I have been questioning Carol Vaage1, a grade one teacher, about learning skills. Research says pushing kids into reading by memorizing in the early years isn’t the best way to teach them; getting them to think is much more effective.
To that end, she encourages her class to explore, create, play and invent. This method teaches the children problem-solving skills as well as finding the wonder in learning. They begin to believe they are capable of figuring out the world and the wonderful problems and opportunities. She has an open-ended program where her class can engage in projects that interest them. Brain research shows that constructivism helps their brain the most – i.e. building their own sense of systems. For more on constructivism, see http://tip.psychology.org/bruner.html .
She compared her class to some of the very structured classes where instructors teach children reading and phonics using preprogrammed series and worksheets. Carol says that if children start young in a confined structure like this, it is really hard to break them out of the habit of accepting the “authority” (eg. the teacher or the phonics program) as knowing the most. In Carol’s program, children grapple with constructing the language of print as they try to research and seek out the answers to questions they’ve created. They also learn sounds for letters or combination of letters, but in a way that is constructivist; they choose to learn how to read.
She used a math example to help me understand what she meant. There are two ways to teach how to solve it.
- • teach a strategy and kids can memorize it
- • give them a problem situation and they invent their own strategies
Guess which one can be generalized? You got it, the ones they can figure out themselves. Her example:
I gave my kids a sheet of paper and asked them to prove to me that they know how much 100 is. Some of them wrote down 25-50-75-100 and smugly passed in their paper. I said, you’ve shown me 4 numbers. That doesn’t prove you know how much 100 is. Show me more. By the time they had worked with their partners for 2 days, they had some amazing work. Some had drawn groups of 10 dinosaurs, colour coded, others had written out every single number by ones, others had counted by 5’s and drawn a hand with 5 fingers by each number, etc.
This same type of problem on a worksheet would look like this. It has 100 numbers written on it, and 8 are missing. Fill in the blanks.
That’s the difference in thinking that you’re looking for. Something that engages the mind, not limits it to memorization. That’s the lowest on the thinking skills. What you want is the highest – problem solving, synthesizing and creating.
Testing certifications as they stand today, do not test skills or problem solving. They test memorization. As long as testers and organizations that hire testers recognize that is what certification gives you, it is not an issue.
I think we should encourage learning in any form. I would rather testers look to develop their skills, but one of the problems we face, is the lack of courses or training programs. One is Rapid Testing (http://www.developsense.com) . Michael Bolton teaches this with the intent for participants to learn testing skills through exploration in experiential exercises. Lisa Crispin and I have been giving a 3 day course on testing in agile projects for the past year based on our book. We give some theory, but also have interactive exercises to demonstrate how to collaborate, or break down stories into testable chunks, etc., as well as a full iteration simulation. We use different tools to encourage participants to think. We have been asked to turn it into a certification course but have refused as we don’t think it is possible to do so with any degree of confidence.
Carol wrote me an email one day just before school was out for the summer relating an experience she had that day. Her story: “My kids still want to keep coming to school next month - everyone else around us is ready to quit. We still had so much we still wanted to learn. They were finishing up their front pages of their growth portfolios - they needed to write "My Learning Book" and draw or write at least 3 things we learned about this year. They started talking about all the things they learned, and kept drawing and writing - I had a hard time stopping them. One child said – ‘This is more fun than fun day’. That meant I reached my teaching goal for this year. They love to learn! Next year, we'll be learning again - just don't know what - the kids will have a voice in it.”
To summarize, I don’t necessarily think the actual certifications are the problem. The real problem is the artificial need generated by organizations requesting the certificate, and the certification community advertising them as the solution to all testing education.
How can we, as a testing community get the testers in the world want to learn and challenge the status quo – How can we get them to want to learn – anyway they can?
Carol Vaage holds a Masters in Early Childhood, with B Ed, Ed Dip, M Ed from U of A
For some of the amazing projects Carol has completed with her classes, take a look at: http://carolvaage.net/ She shares one of her projects and how she approached the learning at: ttp://www.2learn.ca/projects/together/STORIES/vaage.html