A hundred years ago “progressive pedagogy” advocates like John Dewey, Francis Parker, and Jean Piaget urged a child-centric educational system in order to assure full participation in and maintenance of a democratic society. Their admonishments have particular resonance for America’s hierarchical, test-obsessed educational system today. What are we doing to prepare our young people to accept responsibility for preservation of our robust democracy? A 9th grade civics class? A general math class that explains how to prepare income tax forms? As we reflect upon our own classroom pedagogy, how might we respond to these departed educational luminaries in terms of their six agreed upon progressive practices.
1. Is there an equal balance between our student’s emotional development and their academic/intellectual achievement? How much time do we spend on social communication, conflict resolution, and collaborative dialogue? How much on lesson delivery, lecture presentation, and note-taking?
2. Does our curriculum rely on student interest to inform delivery? How much of what we teach capitalizes on student’s interests and passions? Are we familiar enough with our school’s prescribed curriculum so that we can exploit ‘teachable moments’ and turn them into curriculum connections?
3. How much do we rely on individual competition; on grading, ranking, testing? What types of formative assessment might be designed to capture the process of learning? What types of summative assessment might be designed to represent social as well as academic growth?
4. How much time do our students spend off campus engaged in community service or visiting sites and agencies linked to ongoing student inquiry? How can the greater community provide support for these trips? What types of follow-up activities will assure connection between the visit and the curricular inquiry that spawned them?
5. How has our school addressed the issue of curriculum integration? How can we modify daily schedules to allow cross-curricular inquiry? What types of activities might be devised to assure cross-curricular connections? What types of assessment instruments might be designed to describe student learning that crosses core disciplines?
6. How do we address issues of social justice, equity/equality, and cultural difference during the school day? How do we engage students in the democratic process in meaningful ways? How might we help students participate on a deeper level with these moral-compass issues?
Little & Ellison outline these 6 core strategies as the underpinnings of progressive pedagogy in their 2015 book Loving Learning. As I read I wonder just how much radical change would our schools have to undergo before they can be realized? I believe, with administrative support, changes that will transform our school-age populations can happen rather quickly and with little to no cost. It’s time to get started. Our democratic way of life depends on it.