As a teacher starting out in the ’90s, I had been trained to the mind the gaps; in other words, to avoid leaving gaps in my students’ subject knowledge. One day a mentor showed me a graphic indicating that 80 percent of the content I was covering in my U.S. History class would be forgotten in a year.
“Gaps” is a four-letter word for educators. How can we claim to be effective teachers if 80 percent of the facts we are imparting to students will be, for them, virtually nonexistent in a year? A teacher who squandered 80 of 100 instructional minutes each day would likely be fired, but isn’t it an equally enormous gap to allow students to leave the classroom without a lasting, comprehensive knowledge of the subject?
Gaps result when teachers deliberately and with forethought teach in ways that are not “sticky”; that is, relevant, engaging, and thus memorable. The “business as usual” model of education knowingly acknowledges gaps in the long term, and rationalizes them with a delusion that, in the short term, we’re still doing our jobs. I mind that gap in logic. Educators who want to best serve their students in this century must instead get comfortable with allowing gaps in the short term in exchange for creating stickier and more enduring learning in the long term.
One way of instilling a more lasting proficiency in students is through active learning and project-based learning. As our Dean of Faculty Raleigh Werberger notes, “active and project-based learning is not an instruction but an investigation led by students, with teachers serving as project managers and facilitators. This innovative approach empowers students to engage in researching, analyzing, and scrutinizing real-world problems and to develop practical, applicable solutions to those problems.” Raleigh’s recently published book—From Project-Based Learning to Artistic Thinking: Lessons Learned from Creating An UnHappy Meal —details his application of these principles in last year’s ninth-grade experiential learning class.
The most recent issue of Independent School magazine is devoted to describing what students need to get in school and explores a variety of similar topics.
I’d love to know how other teachers and administrators are minding the gaps at their schools. Please feel free to join the discussion in the comments section or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org