Content, and the acquisition of content knowledge, is not enough. The skills, habits, attributes, and dispositions that students employ when interacting with content knowledge are critically important; they always have been. Now, more than ever, however, there is a renewed recognition and renewed requirements that reasoning skills receive at least as much attention in our learning experiences as does the acquisition of content knowledge.
It’s common sense: If we want students to remember and retain; to apply and make connections; to find relevance and be engaged; then our learning experiences must reflect the common sense notion that skill are as, or more, important then content.
Teachers have been teaching what they’ve been asked to teach; the curriculum commonly taught, and that we expect students to learn, in classrooms today – for better or worse – reflects the standards in place up until 2010. We have been expected to raise test scores and the high-stakes tests, from which many schools understandably backwards planned measured low-level knowledge, Benjamin Bloom’s recall level knowledge, NormanWebb’s Depth of Knowledge level 1. The formula, procedure, the algorithm, and rule were the end goal. The result – memorization and basic levels of content acquisition were favored – in our curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
The irony of this approach to raising test scores is that it most decidedly did not work for us. In fact, it was when we embedded opportunities for students to apply skills that student learning exploded and, yes, test scores increased (Buffum, Mattos & Weber, 2009). The newer generation of high stakes tests does require students to have learned and to apply skills.
But it wasn’t simply high-stakes tests (and the legacy of the these prior generation of tests remains); rigid pacing guides and curriculum maps also discouraged depth, using content knowledge, and applying skills. How? These guides and maps were (are) typically tied to textbooks and low-level content acquisition dominates lessons within textbooks. In addition, maps and guides too often were (are) packed with a new lesson every day. Applying skills to content takes more time than acquiring content knowledge. That’s simply common sense. Too many curriculum maps and pacing guide just do not allow the time for teachers to provide opportunities to justify, explain, model, persevere, and connect.
There is at least more reason that activities that favor memorization and content acquisition dominate in too many classrooms – modeling, teaching, and providing opportunities for students to practice applying skills is challenging. Professional learning sessions for educators that focus on students applying skills to content is a significant need. And, teams should be encouraged to focus on skills within their PLC work.
I do not mean to suggest that the acquisition of content knowledge is unnecessary in the post-internet age. I’m only suggesting that modeling, teaching, and providing students with opportunities to use skills is an essential element of classroom instruction.
The good news is that the recent expert guidance and policy documents agree. There is now really no reason for us to continue to neglect equipping students with the skills need to succeed in life.