Exploring the Goals of Learning
By Catherine Van Weele
Recent efforts made by Novato Unified School District and across in the country to implement Common Core Curriculum, have been made to create a process-oriented form of learning. While it is important to build on skills such as creative thinking and productive collaboration, it is difficult for students to balance the process-oriented learning when they are rarely rewarded for putting in hard work. In terms of attaining a higher education, high test scores and high grades are valued most, yet how that success was achieved is not as important.
Product-oriented learning is the traditional way in which American students have been educated. It focuses on the outcomes of problem solving. It drives students to concern themselves with producing the best end product, regardless of how they achieve it. This way of learning is also becoming very dated.
“The goal and purpose of high school is to prepare students for their future and to teach them many life lessons that they will need for their future and content that will help them be successful in school and career,” Novato High psychology teacher Jen Russell said. “I think back in the day when education started being taught that way, jobs were like that and today, jobs are very different. I think we need to be preparing students for the future that they are going into.”
Contrary to product-oriented learning, process-oriented learning focuses on the progress a student makes in the learning process. Students aim to learn the material themselves with the guidance of a teacher or instructor rather than being lectured by the teacher. It values correcting mistakes, working closely with peers, and focuses on individualized learning. Process-oriented learning may take form in students working on individual or group projects, posing a questions and seeking the answers themselves, and using outside resources such as guest speakers.
“It takes a lot of work from the teacher’s perspective to prepare for doing it that way,” Russell said. “Learning should be more collaborative between teachers and students rather than in a lecture format where students are receiving information and writing it down.”
Education on the national level, and especially at Novato High, is grativating more towards process oriented learning as shown through the implementation of Common Core and the promotion of the 6 C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, cultural competency, conscientious learning, and character. This transition has been difficult for many students as most are accustomed to lecture-style learning, while admissions to a higher education requires concrete evidence produced through product-oriented learning. The transition is further complicated as not all classes are taught through a process-oriented form of learning, particularly AP classes.
“I think AP and Common Core classes are so different,” senior Gabriel Garcia said. “In AP Bio and AP Calc, the curriculum is very different. It’s stuff that I want to learn because the problems are given to us and there are simple steps to find the solution. It doesn't involve ‘solve this’, ‘why do you think you did this’, and ‘why do you think you didn't have to do this’; it’s implied in the problem.”
In AP courses, the curriculum is very demanding in terms of content leaving little room for students to make mistakes and learn the material on their own. Students in advanced classes are often easily able to apply what they learn in lectures into real life scenarios and are frustrated by the explicitness of the learning process. Lesson plans feel like a roundabout way of learning, feeling less productive as it takes so long to discover the solution.
“There is a lot of group collaboration part of it and so I think that that's where there's a lot of opportunity for growth in those skills but I also pick up a lot of frustration form students especially students that are considered high achieving and driven,” said Novato High counselor Nonie Reyes. “It can be a challenge, I’m not saying it’s a bad challenge, but to maybe step back a little bit and understand that the process of collaboration, asking those questions, seeking the answers, and learning from mistakes is maybe worth more than that GPA.”
The intent of process-oriented learning is creating holistic students and, especially given the rise of online education, the education system is on its way to focusing on individualized learning. However, the gap between this form of education and the education system as a whole remains quite large.
Today’s students face extreme competition amongst themselves to get into colleges. GPA and standardized testing are weighted very heavily in most college’s admissions process. Individualized and process-oriented learning makes it difficult to measure student performance on a national standard.
“I think colleges are going to have to shift. We already know the SAT test is not the best predictor how a student is going to do because you can get a really good score on the SAT test and bomb out of college, and you can bomb an SAT test and do great in college,” said Russell. “Measuring student performance is tough and the colleges need to decide what they want.”
Some colleges are turning to portfolio applications in which the students assemble a portfolio of all their accomplishments throughout their schooling and life experiences.
“The UC’s and private colleges tend to take a more holistic approach. So they are going to look at the GPA but they are also going to look at community engagementment, leadership, taking initiative like in a club, and sports,” said Reyes. “They are also are able to listen to the story behind the transcript. They want people with perspective, with experience, and they are able to take into account people’s equity around access to education. For example, for Novato High we are blessed with having a lot of AP classes whereas other schools may not have the resources or opportunities. As for the CSU’s, it is a pretty cut and dry student GPA, test scores, and where you live, your local area.”
Students tend to enjoy the idea of colleges learning more about the whole person in the college admissions process.
“I want them to know my willingness to go out and experience the world because I think a lot of people are so focused on getting good grades, which is very important, but getting experience like volunteering and working on a project is so important,” said Garcia. “One of my teachers said that when you get to college academics, excelling academically is very important, but it’s your work experience that will always matter for you to get jobs and make new connections.”
A holistic application paints a more accurate and fair image of each individual applicant, however this method may be time consuming for college admission officers as well as makes it difficult to compare student performance and ability on a national scale. Standardized testing still holds some benefits in its ability to objectively measure student performance and easily identify skills that need improvement.
“I feel that more and more colleges are sort of pulling away from the SAT and ACT. There is this acknowledgement that those tests may be tests, are you able to take a test? And there is cultural bias in those tests, so what is it truly measuring?” Reyes said. “I don't’ think it has left the scene yet because it’s considered a bit of a counterbalance to what they think might be an issue with grade inflation.”
The best way to teach, grade, and test students remains subjective and inconclusive. Learning is a complex process and finding an adequate way to gauge students’ performance is a difficult process as well. Colleges and educators are still trying to find a system of education and evaluation that can be implemented to all learning environments for all individual students.