Trust The Children

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Put an end to summer - Obama

President Obama proposes the end of summer for our kids?

Probably a political move to "help" the teachers union and get votes he desparately needs after ignoring the public and spending us and our kids into oblivion. Most teachers I know, count the summer off as a huge part of why they stick with the profession. Our President is proposing today, that kids spend more time in school. I suppose this supports single parents, and parents who both work outside of the home, but at what cost to our future?

However, this proposal by our President prompted me to reflect and share the following from an article I read for one of my classes. My son David, blogged about it too. The same quote.

I have felt for a long long time, that there was something inside of me, regarding instruction of our children, that was trying to get out. This blog, over the years, is an attempt to verbalize those inner ideas that I haven't quite put a total handle on yet. When I read this article, these ideas seemed to encapsulate a large chunk of my feelings in a logical and informative way. While I am only sharing the first part of this article, the rest of it goes on to describe the author's instructional solutions for the dilemma we expose children to, when we send them to public school. The author, Keith Sawyer shares:

By the twentieth century, all major industrialized countries offered formal schooling to all of their children. When these schools took shape in the ninetieth and twentieth centuries, scientist didn't know very much about how people learn. Even by the 1920s, when schools began to become the large bureaucratic institutions that we know today, there still was not sustained study of how people learn. As a result, the schools we have today were designed around commonsense assumptions that had never been tested scientifically.

Sawyer goes on to outline these problematic "commonsense assumptions" as follows:

  • Knowledge is a collection of facts about the world and procedures for how to solve problems. Facts are statements like "The earth is titled on its axis by 23.45 degrees" and procedures are step-by-step instructions like how to do multidigit addition by carrying to the next column.
  • The goal of schooling is to get these facts and procedures into the student's head. People are considered to be educated when they possess a large collection of these facts and procedures.
  • Teachers know these facts and procedures, and their job is to transmit them to students.
  • Simpler facts and procedures should be learned first, followed by progressively more complex facts and procedures. The definitions of "simplicity" and "complexity" and the proper sequencing of material were determined either by teachers, by textbook authors, or by asking expert adults like mathematicians, scientists, or historians - not by studying how children actually learn.
  • The way to determine the success of schooling is to test students to see how many of these facts and procedures they have acquired.

This traditional vision of schooling is known as instructionism (Papert, 1993). Instructionism prepared students for the industrialized economy of the early twentieth century. But the world today is much more technologically complex and economically competitive, and instructionism is increasingly failing to educate our students to participate in this new kind of society. Economists and organizational theorists have reached a consensus that today we are living in a knowledge economy, an economy that is built on knowledge work (Bereiter, 2002; Drucker, 1993). In the knowledge economy, memorization of facts and procedures is not enough for success. Educated graduates need a deep conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products, and new knowledge. They need to be able to critically evaluate what they read, to be able to express themselves clearly both verbally and in writing, and to be able to understand scientific and mathematical thinking. They need to learn integrated and usable knowledge, rather than the sets of compartmentalized and de-contextualized facts emphasized by instructionism. They need to be able to take responsibility for their own continuing, lifelong learning. These abilities are important to the economy, to the continued success of participatory democracy, and to living a fulfilling, meaningful life. Instructionism is particularly ill-suited to the education of creative professionals who can develop new knowledge and continually further their own understanding; instructionism is an anachronism in the modern innovation economy. (R.K. Sawyer, The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Cambridge University Press, 2006.)

Do any of these ideas resonate with you too?

I am thinking that I ought to begin sharing ideas that parents can use, that make instruction and learning at home more interesting. Practical, simple ideas that have been tested scientifically. Ideas, that show that teaching, while partly an art form, is not ALL an art form. Good teaching need not be limited to the degree baring college trained among us. Teaching anything, at home, work, church or the community can be engaging, interesting, effective and memorable. In fact, maybe in some ways, more so than what the professionals offer. And why shouldn't our children we teach at home have the benefit of interesting teaching too?

Maybe it's time to put the overwhelming and scary part of "teaching" anything, in its place and begin focusing on the simple things that can make learning fun and enjoyable for our precious students.

I'll have to think about this some more.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why is Instruction Ineffective?


"Often students need to learn facts or even skills, for the purpose of finishing a set of home work problems or in order to pass a test. [Most often] there is nothing about their new knowledge that helps them achieve a goal that is both relevant and meaningful to them." Roger Shank

In some ways, this is another way of describing the ADD or ADHD child. It is true, that brain scans show a difference between an ADD and non-ADD child. But so often, the kids are just bored. They need to move. They are hunting for answers to "Why am I doing this at all?"

Much instruction does not answer the question, "Therefore, what?"

I have pictures of scales on my wall. Elements that oppose one another sometimes.

