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02XCESS - A philosophy of education and more

Years ago, I had a neighbour who had the vanity licence plate 02XCESS. When I quizzed him on the meaning, he told me that it was his philosophy of life: “nothing to excess”. Furthermore, he pointed out even the plate followed the rule. Nothing to excess might make a great philosophy of education.

I have only anecdotal evidence, but I think that the two most contentious issues in education that get parents riled up are how reading is taught (phonics vs whole language), and how math is taught (drill and review vs discovery). I noted in a previous blog that the issues related to mathematics education can be traced back even to the 17th century. Perhaps if educators followed 02XCESS they would have more parents on side. I had already been jotting down my ideas for this blog when I came across a recent Twitter post that made me aware of a January 2016 Washington Post article: “Mom: What do I expect from my children’s elementary school? Certainly not this.” Indeed, who thinks treating elementary students as if they were office workers is a good idea? How is it that the research advocating ‘Time on Task’ could go so wrong? However, the reading that first got me thinking about this topic was published in The Guardian earlier this year: “No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down”. When I read of the success of this ‘progressive’ school and that their methods might eventually be applied nation-wide I thought, ‘wait a minute, 02XCESS’.

There are probably as many examples of taking good strategies in education to what I consider extremes as there are strategies. Here are some that really stand out for me:

  • Project based learning – I have many times advocated in this blog space support for project based learning. I approve of students learning through science fairs, International Baccalaureate projects, Heritage Youth Researcher Summer programs or other independent projects. Yet, I reject the idea that a student’s education be entirely project based.
  • Enquiry /discovery approach/ Learning Cycle – Last year, I had someone contact me to discuss an issue that happened to their friend, a student teacher. The student teacher was confused as her mentor teacher was critical that she used the word ‘lever’ when teaching about levers as simple machines. The student teacher was told that this school uses the discovery approach. What! Are students supposed to also discover the language? At least with the Learning Cycle, the concept is introduced and discussed prior to the student exploring and applying the concept. However, I once taught in a school that required all lessons to be planned through the lens of the Learning Cycle. This works brilliantly for many concepts, but wiggle room was required to put the entire curriculum into this format.
  • 5 Step Lesson Plan – As with the Learning Cycle, the 5 Step Lesson Plan is a great guide for teachers especially when formulating ideas for direct instruction of some skills. Get the students excited through the anticipatory set, then model/demonstrate the skill and follow with guided practice for the students. Then after some closure discussion the students are ready for independent practice. I once heard of a school administrator who wanted all the teachers in the school to file their 5 step lesson plans. The thinking was that after a year or so there would be no need for prep time as another teacher could simply go to the file cabinet and pull out a perfect plan. I’m sure that idea hit the bin, but templates for the 5 Step Lesson Plan can easily be found online.
  • Drill and review – Whether a student has learned mathematics through memorizing the multiplication tables or through some other method, one very good way to hone mathematical or foreign language skills is through ‘drill’ exercises. I think it is important to have students buy into the drill and review if it is to be effective. One way to get that is to use technology to gamify the practice. Drill and review can be used for basic knowledge; I don’t think that it would be useful for more abstract concepts.
Students need variety, and so do teachers especially if they wish to avoid burnout. When you are planning your lessons, or discussing future directions for your school remember, 02XCESS!

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02XCESS - A philosophy of education and more

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