Martha Payne Shows Us What Students are Capable of

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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studentsStudents are revealing their impatience with our slow response to design a learning space that is “just right” for them.

In students’ early days of preschool and Kindergarten, many educators tapped into their curiosities and interests to create a shared journey inspired by the child. As early as 1st grade, however, we turn learning into a hierarchical enterprise rather than a collaborative one. We impart knowledge and wisdom in small, efficient bites, we test them to makes sure they get it, and then move on to another topic and repeat the process.

As educators, we try to make our bites as engaging as possible integrating technology, stories, demonstrations, and excitement whenever we can. But this is a recipe that has a predictable result — we work harder to the point of exhaustion while the students become increasing disengaged (at younger and younger grade levels).

Education: A Collective Enterprise

What if we treated learning as a collective enterprise (educator-student-parent) rather than a hierarchical one? What if we tapped into the curiosities and imagination of our students and leverage their inquiry to drive the learning process?

One concrete example written by Ewan McIntosh reveals the impact students want to make RIGHT NOW and how the administration responded.

Martha and #NeverSeconds

Martha Payne and Jamie Oliver
Martha Payne and Jamie Oliver

A nine-year-old girl was driven by two things — her dislike for food in her local cafeteria and her desire to build proper kitchens for schools in Malawi. So she started documenting her cafeteria meals (by creating and using a rating scale as well as photographing them) and posted each meal on her blog.

Within weeks, there was a noticeable improvement in the cafeteria meals, but Martha wanted bigger portions to meet the needs of growing children as well as healthier portions. So, she continued onward with her documentation and got attention from kids around the world as well as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (whose passion is to improve quality of food in school cafeterias). She was changing the world for the students in her school and for the kids in Malawi … as a nine-year-old-girl.

But here’s the twist in the story: the local administration ordered her to stop posting her meals because it was making the cafeteria workers uncomfortable. That created both a local and international firestorm with three results:

  1. She was allowed to resume her blog posts
  2. She raised over $200,000 for her Malawi project
  3. The local school division has a black-eye because of its initial censorship and slow response to change direction

Serving Our Students

As educators, what is our job on behalf of the learners we serve? Our goal is to create powerful, critical thinkers and communicators prepared to tackle the world’s problems. We assume that they need to graduate before they are ready to take on the world. The nine-year-old girl clearly was demonstrating the Act-Learn-Build cycle.

  • She identified a problem that she cared about. (DESIRE)
  • She came up with an idea of how to express her dissatisfaction to promote change and to help others. (ACT-LEARN-BUILD)
  • She changed the quality of the cafeteria food and raised money for proper cafeterias in Malawi IN SPITE OF THE EDUCATORS, not with their assistance. (CHANGE)

Bold Prediction

I am going to make a bold prediction: within 10 years, learners will take a significant role in creating a customized experience that suits their needs. Everything is on the table: schedule (time of day best suited to learn), design and pursuit of projects, fluid collaboration based on mutual need (educators, students, community experts), and how we document achievement (digital portfolios and standardized testing).

The goal of this website is simple: a dynamic exchange where you can come to share inspiration and be inspired about what educators, parents and kids are doing right now.

This revolutionary change will not come from policymakers, test designers, or local school Boards. This change will come by sharing and taking action on inspiring ideas right now.


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