When I was a newly minted educator and out for my first interview, the principal asked me a question: What are your goals for your students? My naive answer was something to the effect that kids should be able to do enough math to balance a checkbook and fill out their income tax...know enough English to fill out a job application...and understand how to follow a set of directions.
I still think those are necessary skills, but umpteen years on, my answer to this question would be different.
As I look at my students now, I expect more evidence of thinking. I'm not content to settle for the basics anymore. I need them to synthesize pieces of information into a logical conclusion. I want them to be able to evaluate---compare and contrast in order to make judgments and choices. I hope that students will be able to self-assess their understanding and adjust their learning accordingly. Long after kids leave my classroom, they will still be buying cars, weighing options for medical treatments, becoming parents---and so much more. Can I hone their thinking skills enough to do that?
I was pondering this today as I had an observer in my class. She is on her way to becoming a teacher---at the very beginning of the journey. We didn't have a lot of time to talk, but while my kids tested today, we chatted a bit about why I'd picked the items I had. I told her that I could truly care less if kids know about vacuoles. I can't think of a single adult who needs this knowledge on a daily basis (yes, I know that there are many in the biology field who might). But understanding how to compare and contrast? That, I care about. The context for that was biological on the test, but it was the thinking kids were showing me that was most valuable. She seemed to understand that. Maybe she'll ponder that some more. Maybe in a couple of years when she is sitting in her first interview and is asked about goals for students, she can be a bit more thoughtful than I was.