Wagner (2008) discusses student motivation, examples of specific schools that are closing the global achievement gap and a few steps schools can take to also close the gap in the last few chapters of The Global Achievement Gap. The tone of these last few chapters were not as critical of teachers, and provided some useful insights for moving forward to improve schools.
Wagner, through his research and interviews, explains that students are motivated by different things in the Net Generation. “Students are increasingly impatient with the lecture style of learning and the reliance on textbooks for information and crave more class discussions” (Wagner, 2008, p.178). Students have access to information at their fingertips with the internet, so learning from a book or lecture does not motivate them. Instead, they want to focus on the process of learning instead of on content. This has all changed due to technology. Students now have a different mindset about learning and as teachers we need to change the way we teach to support their needs. Wagner argues that some basic skills still need to be taught in elementary education to provide a basis of knowledge. For example, he suggests that students still need to memorize their times tables. I disagree on this point. I teach fifth grade and one of the biggest hurdles for many of my students is knowing their multiplication facts. Having students memorize them through drills and repetition doesn’t do any good. Students don’t learn well that way. My second year of teaching I came up with songs for all the multiples. I teach my students these songs as an alternative way to memorizing facts. Are they still memorizing their multiples? Yes. The only reason why my students need to know them is they need to be able to multiply for future math lessons. I think it is more important that students know what multiplication is and when and why they should use it, not memorize facts.
Aside from memorizing multiplication facts, Wagner makes great points about motivating students to learn. He states “They have to be interactive producers, not isolated consumers” (Wagner, 2008, p.187). Students need to be challenged, given opportunities to explore their interests and, most importantly, are allowed to fail. Schools who provide this type of learning experience are High Tech High, The Met, and Francis W. Parker. These schools teach students through project-based inquiry learning. Students participate in internships and are not tracked by ability or given letter grades. Teachers have one year contracts, do not achieve tenure, are judged by the quality of their students’ work, and team-teach together with multiple opportunities for professional development. These are the schools Wagner argues are closing the global achievement gap. He goes on to provide steps on how teachers can close the global achievement gap at other schools, but many of the steps are lofty and overwhelming. An individual teacher, like myself, could not attempt to achieve these goals. He suggests districts reevaluate their strategic planning. This is a lofty goal that is not achieved easily by a classroom teacher. I was hoping for more in-class practical applications on how to close the global achievement gap.
Overall, this book was an interesting read, but I did not feel inspired as an educator after finishing. I felt embarrassed, overwhelmed and saddened by Wagner's description of the state of our education system. I think most people would agree that education needs to change, but this book simply pointed out all the problems, with the teachers being the main culprit, and provided three extreme examples of schools who are closing the achievement gap. As a leader, I think it is important to not only see the things that need to be improved, but come up with ways on how to change them. Anyone can critique the education system and find all the things wrong with it. It takes a leader to step up to the plate and offer some practical first steps on how to fix it.
Technology continues to change the learning environment inside the classroom. Wagner explains that learning should not focus on the content as much as the process of learning. This is something that technology can fully support. Technology allows for personalization of learning by allowing students to construct their own understanding of concepts through research and collaboration with others. This should be the main focus to close the global achievement gap in classrooms. We should lessen the focus on content. Even with the Common Core State Standards, the content is highly emphasized. Common Core is a step in the right direction because students now have to use critical thinking and problem solving to learn, but they are still learning a lot of content. We should be focusing on real world problems that are happening in our community. Our students should be allowed to create products for authentic audiences. These are all small steps we can take in the classroom to help close the achievement gap and prepare students for college and/or their careers. As a leader, I want to shift the way I teach to provide more time for this kind of learning. Sharing my work with other teachers and participating in online professional development through my PLN will allow me to achieve these goals. I have already learned about many different ideas on how I will be changing my teaching for this coming year. I will not focus on the problems, as Wagner does, but focus on how to take baby steps to achieve the goals we want. This is what makes a great leader and I hope I can make a difference with my students.
Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap. Why even our best schools don't teach the
new survival skills our children need - and what we can do about it. New York, New
York: Basic Books.