“In times of change the learners will inherit the earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ” –Eric Hoffer

I’ve always found that quote to be one that I think about most when it comes to education. I want so badly for my kids to be learners, not knowers first. Not that there aren’t things they need to know, but I would much rather they have a yen for learning, for the “patient problem solving” that Dan Meyer talks about, a comfort with ambiguity and failure that is the hallmark of so much deep learning. Broken record, I know, but we’re “right answering” our kids (and our teachers, to some extent) to death in this country. Hard to watch.

I thought of this recently when I came across a post by George Couros who was discussing the shift in professional development at his school. He’s been doing some great stuff up in Edmonton, and his blog posts and Tweets have added a lot to the conversation in the past year. As I read it, this one line stopped me:

“As we move forward, it is essential that our goals focus directly on how they impact and improve student learning.”

I commented on the blog, and there has been some interesting back and forth there. And while I don’t want to hijack the thread, I did want to dive into my reaction a bit more here and see where it might lead

What stopped me is this: should our focus be on how to “impact and improve student learning” or on how to “impact and improve student learners“? It’s a not so subtle shift, but one that I think takes the conversation in a different direction. Our zeal for “higher student achievement” and “improved student learning” is leading us to even more emphasis on standardized tests, because that’s the easiest, cheapest way to assess “achievement” and “learning.” If you want proof, check out this article about the discussion in Massachusetts to replace the state test with the new Common Core assessment. Here’s the “money” quote:

And there have been some suggestions that assessment may include other things that some educators have long been clamoring for, such as portfolios of school work and research papers. Celli, who is a specialist in individual student learning styles, said that a holistic assessment of students would dramatically increase grades and scores. But Latham pointed out the problem with that approach is time and resources and schools don’t have enough of either.


But what if the emphasis was on learners, not learning? As Jaclyn Calder noted in the original comment thread on George’s post, the “learning skills” piece, the self-direction, critical thinking, “patient problem solving” piece are deemed “unimportant” in comparison to the grade on any given assignment. And as George himself points out, is that measuring creativity, passion, and innovation are difficult to do, much less teach. Andrew Rotherham and Daniel Willingham agree in this Ed Leadership piece from this summer:

Another curricular challenge is that we don’t yet know how to teach self-direction, collaboration, creativity, and innovation the way we know how to teach long division.

Somehow, we’ve got to get there. How do we begin to value these learning skills as much as we value the outcomes?