...to bring the key issues on this page into classrooms.
Correspondence with Dennis Yuzenas, my mentor
You're a threat. A threat to every teacher that sees you coming down the hall and knows there will shortly be a comfort zone intrusion. You threaten the paradigm that far too many teachers are locked in. You threaten administrators because you dare to ask questions and have the audacity to actually put the students' needs ahead of everything else that goes on in schools. You'll always be the outsider. Don't fret. Your time is coming.
What passes for education at the moment is a sham. A house of cards about to tumble. Pink and Littky and Abe Fischler et al are the winds of change.
Get that Doctorate--you'll then be an expert--and then gird your loins and prepare for battle... Dennis Yuzenas
Littky and The Big Picture schools
with Margot Adler.
Things Considered, April 25, 2005 · It's hard to imagine a school
with no tests, no grades and no classes. But those familiar elements
of education are missing at two dozen Big Picture schools in six
states, each with no more than 120 students.
work in the real world, portfolios, oral presentations and intense
relationships between students and advisers. Margot Adler visits one
of the schools, called The Met, the 10-year-old model for the
schools, in Providence, R.I.
Students are encouraged to
discover their passions, interning two days a week with mentors in
the community who relate those passions to the real world. The
student might work at a hospital, a bakery, or an architectural firm.
School projects are designed by the mentor, the adviser and the
student together -- and are presented orally, along with a portfolio,
every nine weeks.
Vimar Rodriguez, an 11th grader interested
in medicine, has a neighborhood pediatrician as a mentor. Dr. Hector
Cordero says she knew little when she started interning at his
"I think she's learning a lot," Cordero
says. "I think it is motivating her to go to medical school,
which is the most important thing."
her own life with those of her friends at other schools. "They
don't know [what college they are going to], if they are going to get
financial aid, and here I can look at different opportunities and
The school measures its success in
many ways -- standardized achievement scores are higher than those at
the three largest Providence high schools -- but parents are most
excited by these statistics: Almost every senior gets into college,
80 percent go to college, and five years later, most of those
students are still in college or have graduated.
idea of a school is so embedded in everyone. I had a kid say to me
"You're not a real principal." (Charlie Plant, one of six
by Dennis Littky, founder of the Met School
have a hard time adjusting to a school that they don't know.
put 15 students in a room with an advisor, you let kids discover and
follow their passions, interning two days a week with mentors in the
community who relate those passions to the real world. The students
might work in a hospital or an architectural firm. School projects
are designed by the student and advisor together and are presented
orally in a portfolio every nine weeks.
Students meet three
days a week with advisors about their projects. Projects are tailored
to get academic rigor into the presentation. "We're looking at
how do you look at the world scientifically, how do you look at the
world mathematically, do you communicate effectively, what are the
skills we can get out of this?"
have been told what to do for nine years. When they enter ninth
grade, it's rough. We are saying, Follow your interests and passions,
make choices. They are not ready, they don't trust adults."
Admisison is by lottery and most students qualify for free
lunch. Student scores are higher than the average scores of the three
local high school but even so, fewer than half are proficient. Almost
every senior gets into college, 80 percent go to college and five
years later, almost all are still in college or graduated.
are followed for ten years. They are welcome to drop in, get some
advice, the advisors are there for you. Advisors send letters and
care packages to graduates in college.
The drop out rate at
the Met is 3 percent. There are kids that want a big school where
they can be anonymous. It's not perfect.
We separate kids
from adults in our world. So of course there is this generation gap.
It's a struggle to get trained teachers.
Dennis Littky is co-founder of the Big Picture
schools and is director of one of them, The Met Center in Providence,
R.I. Hear Littky on:
The challenges of
creating a school like The Met and in creating rigor in the student's
is no harder job than a new 9th grade advisor. I haven't figured out
how to help them have a successful year. You get 9th grade kids who
are angry at school, don't trust adults, and have been told what to
do for 9 years and we are saying, follow your interests and make
choices. They are not ready. We continue to struggle about how to get
them involved, give them some structure but not too much structure.
We are trying to make them learn to make decisions in life. What do
we do in the first 9 weeks.
One of our solutions was have
them come in for 2 weeks in the summer and start learning the
culture. It's easier to do in the summer and there's less pressure
When teachers ask me how to prepare for the
first 9 weeks in 9th grade, I tell them, Go bowling to get to know
the kid, to get to know their passions. We struggle so much with it
that I almost want them in their internships before they start school
with us. Once they find their passion and interest and start to work
in the internship, the rest takes over. they change. it's not school
any more. "I love this doctor's office. I'm going to read about
this. I love this Architect's office, I'm going to design this."
