Progressive Education
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Archived-Articles: The Toxic Influence of Progressive Education Schools on K-12 Curricula

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Progressive Education

articles by alfie kohn
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Alfie Kohn wrote this insightful publication about progressive education, and the title is “Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also hard to Find.” Kohn’s first line states, “If progressive education doesn’t lend itself to a single fixed definition, that seems fitting in light of its reputation for resisting conformity and standardization. Within the scope of progressive educators, some focus on the unique needs of individual students, while others invoke the importance of a community of learners. Some describe learning as a process, more of a journey than the destination itself, while others believe that tasks should result in authentic products that can be shared. Although there are prominent variations, there are quite a few elements that most progressive educators agree on so that there can be a common core of progressive education. He discusses the fact that both traditional and progressive are combinations of each other, both pulling from each other. He states, “It’s not all or nothing… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school—even one with scripted instruction, uniforms, and rows of desks bolted to the floor—that has completely escaped the influence of progressive ideas. Nor have I seen a school that’s progressive in every detail.” He believes that schools can be characterized according to how closely they reflect a commitment to values such as: attending to the whole child, community, collaboration, social justice, intrinsic motivation, deep understanding, active learning, and taking kids seriously. He goes into detail for each value according to how they are reflected in progressive education. He then explains that although some features listed may seem unsettling to educators at traditional schools, others will be familiar and ones they follow themselves.

            Additionally, Kohn argues that progressive educators do not merely say that they endorse these ideas like “love of learning” or “sense of community.” They are willing to “put these values into practice even if doing so requires them to up-end traditions… They will question things like honors classes and award assemblies that clearly undermine a sense of community.” He states that progressive schools follow their core values, formed through research and experience, wherever they lead.

            After this explanation of what progressive education is, he discusses what it is not. Kohn argues that there are misconceptions about progressive education that typically take two forms: “Either it is defined too narrowly so that the significance of the change it represents is understated, or else an exaggerated, caricatured version is presented in order to justify dismissing the whole approach.” For example, one mistake based on too narrow a definition is that the assumption that schools that are culturally progressive makes them educationally progressive. Kohn argues that a school can be committed to diversity, peace, etc., but still remain traditional in its pedagogy. An example of an exaggerated version of progressive education he states is the “tendency to paint progressive education as a touchy-feely, loosey-goosey, fluffy, fuzzy, undemanding exercise in leftover hippie idealism.” He says that in this version of progressive education, children are free to do anything they please, the curriculum can consist of whatever is fun, and learning is thought to happen automatically while teachers just sand by. He argues that this image ahs very little to do with progressive education.

            Kohn concludes by discussing why progressive education makes sense and why it is rare. From his research studying preschools and high schools, “open classrooms,” “student-centered” education, teaching consistent with constructivist accounts of learning, democratic classrooms, multiage instruction, cooperative learning and authentic assessment (including the abolition of grades), he has found that the results overwhelmingly favor progressive education. He explains the rarity of progressive education is due to how many schools actually merit that label and to the fact that the higher the grade level, the more rare such teaching tends to be. He states that it is not even all that prevalent at lower grades.

            This article was very eye opening to the details of progressive education. After our speaker from the Sheridan school discussed their school’s form of progressive education, I became very interested in the topic of progressive education. I thought the title of progressive education meant the same thing from progressive school to progressive school, but now I can see that there can be many variations. Progressive education is just a different type of pedagogy that can be used, molded, and fitted to each school that uses it. The molding depends on what the teachers find works and what does not work for the students of each school. It is hard to define progressive education with one definition. Just like students, progressive education can have variations from school to school as each school finds themselves. It seems that overly progressive education is the combination of traditional education in some ways with more concern over student interests, multiculturalism, active learning, and taking the children seriously. I am very interested to learn more about progressive education, and hopefully in the future I am able to visit some progressive schools so that I can experience the differences. Maybe one day I will teach at a progressive school. In a way, this type of education to me seems ideal seeing as how the students are the main concern. 

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Differences Between Traditional and Progressive Education

Differences Between Traditional and Progressive Education | Progressive Education | Scoop.it
Differences Between Traditional and Progressive Education
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This page provides a chart that recognizes the differences between traditional and progressive education that was pulled from the Independent Schools magazine. The chart describes the approach that teachers at one progressive school, Wingra School, strive for. Some differences include: school is preparation for life for traditional education, but it is a part of life for progressive education; learners are passive absorbers of information and authority in traditional education, but are active participants, problem solvers, and planners in progressive education; instruction is liner and largely based on correct answer in traditional education, but it is related to central questions and inquiry, often generated by the children in progressive education; and, school is a task to be endured in traditional education, but is a challenging and fun part of life in progressive education.

