“education is not a horse race”


Over the holidays I came across an easy to read article by Elliot Einser on Benjamin Bloom. Essentially the article made a some key points about Bloom’s work:

  • education as a process was an effort to realize human potential, indeed, (it was) an exercise in optimism. (its why I believe teachers need to show optimism)
  • What Bloom wanted to reveal (through his taxonomy) was what students were thinking about when teachers were teaching, because he recognized that it was what students were experiencing that ultimately mattered. (that s why I now ask students about whats going on during a walk-through)
  • Goal attainment rather than student comparison was what was important. (I think he would have approved of what we know as WALTS). The variable that needed to be addressed, as Bloom saw it, was time. It made no pedagogical sense to expect all students to take the same amount of time to achieve the same objectives. (this is a question I pose to teachers after teaching for two weeks on a topic and looking at who can now prove understanding – what happens to those that need more time?)
  • Basically, his message to the educational world is to focus on target attainment and to abandon a horse-race model of schooling that has as its major aim the identification of those who are swiftest. Speed is not the issue, achievement or mastery is, and it is that model that should be employed in trying to develop educational programmes for the young. Mastery learning was an expression of what Bloom believed to be an optimistic approach to the realization of educational goals.
  • The traditional expectations of a bell-shaped distribution of human performance was, more often than not, a reflection of social privilege and social class. Children who enjoyed the benefits of habits, attitudes, linguistic skills and cognitive abilities available to the more privileged members of society were likely to do well at school on tasks for which those attitudes and skills were relevant. (This is one of the reasons I want to stress vocabulary development in our literacy instruction as those with through richer experiences have greater vocabulary) To confer additional privileges on those who already had a head start was to create an array of inequities that would eventually exact extraordinary social costs. And since environment plays such an important role in providing opportunity to those already privileged, it seemed reasonable to believe that by providing the kind of support that the privileged already enjoyed to those who did not have it, a positive difference in their performance would be made.

As an optimist you could see why I loved the article which is freely available from UNESCO.

I also found a useful image for teachers to think about when asking young students to do something in class.