High Performance Education Systems: Expert Thinking and Complex Communication

2013-02-04_14-50-00_457 Gift from Sr. Wan, Iqra Academy near SLC

A casualty of America’s reliance on high stakes testing has been the cutting of courses other than Math, Science, and Language Arts by budget minded bureaucrats. Yet, while the value of the tested material is recognized, to marginalize the wide array of other subjects somehow diminishes the level of civilization.

Historically, we have seen a pattern from ancient times that in peace there flourished art, literature, and architecture, while in war and times of anarchy it simply was impossible to cultivate. People merely struggled to survive. Are we slipping?

Education expert E. D. Hirsch wrote, “[education] attained by studying a rich curriculum in math, literature, science, history, geography, music and art and higher level skills in context…there is a scientific consensus that academic skill is highly dependent on specific relevant knowledge.”

Incorporating a wide variety of learning opens doors to deeper understanding, creativity, and problem solving capacity. This is exactly what the world needs in the future, and education professionals must provide it now. For while many menial jobs are exported to countries with cheaper labor—thereby raising a larger, global, middle class—and robots increasingly tackle  jobs previously performed by humans, we need to prepare our students using high performance education systems that feature a wide spectrum of valuable cognitive content. These can be summarized as the liberal and fine arts. We are about to take education of humans where computers cannot go. That is, we teach the “gray areas,” those that incorporate values, ethics, and judgment that necessitate heuristics.

For example, take the student whose friend asks for last night’s homework. Being a loyal friend, one would be inclined to share and help a buddy. Yet, would our students judge that acquiescence as ethical or not? Would they pursue a logical analysis to question if their compliance could be construed as sharing guilt? This is the specialized domain of a parochial education, as the public school system is struggling to maintain basic skills and rudimentary performance of the masses. I challenge argument!

Let’s recognize that we cannot afford for our Islamic schools to slide down and ignore the manners, values, and critical analysis of choices and responsibilities of individuals. We must not narrow and dumb down the scope of our curriculum offerings in exchange for elevated standardized test scores removed from relevant application. Insight toward the complexities of thought and excellence in articulation across a variety of modes is the ticket to a true high performing education system.

Elements that keep us employed and economically viable are our abilities to utilize Expert Thinking and Complex Communication. There are two categories of Executive Skills which are recognized as valuable components to success and brain development.

Promoting Expert Thinking incorporates pattern recognition, perceiving relationship, and problem solving. These are cognitive skills.

Complex Communication is performance based. Students can demonstrate ability to confer understanding beyond declarative learning. They incorporate listening, analyzing, evaluating, and conveying information via a multitude of modes. While it is still evident that many of our students need more development in their writing, it is also relevant that they must learn oral articulation skills, graphic representation, technology based skills, and artistic means to effectively broadcast the products of their analysis.

This is where Active Learning, as designed by the instructor answers:

  • Why and how the lesson fits previous learning?
  • How is this relevant and interesting to motivate students?
  • Is movement incorporated for the students during the lesson?
  • Do students verify competence in the learning goals?

As you see, the intelligent design of lessons is imperative to an optimal outcome, but I question if Islamic school teachers will rise to the call? I wonder if many instructors are still in “survival mode” struggling with class climate and management issues. Certainly, involving students in deeper levels of learning can keep misbehavior at bay, but it can only be done when there is a window of order, clarity, and trust in a collaborative classroom. The journey to higher levels of learning must be preceded by focus of minds and cooperation among the class community, and especially weekend schools would benefit from this realization. Much can be done to improve the school environment, but willingness from administration to diligently strategize a campaign with all stakeholders to prioritize school climate is necessary. This is also where seeking professional guidance is worthwhile so that your school can aspire to developing a high performance education system.

Last night, my eldest son gave me some critical analysis of my blog structure and website. When time permits, I want to redesign and make it more functional as a resource for Islamic school professionals and people who work with Muslims in their communities.

Please give content suggestions so I can incorporate them in a new design. Not that I am so tech savvy or have the means to pay a web developer, but I guess it’s finally time to learn more about the backside of web design. It may take awhile…

Last weekend was my first visit to Salt Lake City, as I flew in to do professional development at the Utah Islamic Center where full-time and weekend school teachers from Iqra Academy met along with members of the local Bosnian organization. Iqra Academy is the only accredited Islamic school listed in Utah, and they presently serve up till 5th grade. I truly enjoyed meeting everyone and found the mountains calling me beyond. Such an inspiring setting; I wish to have stayed longer for skiing. Thanks for your hospitality!

The only downside was that I caught glimpses of Superbowl at the first touchdowns by Baltimore, and San Francisco’s after the blackout when changing planes in Phoenix. It was however, an opportunity to read Forbes and ASCD’s Educational Leadership. Now, as freezing rain and bits of snow pelt us, it’s back to preparing for the Common Core presentation. Hope you have a chance to register for the ASCD preconference at the ISNA-CISNA Education Forum in Chicago!

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