            Although I agreed with some of the differences, I feel overall this is extremely opinion based and does not represent all traditional and progressive schools. It is not fair to compare the two educations in this way, and to mainly be trying to put down traditional education. The statements for traditional education were mostly harsh and exaggerated. For example, the last one mentioned about school being a task to be endured in traditional education is pretty harsh. Not all educators and students who attend traditional schools would agree with that. Just because you go to a traditional school does not mean you will automatically hate it and you will just be wishing until you are out of the system. In some instances, that is the case though, but you cannot make that sweeping generalization. I guess I was slightly offended by some of these statements just because I have attended traditional schooling my entire life and I do not agree with all of these statements. The chart makes it seem like progressive education “wins” and is so much better than traditional education; traditional education is lacking and should be switched with progressive education. At first, I almost felt this way, but now that I have read this chart and it seems like traditional education was being put down, I believe both forms of education have their own effective qualities. I have to learn more about progressive education before completely reaching my own opinion about which form is more effective. 

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What We Do | The Putney School

What We Do | The Putney School | Progressive Education | Scoop.it
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The Putney School is a progressive, secondary school for boarding and day students on a farm in Vermont. Their vision is that education is something to be actively pursued rather than passively received. They “teach to the whole individual, through discussion-based humanities class, the scientific discovery method, extensive artistic opportunities, and a student-lead work program.” The teachers use methods that allow students to construct their own understand, rather than receive it from the front of the room, and require them to learn how to ask good questions, rather than just answer questions from others. Twice a year the students have to design and carry out to independent projects of their own creation as well. The students are not taught leadership, but rather they practice it and learn it through experience.

            The mission statement is as follows: “The Putney School stands for a way of life. Putney is committed to developing each student's full intellectual, artistic and physical potential. Putney students are encouraged to challenge themselves intellectually, to pursue rigorous learning for its own sake, to actively participate in and appreciate the arts, to contribute meaningfully to the work program that sustains the school community and the farm on which it is located, to engage in vigorous athletics, and to develop a social consciousness and world view that will provide the foundation for life-long moral and intellectual growth.”

            One page on the school’s website discusses progressive education and how the school is a progressive school. It states that progressive schools value diversity of thought and culture, as well as a commitment to equity and justice. At the school, they have a program that fosters personal initiative and adaptability, engaging in all parts of a student’s development, not just the academic part. As the website states, “The culture embodies respect for the individual and the rewards of participation in community.” The school does not teach to Advanced Placement or other standardized tests and they explain that they made this choice because their goal is to teach students how to define good questions, how to research and analyze, and how to present their thinking in coherent and compelling ways, which cannot be measured by standardized tests.

            After exploring the schools website and learning more about the Putney School I find this school to be very interesting. I would love to be able to observe a school such as this one to how a typical day works and what the teachers do day to day. This school is obviously much different from the Sheridan School, and from what I think of when I hear the phrase “progressive school”. This school makes education a prominent part of the students’ lives, especially those that live at the school. Their school is their family and community. This is a very interesting form of schooling and form of progressive education. It seems to be very hand-on and learning through self-discovery and experience. There explanation as to why they do not use standardized tests was a good argument and one that I agree with. Standardized tests are not measuring what students have learned and what they have gotten out of their education. Students should be able to learn through their own discoveries around them and through their own experiences. They will learn to love education more and will enjoy learning on a daily basis. 

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An Introduction to Progressive Education Lab (PEL) - YouTube

Progressive Education Lab is a two-year teacher training program that prepares new teachers to become powerful educators and agents of change in the professi...
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let the children play: Progressive Education

let the children play: Progressive Education | Progressive Education | Scoop.it
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This page on progressive education can be found on the blog “Including Play Outside,” and an early childhood teacher, Jenny, who works at a progressive preschool in Australia created it. Her blog provides insights of progressive education, her experiences teaching, and resources/links to more information and pages about progressive education. Her page discussing progressive education in detail references Alfie Kohn and his beliefs on the matter, which can be found in one of my earlier scoops. Jenny offers posts that provide lesson plans, activity ideas, and more for teachers and parents alike. She splits up what she offers in terms of literacy, creative thinking, and imagining and pretending, music, and more.

