No average student? Isn’t that contrary to the way our school systems, textbooks, and tests are designed? In fact, ALL our kids have learning differences, whether labeled or not. In my online class, I watched an excellent TED video featuring Todd Rose, a high school dropout with dyslexia (and 0.9 GPA) who now teaches Educational Neuroscience at Harvard.
In an analogy to the current crisis in education, Todd describes the dilemma faced by the Air Force when designing cockpits for fighter jets. They wanted a cockpit that would best fit the greatest number of pilots. To their consternation, airplane designers found that there was NO average size among pilots. Despite protestations that this was an impossible and expensive task, when the Air Force wouldn’t budge from their demands, the designers came up with adjustable seats and controls. And today, the Air Force pilot pool is more diverse than ever.
Todd Rose makes his case that classrooms are the “cockpit of our economy.” But we have plummeting math and science scores along with rising dropout rates (including about 50,000 gifted students in the 1.2 million+ high school drop outs every year). Todd argues that our problem is “bad design.” We design learning environments for the average student. But he points out that all students have a “jagged edge” learning profile, so teaching to the average hurts everyone. Teaching to the average makes talent a liability (“I hate boring school!”) and weaknesses make it hard for us to nurture students’ talents (“I can’t read the science textbook!”). Todd says we have an opportunity to use technology in creating more flexible learning environments, such as “cockpits” where iPads can read for students, pronounce unfamiliar words, and allow all kids access to engaging activities. For twice exceptional students, those gifted kids with a learning or social disability, technology provides the opportunity to “teach to the edges” and take advantage of our brilliant workforce in the making.
Now, how do we take the “average” out of testing? Or put another way, how do we assess “to the edges?”