107/365 Shift the “How” not the “What” of Education

As I posted a few days ago, I’ve been reading Pamela Meyer’s Quantum Creativity with varying degrees of interest. While not everything is sticking with me, one piece of Meyer’s chapter on following passion has been knocking around in my brain for a few days.

Usually, that’s a sign that I should write through my thinking.

“…[Y]ou may just as likely discover Follow Your Passion to lead you to change the way you work, not what you do for work,” Meyer writes.

It’s a step above, “Worker smarter, not harder,” and it might be more important.

The example that comes to mind is the elementary teacher smitten with her unit plan on dinosaurs. She’s been teaching the unit forever, and it’s a bright spot in her school year. The majority of the students also end up smitten with dinosaurs by the end. (Because, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?)

The criticism I’ve heard most often when this example is raised in education circles is that this teacher is letting her love of content override what should be her goal of teaching her students content relevant to their lives and that will make them college and career ready.

I get that logic. Meyer’s thinking, though, opens up another possibility.

Give our exemplary teacher her dinosaurs. Do not deny her the what. Dinosaurs are fascinating, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who isn’t at least passingly interested in these great lizards.

The shift, though, need come in the guise of changing the how of the unit. Open the unit to students’ questions and let them guide the study. Incorporate skills across content areas – primary sources, experts from outside the school, art, writing, reading, contemporary biology, presentation, critical questioning, etc.

Most often, those I speak with who are hopeful about the adoption of the Common Core State Standards find their hope in their close reading of the standards are promoting greater student voice and choice.

While there’s no great content jump in the what of the CCSS, perhaps there’s hope in moving toward more authentic, inquiry-driven, personal learning. Perhaps we can shift the how.

My friend Dayna Scott is Deputy Director of Denver’s Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Changing Education), and mentioned the other day that organizations like VOYCE might find in-roads to accomplishing their goals of greater student participation in public education through an advanced understanding of the CCSS.

I hope this is true. With some minor exceptions like Texas, the shifts we need in public education, the shifts that will help us build the schools we need, will be based in looking at the how of learning.


To find out more about the work of Project VOYCE, watch the video below.

2 thoughts on “107/365 Shift the “How” not the “What” of Education

  1. How can you assume that the teacher isn’t already doing what you suggest….diving deep into the process of learning, beginning with student questions. Just because she has been doing the content a long time doesn’t mean she isn’t teaching a love of learning, how to learn, and motivating children to follow their curiosity.

    • Carol, you’re right. I wouldn’t assume that a teacher is doing one thing or the other. The example I was using was built around a story I’ve heard at a few different conference used to illustrate the problem of teachers loving their content more than the teaching and learning of it or, more importantly, the kids in the room.
      Where, it’s happening, where teachers are diving deeply into processes and curiosities, where they are listening to student voice and planning according – those are beautiful places.
      Where those things aren’t happening and the quarrel surrounds the what and not the how, is where we should be focusing our efforts. Thanks for the comment and pushing me to clarify my thinking.

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