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The Great Pretenders

By Bambi Betts

Over the past 20 years, with the capacity now to study live brains, we have learned dozens of things about learning. The brain learns best in context; people learn at different rates and in different ways; there are multiple ways to be intelligent; remembering and understanding are not the same thing; experience alone is an insufficient teacher; and so on and so forth.

Many in our profession have come to understand that to teach is to analyze how learning is happening, and then to apply the right strategies to drive further learning. And of course, most of these "learnings about learning" were unknown when many of our current educators learned to teach.

But now we know! And while none of these findings we have discovered is “100 percent,” each is definitely more reliable than the premises on which we have based many of our teaching practices to date. So why do we pretend not to know?
It is infuriating and embarrassing to visit classroom after classroom, in so-called model international schools, where teachers still "do" differentiation once a week; where students are asked to write with a real audience and purpose maybe twice during the year; where assessment after assessment is acontextual; where teacher talk dominates; where sitting for 30 minutes is viewed as a virtue; where obnoxious Grade 12 students graduate with honors; where even the thought of improving the timetable is a year-long process; and where homework is still one-size-fits-all.

Any profession that wants to remain one has the moral obligation to swiftly integrate into its practice what its own research and experience reveal. Everyone but educators, that is? What is the matter with us? The excuses are endless—and that is what they are: excuses. Parents will not like it; students will resist; maybe it will not work (as if everything we currently do does); the research was flawed; it is too much to ask of teachers.

However true these may be, it is still irresponsible and unethical to ignore key learnings in our field, which are as close to facts as we are able to get. Our profession is seriously at risk if we persist in pretending not to know what we know. Where is our sense of urgency? How long will it take to put what are now almost 20 year-old learnings into our professional standards?

In any other profession—medical, legal, food-related, our measured approach would, at the very least, be intolerable. But somehow it is OK for educators—after all, we are only dealing with the human mind...

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