Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shifts in School

Thought partner, Tom Vander Ark at Singapore American School.

I had the privilege of listening to Tom Vander Ark (@tvanderark) address members of the Leadership Cohort at Singapore American School yesterday and of listening to him talk to a smaller group of leaders this morning. Futuristic and energized, Vander Ark spoke about our rapidly changing world. He posited shifts we need to make in education and framed everything with awe. Indeed,  as he said, "It is an incredible time to be an educator."

Vander Ark referred to several shifts that will be as world-changing as the shift from print to digital has been. He framed this part of his talk with us using these big questions: What does it take to be a capable human being? What are the most important capabilities? The shifts we will see in education are look to answer those questions. Vander Ark's three shifts include:

1. Moving toward measuring, marking and communicating the broader aims of education. These aims at Singapore American School are called Desired Student Learning Outcomes (DSLOs). Other schools on the planet call them dispositions or character traits. Our DSLOs include creativty, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, cultural competence, and content knowledge.

As a system, we will need to expand our reporting dashboards so that a learner's profile captures more than just content knowledge or criterion-referenced data.

2.  A move toward more active learning where learners co-construct experiences and have agency over what, how and when skills and content are learned. Imagine project-based learning schools. Good work, as he said, is being done right now on this front around the world.

3. A move from awarding credit based on time (seat time) to credit based on competency.

Really, sit silently with these shifts for a moment. They are huge. They are complex.  What will it take? How will we get there? We've not yet created the systems or tools that would make such a leap forward entirely possible yet.

What is most important? What is most important at work? What is most important at home? What is most important in relationships? What is most important in civic life?  These are the types of questions that will guide learners and leaders of learning in the future.

It's likely that the ability to tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor is not most important --but it is a content knowledge I've taught in English language arts classes. It has been important to me at some level as I make meaning in the world.

Content, from all of the academic disciplines, is important, but I am continually reminded that content is the context in which we learn. We learn to empathize through literature in English language arts. We learn to collaborate by conducting investigations with others in science class. We learn to think critically when we study history (and math, and science and English and everything, really). Content is the context for the learning we must do to become capable human beings.

I am sure I will be thinking about all that Tom Vander Ark shared with us for quite some time. Don't miss his work on current trends we educators need to pay attention to now on Getting Smart.


  1. I am struck by how my thinking this week seems to parallel yours. You write, "Really, sit silently with these shifts for a moment. They are huge. They are complex. What will it take? How will we get there? We've not yet created the systems or tools that would make such a leap forward entirely possible yet." And I am shaking my head and murmuring YES! (Can you hear me?)

    Knowing about simile and metaphor as information-to-be-remembered doesn't matter a whit. What matters is how understanding metaphor helps me act on my world. On the most personal level, it helps me explain myself to you. In Vander Ark's construct, being able to use metaphor to share an idea I have or who and what I am increases my sense of agency in the world. We don't teach metaphor, or other disciplinary content, that way.


  2. That's a really important about how we need ways to capture our students' learning so that we prioritize and privilege more than content knowledge. If we truly have these broad and ambitious learning goals--as we should--we need to think about assessment in broad and ambitious ways too, which I think we have almost entirely failed to do in education. And if we think about what's important, then I find that almost nothing we teach students in American public schools makes the cut. It's such a huge and interesting problem.