Before changes could be made, questions needed to be asked. What was the purpose of the Pro Bowl? Why was the Pro Bowl (once a competitive game of talent vs. talent) becoming a backyard game of touch football? Where was the passion? Did it happen because the game was moved up to fill the void between the last play-off game and the Super Bowl and no Super Bowl players could participate? Was it because the contracts of highly paid players have taken away the monetary incentive to play to win? Was the venue (Hawaii) too much like a vacation? Was it because there was no "reason" to play well except for personal pride? (ex: Baseball plays for home field advantage in the World Series) Or are all players today just self-serving thugs and don't care about the intrinsic values of performing at a high level no matter what?
Except for the last one, which was a facetious jab at a minimal few (who are most likely NOT Pro Bowl players), there is probably some merit in each of these questions. It was exciting to see that the solution was to not to make wholesale changes of the content (football), not provide more monetary incentives (that would not have been meaningful), but to change the delivery system. The old AFC vs. NFC divisional rivalry didn't seem to be enough any more, so each team was created in a "draft" format which led to new combinations: participants would play with and against different players - even teammates! They put in some new rules - a way to try something new in a lower stakes environment. They included rewards for great offensive performances and defensive performances which gave everyone something to shoot for.... and the award was a meaningful man toy - a shiny new truck! Just these few simple changes made football relevant (fun) again for the players and the results were just what they hoped for - a higher level of competition in a game that could truly showcase the ability and skills of these very talented athletes! Something new and relevant, created in a purposeful way, ignited passion and elevated the quality of the performance! Everybody wins!
So what is the take away for educators? Don't we have talented students who do not do well in our school settings or under perform on the high stakes tests that we require of everyone? We ask ourselves why? Sometimes it feels like they don't care. Maybe there is a disconnect between what we value, how we teach the content, and how learning is assessed. So we must ask the hard questions - Did we focus on results instead of the learning? Is the learning relevant and thought-provoking? When was the last time we did something new for the right reasons? Did students lose their passion (or never find it) because we we failed to make the learning or the assessment meaningful? How did we help our teachers learn and apply new instructional strategies to address the changing student culture? As we examine our educational offerings for educators and students, we must consider what would be the most effective changes to implement if our purpose was to ramp up the quality of the the teaching that would positively impact student learning and student results. In other words, improve the relevance and the rigor to increase the results.
Learning designs are delivery (instructional) methods that make the acquisition of knowledge and skills more efficient, effective and appealing (relevance). What is the best way to produce the desired understanding of the content? How do you know? Are we finding ways to enhance the talents of all students so that they can demonstrate (apply) their understanding of the content? Are we finding ways to help all students care about learning and showcasing their understanding in the best way possible? Are we supporting educators in their learning that will translate to the classroom? Are we relying on old ways to produce new results? Just as the Pro Bowlers seemed to not care until the game became more meaningful, perhaps the lackluster educational performances that we see are the result of an absence of making the necessary changes to the learning designs for both educators and students!
Solutions? How about including more authentic learning and assessment. Make it real! The hands-on, practical experiences that many of us "oldies" had at home, back when we were kids, don't exist for many of our students today. Society as we know it has changed with the influx of technology and the huge amounts of information that are available at the click of a button or touch of a screen. We must teach them to think; to problem solve; to use the technology to work for us as we create and dig deeper, rather than just make everything faster. All of these things make learning more meaningful and will result in a higher level of engagement. Consider the video games kids play and the many layers each player must uncover or build upon to achieve the goal. This is an example of great thinking and problem solving using the knowledge and skills they have acquired over time. Now we must help students bridge that understanding with that of the important educational content and skills that will help shape their future. While memorizing is an important tool, it is not a meaningful end of learning, and one we have relied on much too often to assess understanding. Knowing what to do with and when to use the ideas, skills, and concepts that we have learned is the key to uncovering the talents each of us possesses. This must be learned by doing not memorizing.
So whether you are a Pro Bowler with great talent, a struggling player, or somewhere in between, there is much to unlock and discover in the world where we learn, work, and live. The key is to make it real - to provide incentives through the delivery system - to make the participation in the learning and the assessment of that learning meaningful. Make that your next project, educators. How will you change your school or classroom to make it an event in which students can't wait to participate? Remember the lesson of the NFL.... they didn't throw out the Pro Bowl, but they tweaked it just enough to make it meaningful and accessible for all. Our challenge is to create relevance and rigor to ignite (or rejuvenate) passion, and that folks, is a winning combination!