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Be Prepared to Stop

August 22, 2012

For just about any drive, this sign is loathsome

It means delays.

It means less time is spent covering new ground.

And it means we might not get where we wanted by the time others expected.

We are unwitting victims of a “productivity paradigm” that has convinced us more can (and must) be done in less time. Our schedules and professions demand it.

To what degree, do you think, has this paradigm carried over into US education? One of the things I’ve noticed in education policy, program assessments and education research is that a significant motivation is to somehow make more “stuff” fit into prescribed time slots in ways that are “more effective:” we want improved test scores over greater breadths of material in less time.

So here’s a thought: Maybe instructors and learners should be prepared to stop every once in a while. Slow down, engage in some formative assessment and allow for ideas to incubate a bit before pushing on.

Some of the most interesting work I’ve seen in science education research breaks from the paradigm bolded above. These studies investigate how learners and instructors take time to slow down and reflect on what they’ve done before moving forward. This can be accomplished during formative assessment exercises by frequently jotting ideas down on whiteboards individually or in groups for whole class discussion. Or it can be accomplished by taking more extensive time to regularly write and revisit journal entries on one’s own learning. It’s more about having learners stop to think critically about what they know and formalize it in a dialogue with others so they can then move forward with a more complete picture before tacking new content.

But these kinds of practices in a classroom take time.

It means delays.

It means less time is spent covering new ground.

And it means we might not get where we wanted by the time others expected.

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