Yesterday I wrote about breaking out of my echo chamber, so of course my thoughts then turned to my students. Are our students operating in echo chambers and should this be something we worry about?
Well yes, I believe this is something to be concerned about and here’s why. Deeper understanding is developed through:
- encountering multiple perspectives
- confronting cognitive dissonance
- empathising with situations different to our own
If students are constantly interacting with people with similar opinions to themselves, how are they going to do any of the above?
When I think of those students I have taught over the years that really demonstrated Personal Excellence they all seem to have something in common: they had varied interests. Not just strong in one aspect, they were involved in at least 2 of academic, sporting, music and cultural pursuits (drama, kapa haka etc.). This meant they were interacting with students from diverse backgrounds, with diverse interests and with experiences that differed from their specific context. Whilst working with other Drama students in a production, for example, they were with students whose experiences in sport or academics could be vastly different from theirs, helping to expand their overall comprehension.
This is where my concern about streaming comes in. By placing students into levels of understanding you are reducing the diversity within the interactions they will have. This, in my opinion and if you take into account complexity or ecosystem perspectives, reduces their ability to really expand their thinking. Without having read much into research on teaching multi-year groups, I wonder whether a strength of this type of system is the understanding that can develop by having diversity in the group.
It is also something that Danielle and I were discussing at Kiwi Foo after the workshop there on echo chambers (great session run by Stasi Turnbull which has obviously had an impact on my thinking) – what impact does our module selection process have for our students. By increasing student choice of contexts to get their various Learning Area understandings, are we decreasing the diversity of voices that they interact with? At the moment I can’t answer that. I am, however, going to attempt to track the potential interactions that each student could have in their year based on their module choices.
Are there students with less chance to interact with larger numbers of students and teachers due to their choices? Easy to get the information out of our LMS, but far harder to network this. Also trickier to identify the consequences of interacting with less students over the year.
Teachers mixing groups up and increasing the opportunities for students to partner up with outside partners on projects help to break the echo chambers for our students. How else might we ensure their developing understandings are provoked by different voices than those they regularly interact with?
This idea has resonated so strongly with me since our Head Girl (who was also Dux) came back to work with our learning support department after her Year 13 year, while waiting to head over to an american university. She supported learners in the classroom that needed extra help, for about 15 hours per week.
In her farewell speech after working with us for 6 months, she commented that it had been the most enlightening time of her educational journey, and that as a student, she had no idea that students who struggled to learn even existed.
While some praised her insightfulness, I couldn’t help but see it as a profoundly critical assessment of how we structure and stream our year levels. How could our student leader and highest achieving (academic) student go through 5 years at our school not seeing the struggles of some of her peers.
It still sits ill with me, and I come back round to it many times in my thinking and reflecting. Thank you for another perspective and way to illustrate a problem inherent in many schools.