Mark Barnes

Education & Business Consultant, The Paperless Classroom, LLC


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To turn schools into Results Only Learning Environments (ROLE), a revolutionary teaching and learning model that is legitimate reform.

Imagine a seventh grader asked to evaluate her production over a single grading period. She is told she must give herself a letter grade. After several minutes of consideration, she tells the teacher that she deserves an F. Sound farfetched? In a Results Only Learning Environment, this is the sort of self-evaluation that happens daily.

In a time when education reform is prevalent, bureaucrats across America believe they have the answers to improving America’s schools. The problem is that most think that high stakes testing, homework and a grade-it-and-move-on-to-the-next-unit approach are at the center of successful reform, but this is not reform at all.

Real change in education must include a complete transformation of the methods that teachers and students use for learning. This takes bold measures – a complete overhaul of a broken system. It means creating a Results Only Learning Environment that removes the emphasis from traditional worksheets, direct instruction, multiple choice tests, grades and the old style of education that most teachers use today. A results-only system makes learning a shared responsibility between teachers and students. A ROLE is student-centered and project-based.

Rather than pressuring students to practice rote skills for two hours nightly, a results-only classroom provides a combination of individual and cooperative learning activities, completed in class and over extended time, with constant narrative feedback from teachers and peers and the opportunity to change and improve any activity, in order to demonstrate learning.

Results-only learning is the type of reform that will forever change American education. It's time to get all stakeholders involved in a movement away from testing and toward an education system that embraces student choice, proper feedback and real mastery learning outcomes.

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    May 22 2011: After finding and reading some of your blog I have to say your ideas are fantastic, but I still feel in my own head as well as what you have said is that learning should be focused the process and experience rather than results.
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      May 22 2011: Hey Jesse, You have me thinking. The process is truly a critical part of results-only learning. I think that if you immediately think of results as test results (one more problem that has been created by education bureaucracy), then the phrase may have a negative connotation. As you can see, the main title of my blog is "ROLE Reversal" (also the title of the book I'm writing). The idea is a play on the acronym, to flip the roles of teacher and student, allowing the student to decide how she gets to the learning outcome. The emphasis, then, is on the final outcome -- or result.

      Your point about universities is well taken. What I express in my book is that the process is important, but the student should be making many of the decisions about this process. The teacher becomes more of a coach or facilitator, providing constant narrative feedback during the process.

      Thanks for your input.
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    May 21 2011: When I looked at the title and saw "Results Only Learning Environment" I thought you were going to reinforce the current education reforms you believe we need to stray away from. So first off I'd have to say that "Results Only" may not be the most attractive title. I believe what we have now is already a results only learning environment.

    I am currently studying physics for a B.S. and the biggest problem I have come into is that all that the University cares about is the results. Most of my classes have online homework assignment where the hand done work is never looked at. The only thing the professor see's is your answer. For a major that focus's on advanced mathematics I thought this would be the last place I'd see this but I find professors relying on these homework systems heavily. More and more I feel what I hold dear, the method of solving problems and the exploration of all possibilities is being squandered. It has affected me drastically so far though out my academic career.

    I feel we should strive towards eliminating grades and judgement as much as possible. Having a constant barrage of grades and judgments to meet severely limits ones ability to explore and push themselves. Relieving students from some of these grades will give them room to experiment and to truly question the topic they are studying. Students should not be set in an environment where they are terrified of making mistakes. Mistakes are after all things we learn from.
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    Jun 8 2011: why did you make it a trademark? that's nothing you invented... for me it really looks good what you're doing but that trademark makes is look like you want to get rich with that stuff... a system of learning... you cant really own that. in switzerland we have a few private "free schools" where they use quite the same system, and it seems to function.
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      Jun 11 2011: Hey Adrian, some parts of the system are not new. I don't claim to have created narrative feedback or project-based learning. I'm writing a book on taking all of the concepts and combining them into a Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE). The use of this phrase and acronym, as they apply to education, are unique to my book. Hence, the trademark.

      I'm not trying to "get rich," as you suggest. No education author does. I just want to get the word out about how this progressive approach to education can change everything.

      Thanks for your thoughts.
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    May 21 2011: You write that we must move towards a system that embraces student choice. Would you be willing to say that course and content standards (the opposite of choice) should be eliminated?
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      May 22 2011: Matt, you pose some excellent points and questions. Let me begin with the one about a ROLE not addressing students who are bored and uninterested in prescribed courses. I would argue that no matter the subject, if the student is bored, she is not in a Results Only Learning Environment. The book I'm writing, ROLE Reversal, offers detailed strategies for converting any classroom into a ROLE, thus engaging the student in the course. The key is autonomy. If we provide many choices for students, and projects in which they can demonstrate learning, they will become interested.

      Regarding your question about content standards, I'm not sure I'd abolish them completely, but I would change how they are used. A list of objectives that lead only to a standardized tests is useless. There needs to be a core curriculum with a list of effectively-written objectives for each grade level. This should be a launching pad only. If I have to teach each objective separately, the curriculum guide is poorly-constructed. I should be able to pull them into any project-based activity, so students can sharpen their skills throughout the year.

      Thanks for your thoughts.
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    May 21 2011: I have been to your site/blog and have read almost all of it. My wife currently works in a ROWE setting at her job (implemented within the past year) and I have tried to incorporate elements of it into my high school AP classroom. I believe the ROLE is effective in helping students desire and work towards mastery while incorporating elements of trust and respect into the classroom. It seems that what you have done is create an environment that attempts to optimize the learning of current curriculum, and I applaud you for your willingness to innovate and take risks. Like I said, I have been incorporating similar elements in my own class, yet all the while, I continue to believe that what I am doing is participating in my own sort of school reform and ultimately falls short of my vision of education revolution (as described by Ken Robinson). What the ROLE doesn't address is the huge number of students who are bored and uninterested in one or more of the prescribed courses. It is this dilemma that I have been wrestling with and thus far, the closest thing I have seen is found in democratic schools (Sudbury schools for example). I would encourage you to visit, and I am curious to hear your thoughts on some of the principles of this idea of education.