I’ve been thinking recently about the difference between the principles of an idea and how that idea functions in the classroom; the difference between theory and practice. Conversations about education, especially those in popular media, tend to make broad generalizations on principle without ground-truthing to figure out how an idea plays out with real live teachers and students.
The principles of personalized learning, that one-size-fits-all education does not meet the needs of every student, are undoubtedly true. But in practice, that idea often functions to put students in front of computers for long periods of time, creating lifeless classroom where learning is reduced to spreadsheets and joy is sucked from the room.
The principles of Understanding by Design are useful to organize purposeful curriculum. But in practice, that idea often functions to require teachers to write an objective or enduring understanding on the board, without actually engaging with backwards design or creating a more meaningfully sequenced curriculum.
The principles of constructivism, that students must create their own meaning of new ideas, communicate something true about human cognition. But in practice, that idea often functions to ask students to figure everything out themselves and withhold necessary supports in the name of inquiry, a pedagogy that exacerbates inequities by hurting previously low-performing students the most.
The principles of mindset research, that growth or fixed mindsets have a large influence on future learning, are sound. But in practice, that idea often functions to reduce mindset thinking to platitudes about praising effort rather than ability, platitudes that are often hollow and certainly insufficient to the challenging task of changing mindsets.
These are just a few examples; I could go on. My point is that I have worked to practice this type of thinking; when I hear an idea in education, I try to stay just as curious about the broader principles as about how it functions in classrooms with the imperfections of teachers and the fickle nature of learning.