Make School Different!


Thanks to @DougPete for tagging me in the ongoing meme #makeschooldifferent :

Here are some of the things that I think we need to stop ‘pretending’ in our schools: 

We have to stop pretending that:

1. Content matters more than the skills.

Content can be Googled. 

Further, writing a test will only work well for those who are good at taking tests. 

However, our world is changing at a rapid pace. We need skills to help us think politically, environmentally, technologically, economically, and in terms of globalization. Transferrable skills are exactly what we need. The industrial era is over. We live increasingly within a knowledge economy. If students don’t know how to employ the following skills, they will be at a sore disadvantage: 

  • research and inquiry skills, 
  • synthesis
  • Problem solving 
  • creativity 
  • knowledge building, 
  • flexible thinking 
  • Information literacy
  • and connect new and evolving pieces of knowledge together – and the list goes on.

2. It is useful to teach subjects in isolation, on a fixed timetable.

We need to stop pretending that it is useful to teach subjects in isolation. Integration is key, and there are other ways to think about how we ‘cover the curriculum’, and ‘uncover it’.

3. We can group students into distinct ‘learning styles’.

We have to know at this point that it is much much more complex than that, and even if students have preferred styles – the research demonstrates that this does not mean that students learn best using their preferred learning style.

The underlying learning processes for knowledge and skills are still the same. The purpose of knowing about learning styles is to motivate and engage students.

This brings me to ‘engagement’ and the fact that it does not necessarily equate to learning. The fact is that sometimes students can ‘pretend’ to be engaged- (for instance – pretending to read), and other times students may be engaged, but not necessarily learning anything new. Assessing engagement and the learning process certainly go hand in hand. But if we think about growth mindsets and the fact that learning is hard – and that learning is frustrating.

It also requires teacher skills that are far more nuanced than using distinct methods to meet distinct learning styles. It takes time to develop the ability to read our students, and what their ‘eyes’  say over time, the way that they ask questions, the way they answer questions…. We have to stop pretending that this does not matter, indeed, it might be one of the the only things that do.

4. Only the teacher can impart knowledge to the students.


We need to stop pretending that it is just the teacher that can impart knowledge on the students. All too often, we see in our lessons that we are the ones asking questions, getting responses, commenting. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Students learn just as much from each other as in the classroom. In fact, very much of what students will do in class will depend on the nature of the social relationships.

5. Feedback = formal assessment. Formal Assessment = feedback.


Feedback is something that needs to be embedded on a daily basis. Also, feedback comes in many forms – not just a mark, an X or a checkmark, or a completely edited/marked up page of work. Sometimes that is damaging to self-esteem. Sometimes students don’t pay attention. After a test or an assignment is handed back and finished, how many students pay attention to feedback after it is finished? We need to re-think what feedback means and how we make it meaningful to students.

I could keep writing – but I will leave it at just 5 for now:) With that in mind, I will now tag some more people to join in! My apologies if you have already shared!

YOU are officially tagged – I would love to hear your top 5 for making school different!
Deborah McCallum:)






7 responses to “Make School Different!”

  1. Doug Peterson Avatar

    Thank you for getting involved and sharing your thoughts. There’s a great deal to think about there. I can really identify with #3. I worked with a lady once who went to a workshop “How are you smart” and came back with the quiz. We were all forced to take it. I thought I was going to be some sort of concrete sequential thinker but the test said otherwise. I was counseled to embrace the “real me”. I can remember being totally turned off on a number of things and I felt sorry that this person would believe in a test that would label you in such a manner. In my reality, I think that I learn in many forms depending upon the situation, environment, grouping, content, skills, attitude, etc. I can’t believe that I’m unique. Labelling and grouping students just doesn’t make sense.


    1. Deborah McCallum Avatar

      Hi Doug, Thanks for tagging me and for your reply! I agree that it is not so cut and dry as to rigidly label and group students. Education is so complex, and we are so much more than the tests we take. Thanks again Doug!


  2. OTR Links 05/03/2015 | doug — off the record Avatar

    […] Make School Different! | Big Ideas in Education […]


  3. […] Thanks to @DougPete for tagging me in the ongoing meme #makeschooldifferent : Here are some of the things that I think we need to stop 'pretending' in our schools: We have to stop preten…  […]


  4. Dr. Amy B Hollingsworth Avatar

    I think one thing we need to get away from is that “All content can be googled.”

    Yes, I understand that rote memorization is not a good way to learn, but children have no way to put new information “into context” if they don’t know facts in the first place. They have to be exposed to a lot of content, and challenged to use skills. Both are vital to a knowledgeable citizenry.

    I teach science, and I can’t tell you how many times I hear “But I could just google that.” Well, how do you know what you googled was right, if you don’t have anything to compare it to? It opens our children up to bad science, like the evolution deniers and antivaxxers. Students need to learn what science is, how it works, and how things fit into a scientific context.



    1. Deborah McCallum Avatar

      Thank you for your comments! I think we will have to agree to disagree. First, I will clarify that I do not think that facts are unimportant. I just believe that in this day in age, our students need skills more than content that can be googled. This is different than Information Literacy skills, where students learn to conduct effective searches with Google. But then again, that is a skill, and not basic content. I believe in constructivism and connectivism as key philosophies that support the skills required to build knowledge, for instance, through sharing, collaboration, connections and more. I do not have my students use their time to work with pieces of content that can be googled, ie., rote fill in the blanks, teacher as sage on the stage, filling heads with information and other imagery that comes to mind. I think that in order to be successful in a knowledge economy that skills need to be emphasized before content.
      What I hear you saying is that you are actually teaching the effective skills through the scientific method – you are helping students to learn the skills necessary to make meaning – it does not sound like you are having them google basic content, you are using prior knowledge for students to build upon, to create new knowledge from the scientific method.

      Thanks for your comments!


  5. This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug — off the record Avatar

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