Most Likely to Succeed

This book by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith really has me thinking. There are so many challenging points made and I’ll admit that I’m still mentally fighting a few. However, the take aways that are really “speaking to me” are so entrenched in the institution of education that it feels overwhelming to tackle them.

            #1       The authors write, “Remember, any solution that can be accurately evaluated by a computer is invariably tied to a skill that can be handled by a computer – better than the best human.” In my reflection, this creates a question of content over skills as an emphasis in academia. Perhaps more interesting, it also pulls into question the culture of schools. For example, cell phones in the classroom and the students’ ability to pass questions onto later in the day test takers.  But let’s  re-frame that problem – can we acknowledge that when we are asking high-level thinking questions – this type of “cheating” becomes nearly impossible? We are also asking our students to take over where computers leave off – at the point of analysis, problem solving, and creativity.

            #2       Later in the book, the authors suggest that the American education system is a nightmare that, “saps the joy of learning from every child and teacher.” OUCH! But students who would identify with idea that they are “jumping though endless hoops that have nothing to do with life skills” surround me. Are they board – as the authors suggest – or do they feel that to be successful has more to do with luck than effort?

            #3       The third big - “Oh Wow” – is this observation:

“If we’re committed to meaningful student progress, we need to accept that an entirely different assessment model is required – one that is more qualitative than quantitative, and one that gives up on rank-ordering millions of kids to the nearest tenth of a percentile… We can focus classrooms on either what is easy to measure or on what’s important to learn. But we can’t do both well.”


Yet we try to because we don’t want to screw this up for any student. We want to know where they are, what they know, and what they need next. Does the process of figuring that out, at least when the process depends on a standardized test, create a greater problem? Clearly, there are no easy answers.

            That’s perhaps why I am so grateful for the section titled, “If All Else Fails,” where they list suggestions for teachers. These are good things that, while I sort out the above challenges, I can get my students and myself jazzed about. Here’s my spin on what I read…

·      Focus on the developing critical thinking skills

·      Be able to answer, “how am a growing passionate learners today.”

·      Don’t micromanage their every minute

·      Get them engaged and the rest will – hopefully -  come

Okay, so none of the above is easy to do, but it does provide a positive place to focus. In fact, dare I state the obvious – that none of the problems in education are easy to resolve. If they were, I’m sure the collective “we” would have checked it off the “must do list.” Lacking a magic wand, this will be an ongoing conversation. The authors contribute a voice to the conversation and if you’re ready for the challenge – I’d suggest you give it a read.