Most Likely To Succeed

“….But while students may graduate with credentials, by and large they lack the competencies needed to be thoughtful, engaged citizens and to get good jobs in our rapidly evolving economy.”

A sentence from the opening paragraph in what I believe should be required reading for every educator as well as every educator in college preparing to earn a degree in education. The book is Most Likely To Succeed by Tony Wagner and I really think this book will change your mind, challenge your thinking, and lead to some very serious discussions about the state of education(I know from experience!).

I know I recommend a lot of books, but if I had to pick one book this would be it for the simple fact that I feel like this book speaks to the many ideas I think and believe, but even more important the ideas force us to think about the issues at hand. I shared out two passages from the book and it lead to many people not agreeing with what I shared as well as arguing the opposite. This conversation was powerful. It challenged me to think about what I shared, it forced me to really think about what I believe, and because people on social media are awesome they fired right back with their ideas. These types of interactions is what will help education move forward. I share this so that you understand that I am not telling you to agree with everything(even though I think you should), but to read it and process what he is saying and how you approach these very same ideas and concepts.

If I can go back to the opening quote for a minute. This statement is constantly being shared with many educators and admin. I know that at our school this is the very reason we have invested heavily in project based learning where the projects dig deep, solve real world problems, contain an authentic audience, and a “right” answer does not exist. We are working to help students develop skills instead of simply memorizing content for the sake of a test that nobody cares about a week later.

This is really the crux of the book. We need to rethink our schools to move away from simply memorizing content and work towards developing the skills needed to function in society. Many of us say we don’t just memorize, but if you really look at your classroom this still happens more than we like to admit.

I really like how the book placed a focus on skills. I have attended many summits and forums where business leaders and community leaders state time and time again how they are looking for people who can problem solve, work with others, collaborate, think on their own, are creative, and basically can help the company function without 24/7 monitoring. This is nothing new, but despite knowing this our schools are organized to do the opposite. We continue to do a patchwork fix it system to an obsolete education system. As stated in the book, “Students who only know how to perform well in today’s education system – get good grades and test scores, and earn degrees – will no longer be those who are most likely to succeed.”

Now, with that being said I do think it is important to note two things that I think are very important in regards to this conversation.

1. There is no set formula that will allow someone to succeed and be productive in life.

2. You have to have a base level of content understanding in order to dig deep and work on skill development.

As you read the book you can find all his research and examples that support his idea that we need more skill development. I think it is hard to argue that “there is no longer a competitive advantage in knowing more than the person next to you because knowledge has become a commodity available to all with the swipe of a finger.”

How often do we tell students that we don’t know all the answers or those times when a student is more tech savvy than the teacher? This right here proves the point. So why do we constantly place students in school situations where time and time again it is about knowledge and little access to the tools that we use on a regular basis? It always drives me crazy when I hear/see teachers ban all technology in a classroom, but on prep periods/meetings we use our phones/tablets/computers to do everything!

As I read this book and highlighted hundreds of passages I think the sum of the book can be described by this one simple sentence

What are we doing to help develop the skills to help students make sense of all the knowledge at their fingertips to create, problem solve, and innovate?

In the book he talks about an experiment ran by Lawrenceville School where they asked students to retake a science final after returning from summer vacation. When the test was given in June the average grade was 87%, but when the simplified test was given again in September the average grade was 58%. I found this very fascinating. What was awesome is that the school changed how they worked and operated. I would love to do this at our school and look at the results to make change. But, more importantly, if this happens time and time again are we wasting precious class time stressing and worrying about things that really don’t matter? I cannot remember most of what I learned in school, but I feel like I am a somewhat productive and contributing member to society. I have learned more about who I am, the skills I possess, and what I can offer from everything I have done outside of school. Take for example a summer class I took. The class was about using computational tools in the classroom. I had to write a paper that was 60% of my overall grade. However,  my application and use of the tools was only 10%. Are you kidding me? If we want educators to use tools we have to break free from the old system. Anyone can write a paper about tech, but how many can actually use it to create deep level learning experiences. What I am saying is that we need to change where we place our emphasis in the classroom and schools.

This instantly makes me think of this video

Why do we not place emphasis on the things that will help people in life? Most Americans don’t understand or know much about the Constitution. With the elections going crazy already most viewers don’t know how to process all the stats. We struggle to make sense of the numbers and the media channels know this. Many people are in debt so why not make sure we know how the banks work, compound interest, how to invest, etc. There is so much math, thinking, problem solving, and real world application in just these examples that could help so many and yet we don’t have to completely blow up our system.

I could go on and on, but I would not say things as cohesively as the book. In closing, I encourage you to read this book. I encourage to dig into the research. I encourage you to check out the schools mentioned. I encourage you to reflect on your practices and teaching. In the end we all want the same thing and this book helps to bring to light some key issues to help us get there. No matter what side you take on the issues I know there is one that we can all agree on.

Most Likely To Succeed by Tony Wagner

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