Sunday, April 27, 2014

Being College and Career Ready IS When Children Inhabit their Narrative

1. What Waits For You?

On the back of Barbara Kerly's  The World is Waiting for You is this invitation:

The book asks children to be curious about the physical world and then connects ordinary experiences such as playing in mud, jumping in puddles with later work as paleontologists, oceanographers, photographers, biologists, and mountain climbers. Kerly makes the point that the physical activities of childhood can lead to career decisions as adults. She says that jumping in puddles can inspire scuba diving. Dirty hands can lead to dinosaur bones.

I thought about the connections between doing and being as we are very interested in the US in ensuring that our children are 'college and career ready.'   

2. What We Talk About When We Talk About Being College and Career Ready

In a manner less artful, but no less circuitous, what we talk about when we talk about being college and career ready could well borrow a page from Raymond Carver. Recall that moment when Mel, one of the characters from the Carver story says:
“... and it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we're talking about when we talk about love.” 
Love, in that story, is never pure as it is always contextualized--happening in the tangled mess we call living.  I think of this when I read descriptions about what it means to have learned so as to be 'ready' for college and career.

Achieve defines college and career ready as if it was context free. As if the human was replicable like a machine.  They write:
From an academic perspective, college and career readiness means that a high school graduate has the knowledge and skills in English and mathematics necessary to qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing postsecondary coursework without the need for remediation -- or put another way, a high school graduate has the English and math knowledge and skills needed to qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training and/or education necessary for their chosen career (i.e. community college, university, technical/vocational program, apprenticeship, or significant on-the-job training).
Learning, like love, happens in the tangled mess of life, not in some neutral space. We are the learning, communally.  Learning is not neutral, context-free, or pure. As such, the stuff we learn along the way that is suppose to prepare US to be college and career ready cannot be had apart from the people we are and are becoming.

So when I read the pristine definition from Achieve, I wonder is it really just a matter of math and English knowledge?  Is that what makes one college and career ready?  Is math and English knowledge the same thing as what is taught at schools where the narrowing of curriculum to these discreet school-based subjects? Given the linkage between students' performance on ELA and math high stakes tests as a main means to evaluate teachers and the narrowing of curriculum is an unfortunate outcome that we can imagine will become more and more a reality.  

Just this past week, a letter sent to the parents of kindergarten children who attend Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, NY was featured in a Valerie Strauss post ("Kindergarten show canceled  so kids can keep studying to become 'college and career ready.' Really.") in the Washington Post.  The gist of the letter was an explanation to the parents for why the annual kindergarten play was being cancelled.  The acting principal and four kindergarten teachers wrote:
The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.

Simple? Perhaps not so.

It's easy to situate the educators as being less than informed--and yet, are they?   Or are they acting on a belief that the most direct route to being college and career ready is to practice only those things that most look like the test these children will be taking in a few years?  It is not the CCSS that will drive what matters most at school, but rather the tests that students will take in reading, writing and mathematics. How students are tested will in fact continue to inform what gets values at school.  Even for those who have only been on the planet for 60 or so months.

Nary a puddle or mud pile in sight. 

3. Future Career Readiness?

6 Drivers and the Skills needed in the next 10 years from here.
In  the report, Future Work Skills 2020, the authors analyze  6 "key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identify key work skills needed in the next 10 years." The authors make 5 recommendations based on their analysis for educational institutes to address. These include:
  1. Placing additional emphasis on developing skills such as critical thinking, insight, and analysis capabilities
  2. Integrating new-media literacy into education programs
  3. Including experiential learning that gives prominence to soft skills—such as the ability to collaborate, work in groups, read social cues, and respond adaptively
  4. Broadening the learning constituency beyond teens and young adults through to adulthood
  5. Integrating interdisciplinary training that allows students to develop skills and knowledge in a range of subjects 
Frey and Osborne (2013) in a recent study examined the percentage of current jobs that are vulnerable to computerization (they found 47% of US jobs are at risk)  and named the skills that future jobs would most entail.  They conclude:
Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skillworkers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation –i.e., tasks requiring creative and social intelligence. For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills (p. 45).
Inherent in both of these studies is that what we know as discrete cognitive skills of school are situated as being far more complex because these skills are modified by and modify the lived experience.  Critical thinking, insight and analysis are not merely done by the individual (as we test today)--but rather are composed within networks that are flexible, changing, and social. 

Nary a worksheet, multiple choice test, or prescribed essay  can be found. Tasks requiring creative and social intelligence are not context neutral. They are the fabric of networks, giving shape and definition to emerging thought.

A high school photographer documenting scene at Occupy Wall Street.

4. Creativity

In contrast to the singular focus on how we currently test students; knowledge of school-based mathematics as if students were context-free, Davies, et. al (2013) in a systematic review of 210 educational research, policy and professional literature texts relating to creative environments for learning in schools found, 
There is strong evidence from across the curriculum and age-range that where children and young people are given some control over their learning and supported to take risks with the right balance between structure and freedom, their creativity is enhanced (p. 78).   
Further, they were able to determine from the literature review that key factors that support creative skills development in children and young adults include: 
flexible use of space and time; availability of appropriate materials; working outside the classroom/school; ‘playful’ or ‘games-bases’ approaches with a degree of learner autonomy; respectful relationships between teachers and learners; opportunities for peer collaboration; partnerships with outside agencies; awareness of learners’ needs; and non-prescriptive planning (from here)
Underneath these conditions rests flexible and possible thinking.  The puddle and the mud pile offer children occasions for possibility thinking (Craft et al, 2012).  Practicing for future tests by mimicking the tests' contexts do not. In fact one might well argue that the constant practice of high stakes tests does much to limit and discourage thinking, especially possibility thinking.

Anna Craft, Linda McConnon and Alice Paige-Smith (2012) explain that possibility thinking "involves children making the transition ‘what is this?’ to ‘what can I or we do with this?’ as well as imagining ‘as if’ they were in a different role." Kind of like imagining the mud pile as an archaeological dig or the puddle as an ocean.  

The learning behaviors most essential to the development of creative thinking, especially possibility thinking are (Craft, et al, 2012): "stimulating and sustaining possibilities,  communicating possibilities, and children’s agency, roles and identities" (p. 16). The researchers note:
In both the outdoor and the indoor episode, the context was a playful and immersive one. Children's self-determination, imaginations, intentionality were all evident as were their innovative ideas and the questions which seemed to lead these (about which more below). Each episode revealed ‘what if’ and ‘as if’ behaviours blended together as children inhabit their narratives" (p. 16)
Children engaged in a dramatic rendering of text.
Inhabiting one's narrative ought to be a rallying cry regardless if the one has been here for 60 months or 200. Instead of bending learners to fit into the method most like the test, we need to occasion and fund public spaces of permission (via Monica Hardy) where ideas can form and mingle among people. 


Craft, Anna; McConnon, Linda and Paige-Smith, Alice (2012). Child-initiated play and professional creativity: enabling four-year-olds’ possibility thinking. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 7(1), pp. 48–61.

Davies, Dan; Jindal-Snape, Diva; Collier, Chris; Digby, Rebecca; Hay, Penny and Alan Howe. (2013). Creating learning environments in education: A systematic review of literature. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 8, pp. 80-91.

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