Our school-based agricultural education model is the model education reform
keeps reinventing; inquiry-based classrooms, experiential learning and
engagement. Use whatever words are buzzing—rigor, relevance, relationships or
content, application and motivation; we recognize all of the ideals in a
complete agricultural education program. Several years ago, thought leaders Dr.
Jack Elliot and Buddy Deimler wrote an article entitled “The Premier Educational
Delivery System,” which still rings true. It stated that “career and technical
education is the premier educational delivery system in the world. It addresses
all learning styles by employing pedagogical strategies that embrace all of the
multiple intelligence areas and incorporates the latest in brain-based research.
In fact, CTE educational strategies are utilized in the top 30 academic schools
in America.” (Techniques, January 2007).
Let’s dive into a Q & A with Elliot, a professor at Texas A&M University, and
Buddy Deimler, with the Utah FFA Association, as they share what has changed and
what we should be aware of as we move into the next wave of education reform.
Pulse Q: What would you add to this article to update it for
today’s education reform audience?
Deimler A: I’m not sure I would add anything. The model
is timeless. What changes is the context or how the model addresses the
latest education reform strategy. A classic example of addressing the
latest reform strategy is when the National Governor’s Association came out with
their “Education Plan,” which was going to revolutionize the world of education.
Their plan was to inject the 3-Rs—rigor, relevance and relationship—into the
education system. Agricultural education already delivers the 3-Rs— rigor
through good classroom instruction, relevance through hands-on experiential
education in the laboratory and through the supervised agricultural experience
program, and relationship, which is connecting every student with a caring adult
mentor or coach, through FFA. We already had the model in place, and it
was operating successfully.
Another group of business and industry leaders identified the top five skills
an entry level worker should have upon graduation; academic ability (classroom),
skill building (laboratory), hands-on experience (SAE), and character building
(FFA). Whether you use educational psychology terms (cognitive,
psychomotor and affective domains) or career and technical education terms
(technical instruction, experiential education and personal and leadership
development), or you use the agricultural education terms that we are all
familiar with (classroom instruction, laboratory and supervised agricultural
experience, and FFA) it all means the same thing.
Elliot A: Rigor, relevance and relationships are more
critical today than ever. We now have an entire generation of students who
believe that effective education is successful test taking (high stakes testing
has created this phenomena), and we are seeing really smart students who are
inept at applying their knowledge because they have no desire (it is not a
Pulse Q: How can educators in the field continue to help get
the word out about the rigor and relevance of agricultural education and reduce
the frequency of the academic and behavioral “dumping grounds” you speak of in
Deimler A: I have a different perspective on this question.
There are many different types of “smart” or “intelligence.” My question
is how did the “smart” test, which was designed for the 20 percent of the
students who need to complete a four-year degree, get to be the “smart” test for
100 percent of the students in the school? This narrow view on the purpose
of education has labeled these students as unsuccessful and “dumped” them into
my program. I had students in my program who were not very successful in
the “traditional” high school sense but had intelligence, common sense and
hands-on skills that the top 10 percent of the students simply did not have.
Many of the students in the top 10 percent of the class did not have any problem
solving or critically thinking while my students had spent their entire school
career honing their problem solving and critical thinking skills because they
had to use them every day to survive in a system that did not recognize any of
the skills or talents they possessed. Their skills did not fit the very
narrow view that a four-year degree was the only measure of success.
The second point is that rigor doesn’t mean “hard” like calculus is “hard.”
It means having a thorough understanding of a concept so that you are able to
apply and transfer that knowledge to other situations. I like to define
rigor as plowing an “inch” wide and a “mile” deep. Students are not able
to transfer information to other situations until their understanding is a
“mile” deep. Most academic subjects are taught in the opposite
philosophy; the teacher, in a hurry to cover all the chapters in the textbook,
plows an “inch” deep and a “mile” wide, never stopping to make sure the student
has a grasp of the material before moving on. Adding rigor to math in the
schools doesn’t mean that all students will be successful in calculus. All
students don’t need calculus. It means that all students will have such a
thorough understanding of arithmetic that they can transfer this knowledge and
skill to algebra and geometry. And that they have such a firm grasp of
entry-level algebra that they can transfer that knowledge to higher-level math.
That is rigor.
I do believe that there are students in the schools that are uneducable
because of circumstance or because they refuse to participate in life.
However the overwhelming number of students who were “dumped” into my class just
needed a teacher who appreciated that they had a different learning style.
