Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Avoiding waste in education
One of the best ways to improve what you do is to avoid waste. But what constitutes waste in education?
Wasted degrees. When my wife graduated from college with her teaching degree in 1971, there was a glut of teachers in the market. It had to do in part with demographics. Baby Boomers were coming out of college in large Baby Boomer numbers but there were now fewer students in the K12 schools. Could the school districts and education schools see this demographic change coming? Of course. Did the ed schools warn students against becoming teachers? Nope. Was there waste? You bet! The majority of newly graduating teachers had to find employment somewhere other than education.
Wasted courses. I once took a graduate course that was of no value to me or anyone else in the class: abstract algebra. Abstract algebra may be of value to mathematicians, I don't know. But it was a required course for grad students in computer science where I did my master's work. So here was an entire classroom full of us studying a course that had absolutely nothing to do with computing, programming, algorithms or anything else relevant to us. It was a waste of a lot of time for a lot of people. Years later I was invited back to that school to give a lecture. While I was with the head of the department I asked him why we were required to take abstract algebra. He said he didn't know. It made no sense to him.
Failed courses. When a student spends time in a course for a semester or a year and fails it, it is a dreadful waste of the student's time and the teacher's time too. How can this waste be avoided? The best approach is early diagnosis of a problem and intervention.
Poorly learned units. A common mode of teaching is to cover a unit of material then give a test at the end and move on to the next unit. But what if a student didn't learn it? Well, he gets a bad grade. He should have worked harder. That's a waste of time. There are few things more productive than giving formative assessments along the way and modifying the teaching based on their results. It makes little sense to plow forward if the students aren't getting it.
Reinventing lessons. There is a lot of repetition in teaching year to year. If you taught algebra one last year and are going to teach it this year, those two courses obviously are very similar. One of the most startling things to me when I work with schools who use our lesson planning product is that many teachers resist making lesson plans! What a waste of time reinventing a set of lesson year after year.
Repeating mistakes. One of the benefits of a set of well organized lesson plans is the opportunity to make improvements daily. Teach a class, then at the end of the day reflect on what went well and what needs work in the lesson plan. Fix it immediately while the memory is fresh in mind. Don't repeat your mistakes!
Working in isolation. Teachers sometimes feel isolated and alone in their classrooms. That's ridiculous! There are teachers throughout the country teaching exactly what you are teaching. There may be many teachers in your own school teaching exactly what you are teaching. Why not work together? And it goes beyond content. Whether you're being frustrated by problems of classroom management or getting through to a particular student, the same problems have been addressed countless times by other teachers. Don't go it alone.
Small scale inefficiencies. When you first saw the title Avoiding waste in education, you may have thought of such things as ways to save paper, ways to avoid having misbehaving students sitting in the office or ways to save some time through a particularly efficient method of passing out papers. These are examples of small-scale waste. They are very important because they rob students of time-on-task. It is worthwhile to identify them and root them out! Just don't miss the big picture.
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continuous improvement, waste