Walk through the forest, studying the leaves as one goes

“Forest” learning stems from large wonderings. “Leaf” education focuses a school’s curriculum on the leaves while (unintentionally) disregarding much of the forest.

Below are ten examples of rich, forest-based, senior wonderings from North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago. As students walk through the interdisciplinary and forested answers to their big questions, they must — and have a greater intrinsic desire to — learn about the leaves.

  1. How does sleep deprivation affect a nation’s economy?
  2. Does violence in the media affect violence in Chicago?
  3. Did the United States do enough to stop the Holocaust?
  4. Does school lunch affect school success?
  5. Do calculators inhibit math learning?
  6. Is intelligence a genetic trait?
  7. How will nanotechnology affect the human body?
  8. Was the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina adequate?
  9. In what ways are artists agents of change?
  10. What is the best way to prevent students from dropping out of school?

These leaves are the smaller skills measured by most standardized tests, discrete and necessary skills within reading, writing, grammar, etc. America’s push for accountability in education has developed leaf-based education, which, theoretically, is easier to quantitatively measure.  Linked are fifteen samples of these smaller, discrete skill test questions in the ACT English portion.

This is America’s great educational conundrum: at a time, now, when America’s economic efficacy and cultural vibrancy necessitate that students have enormous skill with the forest and the leaves, the efficacy of its schools (and teachers!) is measured solely by students’ skills with the leaves.

For this educator, the curriculum of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is cause for hope, for CCSS thoughtfully promotes students’ walking through the forest while studying the leaves.

Will the two separate assessments of CCSS, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC), effectively measure student proficiency with the forest and the leaves? Once these two assessment systems are in place across a majority of states, 2014-2015, will schools in those states be fairly assessed for their work with the forest and the leaves?

We’ll see…