Elliot A: We must change the way we speak and think. Let me
give you an example. If I ask agricultural education teachers the purpose of an
extended contract (or is it important), they will reply that it is to support
their salary so they can manage the land laboratory, take students to the fair
or show, water the greenhouse, etc. That answer is wrong if we want to get the
word out about the rigor, relevance, and relationships of our program. The
correct or more appropriate response is, "An extended contract is not important,
it is essential. It is essential because overall academic ability improves when
students are engaged with their learning and experience the relationships among
knowledge, application/skills and desire. We do this by involving them in the
land laboratories, fairs or shows, greenhouses, etc." We must use the "how" to
teach the "why."
Pulse Q: If our agriculture educators are not including SAE
in their programs, what would your advice be on how to get started making it an
Deilmer A: Think small and deliver it to all of the
students. I worked with a teacher one time that solved the problem this
way. At the beginning of the school year, he handed the students a flat
and a pair of pruners. They took a field trip on the school campus and
took cuttings off of various plants. In the greenhouse the cuttings were
prepared for rooting. Each student now had a flat of about 100 cuttings in
the process of being rooted. This became the students SAE and their
personal responsibility and property. It was explained that any money made from
the sale of the mature plants, minus the expenses incurred during the process,
belonged to the student. Now the teacher had a context to start the
discussion on SAE because every student had the same SAE. When he talked
about a budget or expenses and income, all the students worked from the same
context and experience. When he talked about planning and record keeping,
all of the students had the same context and experience. Now let’s take
score. One-hundred percent of the students in the class had an SAE—check.
One hundred percent of the students participated in the record-keeping
discussions in class and had their own personal record book with real life
data—check. One-hundred percent of the students had an SAE project that
had the potential for growth and profit if managed properly—check. One
hundred percent of the students talked about their SAE program every day as they
discussed the next steps—check. One hundred percent of the students knew
what an SAE was and had a plan for growing their personal SAE program—check.
Many of the students (certainly not 100 percent) began to transfer this
new-found SAE information to market animals and crop production opportunities
that they already had at home. Some even expanded on the original
horticulture SAE by finding extra space in a greenhouse off campus. Was
this a perfect solution to the challenge of engaging every student in an SAE
program? No. Did it provide SAE opportunities for 100 percent of the
students? Yes. Did it provide the teacher with a context for discussing
SAE, which every student understood and had experience with? Yes.
I believe that we can accomplish similar results through the agriscience
fair. I believe that similar results can be found in using
project-based learning (conducted outside the classroom), job-shadow
opportunities and internships—all as a place to start the discussion on SAE
programs. None of these will generate any money, but they will generate
valuable hours of experience. In time, these exploratory-type SAE opportunities
can be redirected into entrepreneurial or placement opportunities as the student
Elliot A: Effective SAEs, including home visits, improve
overall academic ability. Short-changing our students and our programs are the
outcomes if SAEs are not included.
Pulse Q: How do you think the three-component model will
endure education reforms in the next 10, 20 or 50 years?
Deimler A: I believe that it will endure just fine.
The model delivers what everyone is asking for. Business and industry
leaders are asking for more soft skills and critical-thinking skills; the model
delivers it through SAE and FFA. Administrators and politicians are asking
for more rigor and relevance; the model delivers it through the connection
between what is learned in the classroom and the application in the SAE and FFA.
The part we struggle with is the accountability piece. Many of the
skills our students obtain in our programs are hard to measure and certainly are
not measured by the latest accountability tests. When I completed my high
school agricultural education program and FFA experience, I know that it had
made a difference and my parents knew that it had made a difference. As a
high school agricultural education teacher, I knew that I was making a
difference. Now as a state leader, I can see the difference we are making
in students in every program across the state. I am just now sure how to
measure the difference we are making. Sometimes it doesn’t show until
years after graduation, when students recognize that their agriculture teacher
is the only teacher they remember and their lessons the only lessons they still
use on a daily basis. Probably an exaggeration but still true.
Elliot A: It won't unless we speak in terms that others
understand—see figure 2.
Figure 2. Premier Educational Delivery System (Techniques,
January 2007, pg. 45)
Career and Technical Education
Technical Instruction (classroom)
Experiential Development (Laboratory and work-based learning, including
educational home visits
Personal and leadership development (intra-curricular) (CTE student
Domains of Learning
7-Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
Center for Occupational Research & Development (CORD)
Skill Building, hands-on
National Governors’’ Association Educational Plan
Not applicable usually
Not applicable usually