Saturday, May 13, 2006

We'll keep it going...

Issue One:
"...for those 95% or so of kids who are educable the schools, our agency for teaching, are responsible for students' learning." (KDeRosa comment)

I think we can all agree the vast majority, 95% according to KDeRosa, are educable. Which would mean that, should those students choose to learn, to involve themselves with the instruction they are receiving, whether that instruction is perfect or not, they can learn. And that, if teacher instruction is not effective, certainly the teacher is to blame.

Issue Two:
"The six hours, 180 days a year are sufficient to teach what you need to teach them assuming they have the necessary pre-skills coming in and attend class regularly." (KDeRosa comment)

Well, the elementary school teacher has the student for that amount of time, minus other important instructional time in the fine arts, technology, and physical fitness. We cannot forget the importance of well-rounded individuals. BUT, for the average high school teacher, we see a student for 50 minutes a day, for 180 days, minus absences, assemblies, two week testing periods, and the far too many days the Central Office pulls the teacher out for meetings. He qualifies his statement with the assumption of previous skill comprehension, but every high school teacher knows that Middle Schools do not hold students accountable because they are too worried about social promotion.

Issue Three:
"You probably have a heterogeneous classroom with a wide range of student ability. You target instruction toward to[sic] the average student. You moveon [sic]to the next topic when the average students learn the material. Now you're surprised when the low performers who have been taught above their ability level at a pace that is too fast for them with the cumulative effect being that they fall further and further behind as the year progresses. And, you're actually surprised because they are unmotivated and disengaged. And, the parents of these kids, probably the least capable parents, are supposed to be picking up the slack at home." (KDeRosa comment)

Here is where I have some questions that perhaps will offend some in the education world. Recent trends in education have gone away from the tracking system, placing students with like skills together, in favor of the more politically correct feel good system. This system assumes that all students have equal levels of intellectual capabilities. Is this what we really believe? I for one, know that there are people who are much more intelligent than me, and that if I were placed in a class with them, I would be the lowest denominator. Is that good for me? Is that good for them?

Issue Four: In response to a question on motivating students:
"That's an easy one. Teach them better. And to find out if you actually taught, you need to check to see what the student has actually learned. Students who are learning tend to be motivated to learn. Of course, there are no guarantees if the student came to you unmotivated and with a history of non-learning." (KDeRosa comment)

This response is judgemental at best. The automatic assumption on the part of a blogger, researcher, parent, newspaper, or federal worker (Spellings?) that a teacher has not taught them well is an assumption that is demeaning to the our profession. The reality is that the answer is far too simplistic. Teach them better? That reminds me of the time I worked construction while in college. A co-worker dropped a 12ft section of guardrail on his foot, broke three toes. The foreman came over, looked, and said, "Walk it off." A little too simplistic.

Sure, every student can learn something with good instruction. But, not every student can reach the standards we want to hold them to. It goes to that whole Multiple Intelligences things. There are some people who will never care to read a novel, infer the deeper meaning, explain the metaphor, or write a five paragraph essay persuading the reader that the narrator was an unreliable one; but that same person will be able to pull apart the engine of my Jeep Wrangler and put it back together so that it works. I can't do that. Good teaching won't be able to get me to do that. Yeah, I could pick up a few things, but I won't ever get a job as a mechanic because I don't want to. The mechanic could provide all types of great lessons and activities to excite me about learning the inside of an engine, but I still won't want to.
So, if the student doesn't want to learn the material, KDeRosa, no amount of better teaching will convince them otherwise.

4 Comments:

At 2:51 AM , Anonymous Pavane said...

Brava, Mr McNamara!

KDeRosa, why do I get the feeling that you're more of an educational academic rather than a front-line practitioner? Correct me if I'm wrong. However, you did say "... the schools, our agency for teaching, are responsible for students' learning."

So, whatever happened to the notion of personal responsibility of students? Or, is just teachers nowadays who ought to shoulder the entire burden of responsibility for the learning of students?

I agree that to a certain extent student learning is the responsibility of the teacher, although as McN so rightly points out, circumstances nowadays can make it difficult. Nonetheless, we plough on, and try our best to motivate and cater for the needs of all our students. However, I disagree that students (and their families) should have no responsiblity when it comes to their learning. Part of growing up and becoming a wordly adult is to learn to take responsibility for yourself. We cannot handhold them forever, because what happens when they leave school and suddenly don't have their teachers taking responsibility for their lives? Oh, that's right - you get young adults - even college kids - without a shred of personal accountability (just head over to the Chronicle forums if you don't believe me).