So until you get the passion, it's too much like school.
second big problem is how to get the rigor and get the rigor ... how
do you find mathematics working in a radio station. how do you find
the good projects? the reading and writing is easier, but how to go
deep in the analytical reasoning is the challenge.
do you do a transcript for colleges?
give our kids narratives, we don't give our kids grades. These are
two-page detailed reports about strengths and weaknesses, every 9
weeks for four years. Colleges can't look at that. We put the areas
that the colleges want to see, English, History, Math. The transcript
can say English and it has the kid's project in there.
officers can see that there are 4 English and 3 science credits and
that's how we do it. Our job with narratives is to give kids feedback
about how to get better. The job for the transcript is to help
colleges know what's going on.
The question: How do you make
the outside world understand what you do?
I believe deep down
when you ask people, "What do you remember from chemistry
class?" or trigonometry class, they don't have any answers.
"Where did you learn to be a writer?" I ask them. "Did
you learn it in journalism school, did you learn it from guidelines?"
The answer: "No, I really learned when I was working and
writing. People were being critical with my writing on the job."
In theory, I believe I can get most people to see that we
learn when we're involved in something. There is no learning theory
that says that lecturing to adolescents is the way to get people to
learn. The way to get people to learn is to get them to be motivated
and interested. The more you are involved in something, the more you
construct knowledge, the more you learn, we know all that.
problem is every human being went through a regular school, so we
keep falling back on that model.
Critics laughed when they
saw we had internships. Then they saw that we had the highest
attendance rate in the state. We had the lowest drop-out rate in the
state. But they really became believers when they see that every kid
got accepted to college. Five years later they're still in college or
Sometimes you need to show those results so that
people can accept the method. Every test that the other kids are
taking, our kids are taking. We keep pushing ahead and trying to show
that this is a way to help kids get educated.
the three largest high schools in mathematics and we don't teach a
mathematics course. The kids learn to think like mathematicians, to
solve problems and use their minds. The scores are not great, but
they are moving up.
Colleges are impressed with how articulate
and passionate our kids are.
Creating Big Picture schools around
the U.S., and the difficulty of getting good teachers.
you have the right philosophy,
every child has a learning plan,
you find real work,
you find their passion,
We put a big
emphasis about training the teachers for a year before putting them
into schools. If you get the combinations together, it can be a
It's hard to find adults who are certified to be
teachers, who are generalists and want to give up teaching their
subject matter to really truly teach kids. As a teacher, you have
nothing to protect yourself. There's no textbook to get in the way or
to guide you, it's raw.
You have to have that relationship with
that kid. It's very hard work to do.
Our schools vary in how good
It's the hardest work in the world because you are
dealing with kids' lives, you get so deep with them. Many teachers
tell me, "I've taught for seven years, I’ve been a good
teacher, but I've never got so close to kids as I have here."
When you have 150 kids, you can't get that close.
By the way,
critics say, "You just have 15 kids." Well,
we get the same amount of money per student as the rest of the state
gets. It's how you use your money.
ratio in most high schools of adults to kids to around 1 to 15. The
classes are 1 to 30 because you have department chairs, you have
guidance counselors, there are people around. We do it with the same
amount of money that California gives out, which is less than what
Rhode Island gives out.
40 percent of our students are
Latino, 30 percent are African American, 5 percent Asian. The free
lunch population ranges from 60 to 80 percent, 70 percent of the kids
have never had anyone in the family go to college. All of our kids
are accepted in college about 80 percent go, 75 percent of our kids
are still in college or graduated from some program. The national
statistics are if you enter college as an African American or Latino,
there is less than a 20 percent chance that you will graduate. One of
the things we try to do is beat that. How do you get the kids to have
such skills and passion that they overcome the barriers that the
other 90 percent don't make it?
kids in good schools are losing out too, and why
What makes me cry daily is when I hear a
kid describe how he or she was before, and then how they found their
passion and it changed their life.
It's really about the
environment that we built to help the kid find his passion. That
comes from having respect for the kid and giving the kid time to
Half of our great work is because the kid got there
when the kid grew up and got more mature. We were just patient. But
in most cases, the kids never get to, they get stopped before they
did something stupid or they weren't interested. By having the faith
that the kid will learn and by struggling with that through the
years, we can see how far they've come.
