Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Caution: contains content

It's a familiar problem: kids think all essay questions are actually the same question. Give them a set of 12 to choose from and whichever one they pick they will invariably interpret as, 'what can you recall about (topic x)?' Then they respond accordingly; with a spew of random facts about said topic and not much else.

Hence the danger of focusing too tightly on 'covering content' in our syllabus. Content is a drug we push and the kids are our willing dopeheads. Being able to memorize content gets them high because they can sense a tangible outcome from the effort expended in hoarding up this precious resource only we, the gurus on the mountain-top, can provide.

What gets them down-to-earth again is when they try to recall in an essay what we had indulgently doled out to them in class, but for their written effort we fail them for 'not answering the question'. Because they fail (at least to meet their own expectations) they crave more content, so we give them more content and it's a never ending cycle.

Conclusion: having as much content knowledge as a kid's brain can store never helped a kid answer an essay question satisfactorily. In GP (and I suspect in any other essay-based exam) the test isn't on what a kid can recall per se, but on how well the kid can use what he can recall in the most appropriate and succinct way. Therefore, by first learning the skill of addressing an essay question, the kid can make the best use of what little content knowledge he has and bring it all to bear on answering the question. Of course, the more content he has, the better substantiated his answer will be, but at least he knows how to answer the question regardless.

I'm saying this because our current kid demographic has to fulfill higher expectations than ever. In the not-too-distant-past, we were happy that they could even pass. Given enough content, most could scrape through get by. But today, our kids expect A/B 'quality grades' -- and they're capable of meeting those expectations with the right kind of training.

It's back to the old drawing board for us to design out methods that don't work for today's expectations even if they had worked well enough yesterday; and design in new methods that are needed for a new breed of kids with new expectations.

Cutting edge industry, we are!

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