Sorry to hijack your blog posting, Mr McNamara - it was indeed a very insightful and eloquent post. Well done and keep fighting the good fight.

 
At 7:04 AM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

1. We'ew off to a good start. You only look as far as Project Follow Through to see that curricular changes can have profound effects on student achievement.

By your theory, the kids in the most effective instructional program just happened to choose to learn and involve themselves, whereas the kids in the other programs chose not to. This is absurd on its face.

Project Follow Through shows that the instruction in most classrooms is, in fact, not effective. And, you seem to agree that when the instruction is not effective the teachers are to blame. Actually, I blame the instructional program and the administrators more.

2. Most of the problems you list are also relevant to elementary and middle schools as well. My point is that whatever time schools have, it is sufficient.

My qualification is critical because, for example, you cannot expect a high school algebra teacher to effectively teach students who do not know elementary math. You recognize that middle schools socially promote. Presumably, this is because these middleschool students didn't take ownership of their learning. Project Follow Through (and subsequent studies where students were effectively taught up to the middle school level) proves this is wrong.

3. Heterogenous grouping is an example of ineffective teaching. There are plenty more. examples

4. But, not every student can reach the standards we want to hold them to.

Talk about a demeaning attitude. Project Follow Through showed that students who typically scoring in the 20th - 49th percentiles (i.e., not making the standard) could, in fact, make the standard if taught more effectively. Subsequently, schools like the City Spring School in Baltimore show that all but about the lowest 5% of students can make the standards with effective instruction.

Your entire argument is a house of cards.

Good teaching won't be able to get me to do that. Yeah, I could pick up a few things, but I won't ever get a job as a mechanic because I don't want to.

The fact that you don't want to do it does not mean that you couldn't be taught to do it. You are capable of picking up more than "a few things." The motivation of an adult for voluntarily learning something is different than the motivation of a child whose learning is compulsary.

If I stuck you in an engine building classroom and told you that you'd be force to pass the course or retake it until you passed it, you'd change your tune pretty quick.

From the comments: So, whatever happened to the notion of personal responsibility of students? Or, is just teachers nowadays who ought to shoulder the entire burden of responsibility for the learning of students?

The student does have the responsiblity to learn if that student is provided effective instruction in the first place. What I've shown, and you've failed to rebut, is that most instruction is ineffective to the lower 2/3rds of the curve. It is difficult to learn gibberish.

I could easily turn you into a student like one of these hapless students. All I need to do is stick you into some high level graduate level science, math, or engineering class outside of your field of study and in which you lacked many of the preskills necessary to succeed. Then, all I need to do is teach it at a pace that is too fast for you to keep up with the smarter grad students. Soon enough, you'd be exhibiting the same kinds of motivation and engagement issues and would be as needy as your lower performing high school students.

 
At 8:24 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

"If I stuck you in an engine building classroom and told you that you'd be forced to pass the course or retake it until you passed it, you'd change your tune pretty quick."
It is a statement like this that causes you to lose credibility. Siting a case study that has a latest reference year of 1988 indicates a lack of understanding for the modern classroom. If you were to walk into my classroom, where every student must pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, a Research Based Argumentative Essay, and a Culminating Exhibition or retake all three things, you would see students, despite our school having a Success Coordinator and teachers like me who hate to see kids fail, choosing, despite the consequence, to not come to class, to not turn work in, and to not learn the material presented, simply because they don't want to.

In addition, it is not demeaning to say that every kid cannot learn to the standards we've set. Some of these skills are high level thinking skills; this belief is a fatal flaw of NCLB. Students with special needs, low IQ kids, will be able to get a very basic understanding. But our intent, I hope, is to set standards that are beyond very basic. We live in a world where higher education is essential to job acquisition. To use my example again, I don't have the ability, regardless of instruction, of understanding the details of a car. I DON'T.

 
At 6:03 PM , Blogger KDeRosa said...

[C]iting a case study that has a latest reference year of 1988 indicates a lack of understanding for the modern classroom.

What exactly has changed in the intervening 20 years to invalidate the largest education study to date? Humans haven't evolved. According to NAEP, student achievement hasn't changed. What we want students to learn hasn't changed, though the way we teach it has.

Some of these skills are high level thinking skills

There are virtually no skills needed at the high school level that cannot be taught to lower performers if the skills are taught directly and broken down into subskills and taught.

To use my example again, I don't have the ability, regardless of instruction, of understanding the details of a car.

Perhaps not the ability to be a mechanical engineer, but a mechanic only needs a basic understanding of mechanics.

 

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