            This blog is very helpful and insightful. I really enjoyed exploring the different pages and reading about different activities and lessons I could use in the future. Blogs such as this one are comforting and beneficial. Coming from someone with experience and who has tried the ideas they post on their blogs, I can trust what they have on their blogs and learn form these individuals. Jenny includes pictures of her activities in action with her students, which makes you feel like you are actually there. You have your own personal visit to the school through her blog. I can tell her, and the school she teaches at, variation of progressive is learning through discovery, and especially through the outdoors. I enjoy this perspective and she has had success with her lesson plans and activities. Her students are truly enjoying school and learning much from discovery and playing outside.

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How Progressive Education Gets It Wrong | Hoover Institution

How Progressive Education Gets It Wrong | Hoover Institution | Progressive Education | Scoop.it
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This is an opinion piece written by Williamson M. Evers who believes that the progressive education invented by John Dewey a hundred years ago was “wrong then and hasn’t gotten better.” Evers discusses the creation of progressive education and how it draws from the Romantic era in Western Europe. He states that according to the Romantic notion, “children can and should learn all things naturally.” Children are naturally curious about everything and learning new things excites children. “Children are like flowering plants. If they are just planted into good soil (a good learning environment), they will naturally grow and blossom.” Evers then discusses Dewey and says that Dewey believed children are natural learners with impulses to inquire. The “center of gravity” of a classroom according to Dewey should lie only within “the immediate instincts and activities of the child.” Evers states that the basis of progressive education stems from the idea that
“people can only learn things and understand them when they discover them for themselves.”

            Evers provides statements from critics of progressive education, like William C. Bagley. Bagley believes that “replacing systematic and sequential learning and putting in its place “activities” would defeat the most important ends of education in democracy. Specifically, the objective of attaining “as high a level of common culture as possible.” Evers states that the two alternatives to progressive approach are direct instruction or explicit teaching. He backs up these approaches with results that have shown their effectiveness. He gives an example as to where progressive education would lack. He argued that children are not naturally curious about learning the multiplication tables or long division, and they have to learn them through explicit guidance and through drill and practice. Evers believes that “disciplined study and books are needed to banish ignorance and instill knowledge. To ascertain whether students have mastered the material, students need to take tests, do homework, and write reports that are their own individual work. They likewise need to respond in class individually (and not just as a representative of a cooperative learning group) to questions posed by the teacher. Evers then provides the “good and the bad” of progressive education by stating what it does well, but then showing how it still lacks when compared to nonprogressive education.

            This piece was very interesting to read. I did not know what exactly to expect out of a piece criticizing progressive education, which I believe is the ideal form of education. I felt like Evers was pretty heated when discussing how “wrong” progressive education is, and he based his opinion off of the Romanticism version of progressive education. That version, as mentioned in Alfie Kohn’s article, is an exaggerated version of progressive education. Progressive education as seen today is not completely based off of the Romantic era. Personally, I also do not agree with what Evers finds to be effective teaching. He brought up points such as testing being necessary to see if they have mastered the material and they must learn through disciplined study and books to “banish ignorance and instill knowledge.” I do not agree with this in the slightest. That is a very restrictive form of education that may “instill knowledge,” but it will not instill the love for learning that knowledge. I find that important because children need to enjoy going to school and learning. If they do not love learning, what is the point of going to school? If their interests are not being met and they are just forced to do drills, practice, study, and test, they will not enjoy education in the slightest. I was slightly unsettled and offended by his attack on progressive education, but I know there are critics of everything in life and everyone should be able to voice their opinions. I just did not agree with his completely, and my opinion on progressive education was not changed after reading this piece, just evermore confirmed. 

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Is the Common Core an Attack on Progressive Education?

Is the Common Core an Attack on Progressive Education? | Progressive Education | Scoop.it
When we insist on measuring the performance of students with cognitive disabilities by giving them a curriculum that is beyond their reach and assessments we know that developmentally they will be unable to read, we are setting everyone up for...
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This article from the “Innovative Educator” blog discusses the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how many see it as a movement away from progressive, personalized, child-center learning. The author of this article, Lisa Nielsen, argues that the CCSS approach is a “back-to-basics” approach that groups kids by “date of manufacture and teaching them all the same thing at the same time regardless of their developmental or language differences… In other words, it sets them up for failure.” She believes CCSS is the foundation of a movement that will “not only cause students with special needs to fail, but also sets up all school-aged children to see their futures narrowed. This means they will be set up not only to fail in school, but they will also struggle to be successful in an increasingly complex world.”

