Are All Schools Prep Schools?

What do you think of when you hear the term "prep school?" Do you think of elite, private schools that look and act like little Ivy League colleges?

A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school (shortened to preparatory school, prep school, or college prep) is a type of secondary school, but the term can refer to public, private independent or parochial schools primarily designed to prepare students for higher education.

But aren't all high schools preparation for college? That answer has varied over the centuries. While secondary schools were once only for middle and upper class kids who might go on to higher education, schools also went through a period of being "comprehensive" and trying to provide preparation for those going on to college, and for for those going on to a job. 

In the early 20th century, there were efforts to imitate German-style industrial education in the United States. Employers wanted wokers who were "trained" more than "educated." Teachers of high school academic subjects and some colleges thought the preparation for college was being watered down. So, vocational education emerged as a way to prepare people not planning on college to work in various jobs, such as a trade, a craft, or as a technician.

Historically, the German Gymnasium also included in its overall accelerated curriculum post secondary education at college level and the degree awarded substituted for the bachelor's degree (Baccalaureat)[1] previously awarded by a college or university so that universities in Germany became exclusively graduate schools.

Préparatoires aux grandes écoles (Higher School Preparatory Classes), commonly called classes prépas or prépas, are part of the French post-secondary education system. These two very intensive years (extendable to three or four years) act as a preparatory course with the main goal of training undergraduate students for enrollment in one of the grandes écoles. The workload is very demanding - between 35 and 45 contact hours a week, plus usually between 4 and 6 hours of written exams, plus between 2 and 4 hours of oral exams a week and homework filling all the remaining free time.

 

Learning Theories Into the Wild

Bloom visualized

I have been thinking about how some learning theories have gone "into the wild" in the way that some plants and animals have. People sometimes release pets, fish, birds or plants into the wild. Most of those will not survive, but some that do end up thriving to the point that they become an invasive species that harms the environment. 

Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist, along with collaborators published a framework for categorizing educational goals back in 1956. That "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives" has become known simply as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

It has been taught to many students in education programs. I learned it in my undergraduate education courses. I had workshops about using it in professional development when I was a secondary school teacher. I taught workshops using it when I was doing professional development for college faculty. 

Some educators might groan at the mention of Bloom's Taxonomy because they have heard it so many times. But this framework by Bloom and his collaborators has stuck. It originally consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice. Each category also contained subcategories set up from simple to complex and concrete to abstract.

But what has stuck as Bloom's framework and gone out into the wild are those six main categories.

Do an image search on "Bloom's Taxonomy" and you will get a wide variety of visualizations of the framework as a pyramid, stairs, wheels, pie slices. (see illustration above).

Since 1956, the six major categories were changed from noun to verb forms. Benjamin Bloom died in 1999, but new versions and interpretations have continued to be developed. I have seen technology-based versions. One version released in 2001 renamed the "knowledge" level as "remembering," comprehension was retitled understanding, and synthesis was renamed as creating. The top two levels of Bloom’s changed position in the revised version. 

One sign that a theory has gone into the wild is that other people start creating variations and visualizations. Imitation may not be the most sincere form of flattery, but it is an indicator that a theory is being accepted and considered in the public. Like any species, once something goes into the wild, it begins to change. It adapts to new settings and gets further away from the original.

DOK
A few years ago, I was working on designing online training for teachers. One of the concepts we were going to cover was Norman Webb's "Depth of Knowledge" (DOK). It is a theory of cognitive rigor. That is a combined model developed by superimposing two existing models for describing rigor. The model is widely accepted in the education system in the United States. Cognitive Rigor is the superposition of Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth-of-Knowledge levels and the two are often compared. They are used to categorize the level of abstraction of questions and activities in education.