Our secret is that we
have the patience and the belief that anything is possible. Whatever
you need to help you get passionate about something is what we do.
it's the true belief in the student.
Every school says that
they respect kids. If you give kids work that is not important,
you're not respecting them. I think my frustration with the world is
that in many suburban districts where parents move to send their kids
and the students come home with their As and Bs, the parents are
satisfied, but they never look deeper, so they think those are good
schools. They have the highest SAT scores, they have the most kids
going to Ivy League colleges.
Those kids are losing too. They
are not dropping out because they are playing the game. When you ask
them, "Have you made any decisions in school? Do you care about
anything, are you passionate about anything that goes on during the
day besides drama club or football after school?" They're
getting the short end. They aren't allowed to get engaged with their
work and go deeper.
"My kid did well at that school."
Yeah, but where could your kid really go if your kid got to work with
a doctor in 9th grade, following her around, and really going in
The other frustration is kids are dying daily. They
are dropping out daily. In some cities, 20 percent graduate high
school. Nothing is changed drastically enough.
the accountability part of No Child Left Behind. There were some
school districts that were not clear about standards and the law is
helping them focus. The law is not going to help poor kids really
Taking tests is not going to help improve kids. We
have to engage them, help them find their passion, we have to respect
who they are and where they come from.
Dr. Charles Schlosser
pointed to a critique of Project Based Learning
and CONSTRUCTIVIST modes of teaching.
“…Based on our current knowledge of human cognitive architecture, minimally guided instruction is likely to be ineffective. The past half-century of empirical research on this issue has provided overwhelming and unambiguous evidence that minimal guidance during instruction is significantly less effective and efficient than guidance specifically designed to support the cognitive processing necessary for learning.”
Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.
My letter to the critic
Your article focuses on a "precise" definition of constructivist. I like the view of constructivism that asks the student to create his own view of the world rather than simply receive and regurgitate the instructor's view of the world. However, the description of constructivism that you, Sweller and Clark present seems extreme.
YUZENAS VIDEO showing a constructivist classroom...
I submit to you a short video: Dennis Yuzenas in his middle school class asks his students to be aware of how their thinking is changing. He gets them to think about their world view (paradigms) and guides them toward independent work. He's not pushing them into "the deep end of the pool" without teaching them to swim.
Would you agree that Yuzenas is not a strict constructivist in your use of the word?
Thank you for your time. ... and for the chance to discuss the topic of "what works." I really like project-based curricula, and I think your article is NOT speaking against such curricula, but rather against unfettered, unguided classes....
Fort Lauderdale FL
First off, constructivism is a philosophy and not an pedagogy or a theory of instruction. We all create our own world and see things based upon what we know. This is non-contestable.
I cannot judge either a person, her or his way of working, nor its worth based upon 9 minutes (and neither should you). I see a person letting kids muddle through a project using computers. What they learn, how much they learn, what the role of this 9 minutes of pedagogy is within the whole of a curriculum, and so forth does not give me a clue to either what this is all worth or whether he is or is not a strict constructivist.
Please don't take the following analogy in the wrong way, but I'm sure I could find 9 minutes of Adolf Hitler petting his dog and having dinner with friends, and if you ask me - based upon the footage - if Hitler was a monster in the strict sense of the word, what would I then have to answer?
Prof. dr. Paul A. Kirschner
Professor of Educational Psychology
Chair of the Learning and Cognition Programme
Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies (CELSTEC)
Open Universiteit Nederland
President of the International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS)
P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail
Reply by Dennis Yuzenas
Reply by Matt Blazek
I operate in my learning based upon first the presentation of information and then allowing the students some choice on how to provide additional information to me. The underlying theory is called self-determination theory (SDT).
Basically, this states that by utilizing autonomy, relatedness, and competence, we can increase the intrinsic motivation of an individual- and intrinsic motivation increases learning. While I love to use projects, the students must get information from me to have the basic concepts down. It begins as guided learning- discussions, presentatations, analysis of evidence to formulate arguements. Having multiple views presented regarding a topic forces the student to expand their thought process to include the world view of others along with their own in order to understand a topic. Once the material has been shown to the student in a way the student understands and connects to, the student has established some relatedness to the content. Competence comes in through constant support and inquiry from me on what they need to achieve my expectations regarding the project. My thorough guidance throughout the process allows them to feel competent in what they are learning and how they are learning- believing in themselves enough to provide a thorough analysis of the material that they have researched. Finally, by allowing the students to choose within a framework, students establish some autonomy (we all care more about the things we choose to do than the things that we have to do). I provide the framework -- general topic, approval of project proposal, established expectations for material covered in the project, requirement of presentation of material -- but the student generates ideas for the specific project and how the material will be presented. I don't know much about constructivist methodology, but I follow the established concepts in SDT for my methodology. So while I utillize projects as a vital component of learning over repeated testing, it is done within an established framework of knowledge. Definitely follows the Fischler concept of discussion of material and then problem solving utilizing the material.
