Using skills/content knowledge as soon as they are taught

Traditionally, we have educated our young by giving them knowledge or skills and letting them practice until we think they have mastered it. Then we test them on it and give them feedback about how they did.  This allows us to categorize them based on their response but what else does it give us…and them? Certainly, a type of learning happens but is it the best type?  Does it make learning fun and interesting?  It seems  that a more fruitful approach might be to apply that knowledge or those skills to something meaningful and “real” as soon as they are taught.  I realize that this isn’t always possible; sometimes you need to learn basic building blocks before you move on, and of course there are some concepts where it might be very difficult to imagine what a “real” project would look like.  I imagine that if we tried though, we could do it more often than we have.

I’ve been teaching technology and  video production for the past several years.  These fields allow you to develop projects that allow students to utilize technique and skills immediately after they are taught.  At least, I think these fields allow one to think of these a bit easier than traditional courses like math or science.  Want to learn how to build a web page…ok, here are the tools, now build one.  Want to make a movie.  Here is the process…piece by piece…now make one.  It sounds simple, but I imagine if we thought about different ways we could do this with history, math, science and language, we might be able to provide different approaches to learning.  Perhaps we need to be even more explicit with students about when we need to teach building blocks.

The SMI is a perfect example of these kinds of projects.  We do not wait for mastery of content…We move forward with production as though the students are ready to produce using their own thoughts.  We talk about craft, art, technique, technical skill, but also feel that these cannot be fully realized until they are put to practice.  We give the content knowledge and skills and have the students develop projects using these, in their own voice.