Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Dreams from the Dojang:
On Less Teaching, More Feedback, and Goals of Consequence

First published in Mr Brett’ Clark’s Education Dreamer: 12 Days of Dreaming Series

I am in training to become a martial artist.
In this goal I will face many challenges.
I dedicate myself to face them with honor, respect, and modesty.
I pledge that on this journey not only will I train my body to be strong, agile and flexible but
I will focus on being a Taekwondo practitioner with self-control desire and discipline.
These ideals and all aspects of my training are my responsibility to learn.
Student Oath, Master P.L. Edwards, Exceptional Taekwondo Center, White Plains, N.Y

Black Belt photo

Some of my best professional learning happens at the Taekwondo Dojang. As I train, I learn – not only about martial arts, but also about education, or more accurately, about learning. I’m not the strongest, the most agile or the most flexible – not by a long shot. Most of the other students are younger and more physically fit than I. Yet, with perseverance and good humor, I have earned my black belt. I have learned.

My successes are a direct result of a learning environment with less teaching, more feedback, a focus on core values, and a plethora of meaningful learning activities, serving both as practice and then as formative assessments that demonstrate to me progress toward my own goals. Some of my goals are significant (to become a martial artist); others are of ultimate consequence (to strive for excellence in all areas of my life), while many are small and specific (i.e. to turn my hip more to extend my reach in a kick.) Achieving my goals involves much more feedback than teaching and the responsibility for learning is entirely my own, although I benefit both from the skilled coaching of the master instructors and from the collegial support of the other students. It’s a learning environment I dream about for our K-12 schools.

Less teaching; more feedback, recommendations offered by Grant Wiggins in Seven Keys to Effective Feedback sounds simple on the surface, yet I believe represents an educational paradigm shift of potentially seismic proportions. Indeed, Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really., Wiggins declares in his blog. He advocates a focus, not only on content knowledge, but rather on learning to perform in the world and even more, on learning “not just to know things – but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense.” Performing well trumps content knowledge and striving to fulfill core values and make a positive impact is ultimately what performing well entails.

The shift to a focus on less teaching and more feedback grounded in core values will require thoughtful reflection. Synthesizing more than 900 educational meta-analyses, researcher John Hattie has found the average effect size of feedback to be a remarkable 0.79, which is twice the average effect of all other schooling effects. Indeed, Hattie found feedback to be among the top ten influences on achievement. But there is a caveat. While feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn, its effects vary considerably. (Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition)

To give effective feedback, we’ll need to understand what effective feedback is and what effective feedback is not. The insight may surprise. Feedback, according to Grant Wiggins in Seven Keys to Effective Feedback, isn’t grades for students. It isn’t evaluations for professionals. It isn’t praise. It isn’t constructive critique. It isn’t advice. Rather, “feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.”

I am dreaming of a K-12 educational system that functions more like the Dojang with less teaching, more feedback, and goals of consequence. The journey toward fulfilling that dream will not be easy. Much will shift and change. Yet, at the same time much will remain the same.

We’ll need to envision education anew – shifting our focus from teaching to learning; from curriculum to feedback on practice; from standards to core values. These shifts will require us to think differently about potential ways of utilizing learning spaces, schedules, personnel, student groupings, and technology in order to improve the quality of learning. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and will require collaborative, creative exploration and dreaming.

We’ll need at the same time to consider what must not change, but instead remain grounded in enduring core values. It will be vital to set goals of ultimate consequence connected to our core values and to identify clearly many specific benchmarks along the way to these aspirational goals. The journey will stretch us beyond standards and move us from a primary focus on what students need to know, or even on what students need to be able to do, to an emphasis on who students are becoming – individuals of character and moral grounding prepared to strive to make a positive impact in their communities and in the broader society.

I am dreaming of less teaching, more feedback, goals of consequence, and the society children who emerge from such an educational system will together be able to create. I invite you to dream with me and share your perspectives on ways of moving forward.

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Comments on: "Dreams From The Dojang" (2)

  1. Jamie Neibling said:

    I too am an educator and a martial artist (2nd degree black belt in Taekwondo). Your post spoke to my philosophy of learning and life! As a classroom teacher, and now an instructional coach, I apply the lessons learned in the dojang to my daily life and to my classroom/coaching. I have also said that if I could somehow figure out how to implement the differentiation, feedback, mastery learning, sense of cooperation and achievement in my classroom that is present in the training hall, the type of learning that my students would experience would be incredible! Here’s to the dream and the work that will make it a reality!

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Jamie,
      I would love to continue this conversation! I see so many connections between the style of learning in martial arts and instructional coaching; goal setting, collaboration, modeling, differentiation within a mixed ability learning environment, providing feedback, focus on enduring values, celebrating successes and building further on strengths. I welcome you to participate in #educoach, a weekly chat I co-moderate on twitter on the topic of instructional coaching. We meet every Wednesday at 10 PM Eastern time. Our #educoach chats focus on many of the topics you stress as central to your philosophy. Whether or not you are able to join the chat, I hope to find a variety of opportunities that work for you to continue to share our learning!

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