The student: an asset to or a deficit within the learning process?

Hansel and Gretel

The student: an asset to or a deficit within the learning process?

Broadly, two mindsets have been competing for the direction of learning in America. Classic mindsets: the quantitative, data-driven mindset and the qualitative, human-driven mindset.

And, clearly, one mindset has been winning.

Equally clear is the pedagogical cost of that quantitative’s march toward elusive victory. Oh, and the psychological cost.

Data-informed teaching and learning should really matter. However, the cost of today’s data-driven teaching and learning is that administrators and teachers — those who want to keep their jobs — feel compelled to more-or-less teach to the test. This often mind-numbing pedagogy confuses the means (learning) with the ends (assessment of learning).

Further, this driven-by-test-data education alienates an increasingly vast swath of younger humans, those marginally invested to at-risk students. These are the students who, typically, are unmotivated by what the scores mean to themselves and indifferent to what their scores mean to society. These are also the students who most need to be connected to their learning.

The psychological cost of trying to drive learning in this as-measured-by-test-scores way is staggering, too. Those schools with lower test scores often come to understand themselves as deficit — not as privileged and liberated as those schools with bigger numbers. In fact, reflected in funding, categorization, and media treatment, society treats lower scoring schools as less deserving. (For the moment, please ignore the compelling correlation between standardized test scores and socioeconomic status; with restraint, this post is not about that.)

Deficit model psychology can imbue in the school community a profound lack of self-confidence and self-efficacy.

And, this “We are somehow deficit” psychology in schools becomes a license that is easily exploited. Granted by society, the license privileges externally designed curricula to “transform” the deficit school’s learning. For many reasons, our three decade march in this data-driven direction informs us that this external curricula approach has not been, is not, nor will it be the transformative solution.

So, is there a better pedagogy to bridge the gap between the agendas of the data-driven mindset — accountability — and the human-driven mindset — holistic human development? A pedagogy that does not base itself on lower test scores?

Yes. Asset-based learning.

In asset-based learning, the learners come to understand — and employ during the learning process — the assets they own. Cognitive, social, and emotional assets. Curiosity and creativity are two critical assets. Asset-based learning acknowledges, leverages, and challenges internal assets, such as curiosity and creativity, to “drive” increasingly more difficult learning toward the learner’s mastery.

Self-confidence emerges, however gradually, from the realization that these internal assets are molting into wider, increasingly more powerful skill sets through engaging increasingly more challenging work. All the while, the teacher guides and expects the best from each learner.

Thus, the learner’s evolving self-confidence and hard work yield cognitive, social, and emotional skill sets for life. The learner owns them — for life.

So, how are “Deficit Model” education and “Asset-based” learning different from one another?

Asset-based learning encourages local and individualized design of learning — if aligned to the accepted academic standards; invites the learner’s assets to drive the learning process; and facilitates a holistic evaluation process, which may include standardized testing.

Doing so, asset-based learning eliminates confusing the means (learning) with the ends (assessment of learning).

Consequently, asset-based learning bridges the chasm between the quantitative, data-driven mindset and the qualitative, human-driven mindset:

Start with the unique and extraordinary young humans, engage their assets, and the data of success will follow, no matter how it is measured!

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