Better?… Best?…Different?

Place and date:  Unimportant

Activity: Lunch break

It took me by surprise that a curator spoke about gardener X by saying:
“He is the best”…
It also took me some time to understand why this bothered me.

A little background is needed here so we understand each other.  I am an educator, no longer spending all my daily hours in the classrooms as I did for 30 years.  I spend some of my free time now as a volunteer in a botanical garden.  In the garden as in the classroom, there are different needs and displays of strength and beauty.  Some plants need care at the start of the dormant season others preferred to be cut in spring, yet they all do their own thing when they bloom.

Children have different individual needs, but if we provide the right conditions they all come into their beauty, they all are able to learn.  I hope we can agree on the following points:

  • All children can learn.
  • Community affects learning.
  • Learning is personal.

Recently education is under scrutiny in the US, we compare our student’s performance in international tests to other nations, we ponder about the advantages of private, public or charter education, we discuss teacher quality and preparation, and so on.  Mostly we worry about testing: standardized, high stakes test control our educational endeavors: how to make them and who should, when to administer them, how to prepare the students for it, who should mark them, what to test.

In the process we forget the different needs of our students, the fact that learning is a process, and it is personal.  We pressure students to master a concept when they are not ready, we label them according to their test scores: level 1, 2, 3 or 4.

Children learn better in a relaxed environment, collectively guided by a skilled professional, using good materials to keep interest, provide challenges and support them in a productive struggle. Concept development is a very important part of learning and it is a personal process arrived at by exploration and reflection, trial and error.  Testing is not a teaching tool for student’s it is only useful if the data we collect informs our practice.

The plants in the garden do not grow because I measure them, no gardener is “the best”, they are different, just like children and plants.

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