested in reading Will’s latest book, Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere.
Rather than as a collection of new ideas, I think most BC educators (and generally across Canada) would see this as a synthesis of many of the conversations educators are now having about the transformation of the education system. Richardson pushes hard on assessment — a topic currently very much in vogue in BC – with many taking a critical look at class, school and provincial assessments, and more toward less “grading” at the elementary level, and less time and energy sorting and ranking students for post secondary at the high school level. I would argue while there are elements which would pertain to the Canadian education system, whether it be on assessment, teaching, or a range of other areas he challenges, these concerns are not as profound as what he sees happening in the United States.
For me, I think his book helps to further emphasize that Canada and the United States are moving further apart, and not closer together, in education. While Canada has moved to a post-standardized world, and concepts around personalization, this does not seem so true south of the border. Without a doubt, they are some similarities, but these are far less similar now than a decade ago, and are on a path to becoming even less so in the future. There are conversations, though, looking at transformation happening with educators (and largely through social media) that need to move to the mainstream.
In his section on “New School” Richardson lays out six key themes for educators and the system:
- Share everything (or at least something)
- Discover, don’t deliver, the curriculum
- Talk to strangers
- Be a master learner
- Do real work for real audiences
- Transfer the power
He builds the case around ’urgency’. It is one I have previously described as The Urgency of Our Own Kids. We truly can’t wait 10 or 20 years to engage in the conversation of what learning and schooling can/should look like – this would be too late; too late for our own kids and the decisions they will have to make to set the education course in the next window of time. Agree or disagree with the book’s premise, it is an important conversation to engage in as educators, parents, students and the community. Richardson concludes, “Just imagine the learners they could become if we made these skills [using technology to solve real problems and think independently] the focus of our work; if, instead of passing the test, we made those ever-more important skills of networking, inquiry, creation, sharing, unlearning, and relearning the answer to the ‘why school’ question. Imagine what our kids could become if we helped them take full advantage of all they have available to them for learning.”
For more of a backgrounder on Will (and his book), his recent TEDxMelbourne presentation nicely summarizes some of the key ideas of the book:
If you are interested in reading the book, please consider spending the $2.99 to buy it (here). Also, a group of us will be discussing the ideas he has raised and are going to try a Twitter book club, this Tuesday, September 25th, 8:00 p.m. PST. You can follow along using the hashtag #whyschool.
THANK YOU – to all who participated in the conversation. Please continue to use #whyschool to keep the conversation going. We will try this again next month with another book to push our thinking. What a great turnout of people passionate about education. Thanks to Chris Wejr – here is a link to more than 400 of the comments on the #whyschool chat.