            I do agree with Nielsen’s beliefs on this matter, because I feel that Common Core will only restrict both students and teachers alike through enforcing harsh requirements that must be met in each grade by the end of the year. It pushes for the whole “teach to the test” concept that leaves teachers with no time but to try to teach children what they need to know to pass all the standardized tests, because within those scores lie the fate of the teachers. The scores are the only thing that reflect how well a teacher is doing and if he/she is effective or not. Progressive education is not about testing and strict requirements. Although I do remember that the speaker from the Sheridan School said that they do go by Common Core but also incorporate multicultural education and allow the students to have more choices based on their interests. So I can see how a combination of Common Core and progressive education could be effective. Overall, I do believe that Common Core will cause unbeneficial restrictions for the teachers and students and does not have a more progressive perspective in mind. 

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Sheridan School

Sheridan School | Progressive Education | Scoop.it
Camille Cocca's insight:

After our speaker came to our class from this school, I was very interested in this school. It seems like a school I could see myself working at and truly loving my job every day. I love the idea of the teachers still learning and growing along side the students. That is very important to me, because once I am a teacher I do not want to stop learning myself. The learning process is infinite and I can learn just as much from the students as they learn from me. I would love to continue learning through taking addtional classes as well and growing as a teacher. The school incorporates Common Core standards and multicultural education through a student-centered curriculum, and I would love to go see this school in action. Before the speaker came to talk to us, I did not know about progressive education. Once I heard about it and now have looked into it more through my scoop it, I am very interested and would love to apply to be a teacher at a progressive school in my future. 

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Progressive Education.mov - YouTube

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This video discussed the history and creation of progression education. It discussed Pestalozzi and Frobel, who were progressive education advocates and both believed that learning should come from the interests and the needs of the child. They believed that the most appropriate curriculum is an activity based one that encourages children to express themselves freely and creatively. They wanted to incorporate nature studies, field trips, art, and social activities, all while keeping the child at the center of the curriculum. The video states that John Dewey is said to be the spokesperson for the progressive education era. Dewey wanted to get rid of the rigid, subject-centered curriculum in favor of a child-centered curriculum. Finally the video mentions that the Progressive Education Association was founded in 1919 and created seven guiding principles: the child’s freedom should develop naturally, interest provides motivation for all work, the teacher acts as a guide in the learning process, the scientific study of pupil development, greater attention to everything that affects the child’s physical development, call for cooperation between he school and home in meeting the natural interests and activities of the child, and the progressive school should be a leader in educational movements. Creative self-expression is at the center of progressive education.

            This video was very insightful and easy to follow. I learned much about the history of progressive education in more detail. I learned some of the same things in my other scoops pertaining to the history of the progressive education movement. The more and more I read about the concept and the ideology behind progressive education, the more I find myself feeling like it is the ideal form of education. I cannot argue with the pedagogy presented by progressive education. I am a firm believer in a child-centered curriculum, because education should be solely about the individual child and his/her growth. My other scoop it topics of gender identification, banning and censorship, and social justice education can all play a role in progressive education. This form of education is open and provides an environment safe for students to learn and find themselves freely. Progressive education would be open to any gender identification, they would not agree with restricting the student of reading books that are of interest to them, and they incorporate social justice and multicultural education in some cases. Progressive education is a beautiful combination of traditional education methods and more forward thinking methods that creates an education geared towards the students and their personal interests and growth. Progressive education wants to instill the love of learning and knowledge in children so that they can take it with them and use that love in their futures. 

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The Living Classroom

The Living Classroom | Progressive Education | Scoop.it
“Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~John Dewey
Camille Cocca's insight:

This is another blog like the Let the Children Play blog that offers videos that a teacher recorded of her students at a progressive school. It also provides descriptions of activities they take part in on a daily basis and explains how to go about them. This blog is very beneficial and helpful for teachers. The activities and schooling is student-centered based, as mentioned in the progressive education video scoop from earlier. The students get to choose what they do based on their own interests and they learn from discovery and experience. I really enjoyed exploring this blog and feeling like I was there at the school from watching the videos. I could see myslef teaching at a school such as the one shown on the blog. 

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