Learn "that" vs Learn "how to".
Know "that" vs " Know "why".
Content coverage vs. Critical/engaged thinking
Transmissive education vs Interactive education
Mastery of content vs Mastery of the process of learning.
Content vs skills

Kids feel instruction has impact when it contains "meaningful imagery, surprise, amazement, and when it contains practice that makes them better at something." (Michael Allen) As a grandparent with grandkids living with me for a few weeks, nothing brings a smile to me and my grandchildren more, than when they come running up to me and say, "Grandpa, Grandpa look what I can do!" (Merrill) The total opposite of a bored, unengaged learner. They love learning when they can do stuff better. More how to instead of about. (Google David Merrill- First Principles of Instruction. It's really not that hard to read.)

So what makes instruction ineffective? Here are a few ideas... add your own.
Why is instruction ineffective?

1. It does not lead to results or actual transfer from the learning environment to the real world.

2. It doesn't lead to the personal life success of the students, but makes the teacher's ego feel good... "I really taught them alright!"

3. It lacks contextual structure. The right approach for the right intent of the class. (Michael Allen) they hear all about biology and not why it makes a hill of beans in their lives, except the state requirements are achieved. Liberal Arts education should be about going broad to FIND something. And when you find it. Stop and take it deep. Go deep and learn to love it. But no, the bell rings and we need to suppress any enthusiasm we might have for the topic and move on.

4. The relationship between the student and the teacher isn't a reciprocal one. Most often the teacher sees the student as empty and it's her job to fill them up. Teachers ask questions of students. Yet, if students were asking questions of teachers, they would be mastering the very art that leads to reflection, inspiration and innovation... question asking. Without reciprocity in the classroom, the experience is largely one way, and discovery is discouraged. Result? Bored kids. Its so much about convincing instead of communicating.

Good teaching is hard, and most teachers just don't have time for it. A few days ago, a colleague dropped by and I showed him a new instructional model meant to enhance the chance that a student would actually take something out of the classroom and use it. He became very excited and then his face turned down to a frown as he said, "This would take a long time to prepare."

Yep, it does. So what's the option? Go back to talking down to students where learning doesn't happen? Unfortunately, that is usually the case. Not meaning to give someone a guilt trip. Teaching can be a wonderful adventure, until it isn't any more.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why is Instruction Boring, whether at home or in the system?

It's been quite a while since I posted something here. It's not because I don't type a lot, or write a lot, its' because, you don't grade me and this blog isn't a strategic part of my degree. And that is terrible. So I need to repent and change. I am older now, slower and have more to do than I ever thought I would. I am long since out of familiar patterns of accomplishment, and in what Vygotsky calls, "The zone of proximal development", which is basically anything that is NOT the comfort zone.

I have these major authors who I have come to respect, because, at least over the last 2 years, their ideas have stuck. They have not gone away. I use their ideas all the time, and our online instruction is a cut above others out there because of these ideas.

So I asked my self the question: Why is instruction boring? I ask this question all the time, because frankly, I don't want to create boring instruction if I can avoid it. And in a book that you might not think had much to do with the topic, I found some answers. The book is titled, "Death by Meeting" and the author is Patrick Lencioni.

Anyway, I made this list of answers to that question, from his book and a few other sources. I thought I might share as part of my penance So here goes:

Instruction is boring because:

1) Most often it lacks drama or conflict.
2) It doesn't answer the question, "What is at stake?" or in other words, "if you don't know this what is going to go haywire in your life?" What is at stake if you don't get this.
3) Teachers don't mine for conflict. I don't mean encouraging "contention" I mean encouraging different points of view and negotiated them against a common family value.
4) Teachers don't reinforce engagement. Teachers reinforce finding the right answer, instead of rewarding students for finding, expressing and possessing different "questions". Like Cheri Toledo said, "If we can teach them to ask questions, and give permission for their questioning, we set the stage for critical thinking to occur." We need not be afraid of critical thinking, because if we don't have the answers as parents, we get to study something else of interest WITH our kids.
5) It lacks real world context. This is simply helping our kids see how one thing relates to another thing. That biology is related to math and related to history too.
6) It lacks personal relevant challenge. A 13 year old worries about acne and might be interested to know that Napoleon did too. But we all have to get over it. And that is a challenge. Besides it's cool learning about math so you can build a workshop on your property and build an airplane with your dad.
7) Teachers too often teach about the topic instead of the persons relationship to the topic. "How does this topic mean a hill of beans to me" is what kids want to know. The great teachers can answer that question.
8) Because it lacks, imagery, surprise, amazement, and meaningful practice so that kids get better at something and know it.
9) When it is not set in the context of the kid's lives. They don't live in school really, no matter how much the government wants to have that control. They also live at home, at church, at work, with their friends, parents and cousins, in their hobby life, sports, clubs and just in the neighborhood. If you want instruction in your "classroom" to stay in your classroom and go nowhere else, then don't teach it framed in these other places kids live. But if you want your instruction to be used outside of your classroom, frame it in these other places as you teach it.

I need to go, but my next post will be some ideas about Why instruction is ineffective? or at least a few possible reasons that lead to that.

Labels: , ,