I have been re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” this week and have found myself looking at it through a much different lens than I did the first time. Perhaps it is because I have spent so much time during the last three years immersed in the curriculum review and adoption world but numerous points Gladwell makes throughout the book stood out to me in regard to education.
The quote above really hit me head on. Lots of people after observation in my classroom comment on the “looseness” and flexibility of the lessons we do each day. They aren’t wrong necessarily, I do pride myself on letting the kids take the math and the topic of the day where they need it to go but that is far from random. It takes a tremendous amount of planning, anticipation, and extra prep to prepare for this degree of spontaneity so that I can ensure I am ready for wherever the kids may take the math that day…it isn’t just me standing up saying “alright y’all what should we do today” or hopping on a website 5 minutes before class starts to find something that looks fun.
The best curriculums allow for this spontaneity for teachers. I think that is one of the reasons that I have liked the Open Up Resources authored by Illustrative Math curriculum because they created much of the structure needed to make sure the content was covered but left room for me as a teacher to allow for spontaneity in the classroom. When the kids needed more time on one activity or if I wanted to change something they planned as a partner activity to a gallery walk fast when I knew my kids had to get out of their seats before they lost their mind. They did the work to ensure my spontaneity wasn’t random so I could focus on what makes teaching great.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from reading Blink again is something I have had a gut feeling about for a long time…teachers have too much data. Hear me out on this, I agree data is important but Gladwell’s thoughts on data slicing being just as accurate as vast quantities of data really resonated with me. Teachers are asked to keep enormous amounts of data on every kid that steps in their doorway and then make informed decisions based on that data for each and every child; but what if all that data is, as Gladwell argues, less accurate than a quick slice from teachers as trained professionals. I frequently learn more from a 5 second conversation with a child than looking at pages and pages of information containing state testing, district testing, norm referenced testing, and a variety of other numerical data pieces.
My daughter is a prime example. She is a struggling reader. Data will tell you that she can only read level E books and that is what the data will decide she needs to read. A quick conversation with her will let you know that those books don’t interest her and take her confidence away by making her feel dumb. Instead, we talked to her and decided to let her read more advanced books with some help on the hard words with the expectation that she would read all the words on her level and attempt the words that are not. She has grown more in the two weeks since we started that than she had a month prior reading level E books. Knowing her was much more valuable than the data.
There are a ton of companies right now selling their products as the end all be all in education because of how they can differentiate practice for kids, provide live data, and differentiated instruction all without needing teacher input. That’s crazy to me in many ways but reading Blink further reminding me just how far fetched this idea is. A teacher’s blink decisions based on slices of their interactions with students are more valuable and accurate than any online text book company can ever promise to be. Good teaching, curriculums that help teachers be spontaneous not random, and teacher driven data… those things will always matter.