Some websites that may interest you (if you don't already know about them):
The future of advertising and teaching
The creator of "dancing words" on the BoxOfCrayons youtube channel.
This is the future of entertaining, educating, and advertising. It engages the reader and makes reading FUN! I wish books could come alive, play music and make the IMPORTANT words dance so I would pay attention to them.
Links to several examples of "dancing words"
WARNING! by Richard Clark
As a note about the tenor of Chapter 7:
I particularly like the opening paragraph in the conclusion of Chapter 7 (p. 135) where Clark thanks his editor for removing "the usual constraints of a scholarly piece" and for encouraging him to be "personal and candid." He makes his most compelling argument about why we should be wary of links between technology and student achievement. I have posted the following part of the second paragraph here because it is so insightful:
"We tend to encourage students and faculty to begin with educational and instructional solutions and search for problems that can be solved by those solutions. Thus, we begin with an enthusiasm for media or individualized instruction or deschooling and search fo r avisible context in which to establish evidence for our solution. Counter-evidence is suspect and we are predisposed to believe that it is flawed. Positive evidence is accepted easily. We need greater appreciation for negative evidence and to begin with a focus on problems and then search relevant literature for robust, research-based theories about solutions to those problems. If we begin by attempting to validate a belief about the solutions to largely unexamined problems, we are less open to evidence that our intuitions might be very far off the mark." This is the clearest, most direct exposition that I have found in Clark's writings. This appears on pages 135-136.
Clark, R. (ed.) (2001). Learning from media. Greenwich, CT: IAP Publishing.
Daniel Pink (RSA drawings)
Dennis Littky at TED
Dennis Littky at Poptech
Visit to the Met Center (Part 1)
10-minute documentary by Steve McCrea
Visit to the Met Center (Part 2)
with excerpts from 2005 NPR interview with Littky
10-minute documentary by Steve McCrea
Excerpt from the video
I think my frustration with the world is that in many suburban districts where parents move to send their kids and the students come home with their As and Bs, the parents are satisfied, but they never look deeper, so they think those are good schools. They have the highest SAT scores, they have the most kids going to Ivy League colleges.
Those kids are losing too. They are not dropping out because they are playing the game. When you ask them, "Have you made any decisions in school? Do you care about anything, are you passionate about anything that goes on during the day besides drama club or football after school?" They're getting the short end. They aren't allowed to get engaged with their work and go deeper.
The commissioner of education (in Rhode Island) Peter McWalter said to me, "I could have closed this school down the first year, but I had the patience to watch and I've never seen people who had the belief in the maturity of the kid" -- so half of our great work is because the [kids] grew up. In most schools, they don't get to [grow up] -- they get stopped before [they can prove themselves].
"My kid did well at that school." Yeah, but where could your kid really go if your kid got to work with a doctor in 9th grade, following her around, and really going in depth?
How kids in good schools are losing out too, and why
(The Met's accomplishments)
What makes me cry daily is when I hear a kid describe how he or she was before, and then how they found their passion and it changed their life.
It's really about the environment that we built to help the kid find his passion. That comes from having respect for the kid and giving the kid time to learn.
Half of our great work is because the kid got there when the kid grew up and got more mature. We were just patient. But in most cases, the kids never get to, they get stopped before they did something stupid or they weren't interested. By having the faith that the kid will learn and by struggling with that through the years, we can see how far they've come.
Our secret is that we have the patience and the belief that anything is possible. Whatever you need to help you get passionate about something is what we do. it's the true belief in the student.
Every school says that they respect kids. If you give kids work that is not important, you're not respecting them.
Steve's interpretation of the Littky Philosophy and the techniques used by Dennis Yuzenas
Power in Schools (part 1)
Power in Schools (2)
Theory to Practice (part 1)
Active Learning and Cooperative Learning
part 1 by Dr. Richard Felder
(Active = doing anything except sitting and listening to a lecture)
Cooperative = a structured exercise
Shifting responsibility from teacher to the students
Blogs to follow