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The Joy of Ownership

The standard Carnegie Unit is defined as 120 hours of contact time with an instructor—i.e., one hour of instruction a day, five days a week, for 24 weeks, or 7,200 minutes of instructional time over the course of an academic year.

What really matters in today’s digitally enabled world is not the time you have “clocked in,” but the return on the investment of time that a student has made.The Carnegie Unit has been the dominant standard for the measurement of learning for decades. “It is good, right, and salutary to measure academic achievement by the numbers on a time clock,” said no one who lives in the 21st century. Now, the future may lay in the development of a “Gates Unit!” What really matters in today’s digitally enabled world is not the time you have “clocked in,” but the return on the investment of time that a student has made.

I wear a Fitbit®. It tells me the time and counts my steps, along with a number of other handy tidbits. On my morning dog walks, I measure the time. It is finite and consistent. The steps are another matter. Rollie is a sleek Giant Schnauzer. We can cover 4,000 steps in 25 minutes. Panda is a 168 pound St. Bernard. Often she will come to the front lawn, lay down for 15 minutes, and achieve fewer than 100 steps.

Clock hours are not the true measure of educational achievement. A student’s academic achievement, and therefore the value of their education, has three measures:

  1. What have they learned?
  2. What can they do?
  3. What have they experienced?

Students would need to take age-appropriate ownership of their learning. Teachers would need to relinquish the status as dispensers of all knowledge and become facilitators of the students’ initiative.Entering the age of Covid education on a Friday the 13th, our faculty asked, “What do we want students to learn?” And the follow up question, “How will they learn outside our presence?” It became clear that the change thrust upon us was a change in roles. Parents would need to become investors, not merely consumers. Students would need to take age-appropriate ownership of their learning. Teachers would need to relinquish the status as dispensers of all knowledge and become facilitators of the students’ initiative.

child with binocularsStudents would not reenter our building for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year. And yet our students could tell us, by their test scores and culminating activities, what new knowledge they had learned. Our state prohibits public school teachers from introducing new content. In a student’s dream come true, grades could only improve. But at Rockford Lutheran School, students earned credit for a spring semester of English. They continued to grow in the math sequence. For our students, history did not stand still. They grew in knowledge and understanding because they took ownership of their learning.

We were obviously onto something. If we could structure our lessons so that others could put them to use, it would be a real change. We developed a passion to grow into that change.

We soon determined that just as Guttenberg’s press was essential to the Reformation, educational software would be essential to the 21st century scholar. Of course, there are few new ideas that serve as the foundation of an educational philosophy. Our lessons would have objectives, assessments, and content. While all well-constructed lessons would have these components, the emphasis we placed on each would define our change.

Our approach is different from those accommodating the virus. Our emphases are on the resources that “teach” content. This is the dominant element of the strategy.

Content is everywhere in 2020. We have access to primary sources, YouTube lessons, PBS videos, Comedy Central monologues, and the recorded lessons of our teachers. There is more than one resource to demonstrate how to divide fractions or explain the causes of the American Civil War. Our job as facilitators is to collect resources and direct students to them.

Students who see content through varied lenses have the potential for deeper understanding and greater ability to apply resources toward achieving the daily objective.Students who see content through varied lenses have the potential for deeper understanding and greater ability to apply resources toward achieving the daily objective. In the past, teachers too often took a single approach, frequently teaching what their teachers had taught. We are more likely to have the same year of experience 20 times than to enrich our lessons with 20 years of experience.

Faculty members need to have a way to package their lessons under “grow lights” not in a dark expandable folder. In a radical shift, a teacher’s lesson will grow as students demonstrate that they have achieved the day’s objective. The excellent teacher will include student samplings in their resource file.

reading a bookHaving established that a student can unlock the mystery of learning using the teacher’s resources as a guide, the teacher then needs a tool to capture the lesson and nurture it.

At RLS we have found two software structures that support this changing role for teachers. At the elementary level Google Classroom® can include software like Flocabulary®, Virtual Field Trips, and MakeMusic®. In the 6–12 building, we have committed to the Canvas Learning Management System.

The intersection of our students’ interests and the curriculum takes us to new levels of learning. One in seven of our students have chosen to enroll in a program that includes some form of remote learning. Families have many reasons to desire the ability to customize their learning calendar and environment. Families are truly in charge of their own schedule.

As we grow into the change, parents come to understand their ongoing responsibility to direct and motivate their child. A discussion of what they want to do when they grow up will lead to course selections. Students will see that this education they have earned has value. It can be applied to the challenges of their lives now and as adults. Teachers’ joy will increase as they watch their lessons grow. The longer the list of resources for a lesson, the more ways a teacher will have to reach a student, developing the joy of the “ah ha” moment.

The change is the one constant. Let’s grab the opportunity to shape the change and grow it to the maximum potential for the sake of our families.

Don E. Gillingham is executive director at Rockford Lutheran School, Rockford, Ill.

Photos © iStock/Cliff Parnell, Chinnapong.