Thursday, April 9, 2009

The “Assembly Line” Classroom

Recently I took a tour of the Boeing Plant in Everett, WA and I highly recommend it if you are anywhere near there. It cost $15 per person and we actually saw them making the planes. I noticed things they did for different products. Some of the planes were put on moving machines and as they were ready for the next phase in production, the whole plane moved to the next stage. At each stage, certain parts were put on and then they moved to the next area where another group of people did their job. After seeing a movie about the history of building planes, it was funny to see that when they first started, people used to have to move the parts. It took a lot of men to move the wing in order to attach it to the plane.

Now I’m sure you are wondering why I’m mentioning all this but after seeing the assembly line that planes go through, I began to think of the assembly lines our students go through. In each grade, we put another little part on our students and move them on their way the next year. Each year we add more pieces until we think they are completely “built” at the end of 12th grade and expect them to be totally successful, just like sending a plane off the factory line. I don’t believe we can treat our students this way and expect them to be successful in the real world. We need to look at the whole student and their individual needs and interests in order to plan the appropriate instruction. The education system expects that all students are made the same way and need the same parts, which are all added the same way. Then it hopes to get the same exact product at the end of 12 years. It doesn’t work that way! Our classrooms should not just be assembly lines. We should be looking at the whole student and not just the parts.

I also saw that office work stations were right there next to the plane. The tour guide told me that all of the people involved with that project worked right there instead of going back to far away offices. Then if there was a concern, it was easy to go up to that person and say, “hey, I need for us to look at this” and they both could walk right up to the plane and check it out.

Do we have all the people involved with our students available if there is a concern? I had a new student in my special ed class who was waiting to go through the hoops for testing and it took a year to officially state that he was wrongly placed. Of course we knew this within the first month but the red tape we had to follow was “more important” than the needs of the student. The appointments with a vision specialist and audiologist kept being put off because the parent had trouble getting a Medicaid card (which for some reason took months). Then the social worker had trouble arranging time to take the parent and student to the appropriate doctors. Then we had to wait to get appointments with an eye doctor and ear nose and throat doctor. Of course when we finally had time to do testing, and arrange a meeting to discuss the results, it was the end of the year. Meanwhile this student was extremely frustrated with school, had major behavior outbursts resulting in suspensions, had no peer relationships, and was just plain miserable the entire year!

On the tour, I then learned that these planes are tested by the Boeing pilots and then the customer sends their pilots for training and inspecting the planes. Both parties have to be satisfied with the performance of the plane before the sale is complete.

Do we do that with our students? Should we do that with our students? Do we make sure that our students will be able to perform the job an employer wants? Do we invite employers in to see our “product” and make adjustments, modifications, corrections if necessary? It’s a changing world out there and businesses are doing things differently. If we continue to teach in the same “assembly line” frame of mind, are we not doing our students an injustice? Are we really preparing them for being successful in today’s world?

Please let me know what you think and what suggestions you might have!


Margaret said...

Ooooooohhh...I like the idea of business people (final customer) coming in to check out the progress of the "product" along the way. I have a sneaking suspicion that their suggested tweaks & modifications will be sizable departures from just about all the "state standards" that each state has decided to be the 'holy grail' each school (production unit) should meet. I'm sure many (engineering firms) would be fine with or just make minor corrections to the disciplines (math & sciences) that their firms use heavily; but those businesses that rely upon sales & marketing and social skills more than a concrete subject like math may value things other than what the state does. Some of them may only care that a prospective employee knows how to learn the job quickly, and adapt to changes, not perform at 100% capacity on day one of employment.
Just some quick thoughts. Have a blessed Easter!

Anonymous said...

Great post! As a former vocational teacher (Marketing Education), we constantly sought out feedback from the business community regarding our classroom curriculum. Our students were placed on jobs out in the community to learn vital skills. How were we rewarded? Constant budget cuts, phasing out of our programs, and a feeling of not having programs that were of benefit to the students. Now that vocational education has suffered so many setbacks at the hands of politicans and administrators... I continually hear how students need chances to collaborate, be hands on, and acquire critical job skills. Hmmm...all things that we focused on in our classrooms before our programs were deemed "not worthy".

Thanks again for a great post!

Charles said...

Well said. I do think that schools should customize each child's education based on their unique talents, but how do you do that when there is 1 Trigonometry teacher for 100+ students?

What if students could apply to high schools that specialize in their talents? There could be a school that focuses on music and another on math/science. Students would be more engaged, studying subjects that they like and are good at.

loonyhiker said...

Margaret: I think that is why we need to involve business partners more in our educational system. The "end users" should have a say in what we are teaching, not the "policy makers" who have no clue.

loonyhiker said...

anonymous: Hopefully the tides will change when the policy makers see the light! Hang in there!

loonyhiker said...

Charles: We have "magnet" schools in our district which have a focus on different studies. As for the teacher/student ratio - I would think project based learning might be an option. Thanks for reading!

M-Dawg said...

Isn't this what standardized testing is all about? Creating little robots to pass a test? aka No Child Left Behind?

All we are doing is teaching them how to pass a test. Isn't life more about passing a test?

What are other skills should be we teaching them to survive in the real world?

Great post as usual! :=)

Happy Easter! Happy Passover!

loonyhiker said...

M-Dawg: I think you are exactly right! When we just teach to the test, how are we preparing our students for real life? Sure we are teaching them basic skills but is that all they need to succeed in life?

David Foster said...

Nice post.

Re standardized testing, the reason these tests have been introduced and emphasized is that too many schools were failing to teach basics such as reading and math. Blaming the tests for the problem is like blaming a thermometer because your furnace doesn't work right and your house is too cold.

To return to the airplane analogy: the FAA requires standardized written tests (as well as hands-on in-flight tests) for all pilots. Does anyone think it would be a good idea to abolish this requirement, in order to avoid pressure on flight instructors to "teach to the test?"

kekelly said...

This is an excellent observation about assembly lines and education. For the last one hundred years of education we have been trying to improve this assembly line to the detriment of the students. It is a shame that we treat students like products instead of the human beings they really are. However, I believe the tide is turning and we are starting to focus on the needs of the student instead of mass production education.
Of course, it would be awesome to have experts on hand to ask questions of for a better learning environment. Perhaps these experts on hand could help us add specializations to the products(students) to meet individual needs.

loonyhiker said...

David: You make a great point! I have no problem with accountability if it is done appropriately and for the right reasons. I just worry when we use one test measure to determine too many things without taking in account all of the variables.

loonyhiker said...

kekelly: I hope you are right about the tide turning! Thanks for your comments.