I had found a number of visualizations of Norman Webb's "Depth of Knowledge" online, but I wasn't sure which one was the "official" version and could we use it in our training. Most of them were a wheel design, but others were charts and a few had a steps design similar to how Bloom's Taxonomy is shown. So, I contacted Webb via his University of Wisconsin website.  I was not sure if I would get a response, but thankfully he emailed this response:

"Thanks for your interest in my work. I did not create the DOK wheel. I believe someone in Florida used my work to create the DOK wheel. Because the wheel is not mine, I cannot grant or deny its use. I think the DOK chart is misleading and I do not recommend its use. Depth of Knowledge depends on more than the verb. The complexity also depends on what the verb is acting on. For example, “draw” is in the DOK level 1 sector. But a student who draws a blueprint of a new building is doing more than recall of information. Explain also can be at different levels--explain by repeating a definition (DOK level 1), explain by putting a paragraph into your own words (DOK level 2), or explain by describing an analysis of the factors contributing to the economic down turn of the US (DOK level 3). So I cannot provide you the requested permission and, in fact, I discourage you from using the DOK wheel. It is a simplification of my work that does not fully represent the issues of content complexity. The only possible use of the chart I can see is if someone took a verb and asked how it could be placed in each of the four sectors."

Ultimately, we used his reply and a simple chart version of DOK

intelligencesA third theory that I would say has gone out into the wilds of education is the theory of multiple intelligences. It differentiates "intelligence" into specific modalities. It was proposed by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner chose eight abilities/intelligences/modalities: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.

Later, he suggested that existential and moral intelligence may also be worthy of inclusion. Gardner did not like the idea of labeling learners to a specific intelligence, but of course that is what many people have done with his work in the wild.

Before Gardner presented his theory, brain research became more connected to learning theory. When the lateralization of brain function went "into the wild," and many variations on right brain / left brain learners were put forward. Much of this kind of extending of a theory has been questioned, but the wild version of the research is still out there.

In the wild, it is generally called "learning styles" and though the right hemisphere is associated with cognitive skills (creativity, emotion, intuitiveness) the right also controls the left side of the body, so right-brained people are often left-handed. Right-brain dominant people are generalized as artistic, innovative and often random. 

Gardner still maintains that his theory of multiple intelligences (not to be conflated with learning styles) should "empower learners," rather than label them in ways that might actually restrict them. 

Education Versus Training

training

Factory training, 1941

Professional learning, often referred to as training, has been in companies for a long time.  But as a history of  training would show, that training is different from education and their evolutions have differed and crossed paths at times.

Education is instruction in more general knowledge, such as the history of the society, or mathematics. Training teaches how to do a specific task, such as building or running a machine.  As societies developed, there accumulated more knowledge than people could pick up on their own or learn informally from others.

That training history would reach back to antiquity when "On-The-Job Training" was the way people learned a job or career. In the Middle Ages, the apprenticeship was the new trend - learning from an expert while on the job. The Industrial Revolution brought about actual classrooms and factory schools with more formal training inside the company. 

I thought about this history when I was reading about the work of the Director of Learning at Slack, Kristen Swanson. Her job is to develop training for the tech company's employees and to help explain their messaging tool to customers around the globe. Swanson came to the company after an earlier career in EdTech. She started in education as an elementary school teacher, then served as a district director of technology, moved to directing a research department at BrightBytes, and then founded the Edcamp Foundation. That last role helped teachers run free, grassroots professional-development workshops. 

Directing learning at a company like Slack, must be very different, right? 

Amazon operates its own education division, Amazon Education. It currently offers products and services aimed at K-12 classrooms, such as TenMarks, an online math and writing program, and Inspire, a directory of online educational materials where teachers can find and share teaching materials. And Candace Thille, a professor of education at Stanford University, is now Amazon's Director of Learning Science and Engineering

A newish trend is for large technology companies to hire former educators to lead training and education efforts. Is professional learning outside academia becoming more like learning inside academia?

Returning to that training history, we saw that "vestibule training" emerged at the start of the 20th century blending the classroom with on-the-job training or "near-the-job" training. The training room was located close to the workplace and equipped with the same machines, equipment and technology that are used in production. The trainer was usually a skilled worker or supervisor, much like the much older apprentice model.

During and after the two world wars, there was a need to train large numbers of defense workers because of increased demand for products and a loss of workers to the military. Several shifts occurred during this period. Training was done by supervisors who were being trained how to teach. Training classes were smaller, generally 9-11 workers.

As training departments became established in many companies, so did ways of providing more efficient, less expensive methods of training. Individualized automated instruction came into play, and was the basis for CBT (computer-based training) which is still used in various forms in companies today.

Has training been learning from education, or has education been trying to include training in the curriculum?