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Dee said in January 27th, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Playing devil’s advocate here because although I agree that there needs to be some very major changes in the public educational system, I disagree with letting children start at any age and time. I can see where age ranges might be acceptable but there are some stages where kids should be grouped together more by age than academic ability. An example would be an academically adept 12 year old girl with a group that contains boys who are moving at a a slightly slower speed in school but are 15 years old physically and hormonally.

I also think that if part of our job as educators is to help students develop into productive and hopefully employable adults then a certain amount of expectation as far as discipline and schedule is important too. I think the balance between teaching what is necessary in the core subjects and not beating the creativity out of our kids is something that we have struggled with since the beginning of group education.

It’s important that we discuss and question and imagine but I worry that we sometimes lose sight of the end “product” I am NOT an advocate of NCLB because it doesn’t work. You can’t expect the exact same thing from each child at the exact same grade level. We know this. We know that you can’t expect a student with a third grade reading level to score the same on TAKS as a child with a tenth grade reading level.

Unfortunately as a society we value the worth of the child with the higher reading level more than the other child. I think it is tied to his or her earning potential as an adult because as a society we equate value with money. We then do a disservice to both because the one can never feel valued and consequently has no sense of self-worth because that child can never fulfill the perceived expectations of the world and the other child has a false sense of worth dependent first on academic successes and later occupational successes. That isn’t going to change in education until it changes on a more global level. Everyone has a place and purpose in the world and the eye isn’t more important than the ear and so on.

Sorry for the ranting and you can email me in all caps if you want lol. I think a lot of what I said isn’t even responding to your post – it’s more what was on my mind. I keep looking for balance in all these conversations about education and I feel like we need to pull some folks towards hurrying up while we hold some folks back from dashing ahead if that makes any sense. Good thing there isn’t any such thing as No Adult Left Behind.

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Anna said in January 27th, 2007 at 9:40 pm

I’m totally with you on the grouping of age being more important in some cases. I wasn’t trying to imply that academic groupings were the ideal. But the point, for me, is that grouping strictly by age isn’t the answer either.

I had this whole long rambling paragraph about starting school at any time – both age-wise and time of day, but it was too ramble-y to keep. Let’s just say, that I see your point about discipline and schedule being important to develop “employable” adults. I don’t know that requiring a strict school schedule is the only way to do that, though. And I see decided advantages to the student and being allowed to learn when it’s best for them. It’s a little bit of a tangent, but LifeHack.org had an entry today called Are You Just Getting Warmed Up. It’s about productivity and some people can’t just jump straight into work and be productive, but that it’s not procrastination – it’s just what works best for them. Kids are like that, too. Some need warming up, but we force them to get started at the same time as everyone else. In the work force, it certainly depends on the job, but I think most jobs allow a person to get started in the way that’s best for them, even if they all have to be there at 8am. Some days I ease into my day and some days I jump right in. But our kids? We except them all to do the same thing as their peers – everyday. Ooops… I deleted a ramble-y paragraph only to make another. :)

Moving on, I’m not so sure that’s it just about teaching what’s necessary in the core subjects and not stifling creativity. Times have changed. We’ve got information at our fingertips. I think it’s more important for our kids now to learn how to find out facts than know all of the facts. I’m not saying our kids shouldn’t be responsible for knowing anything they can’t look up, don’t get me wrong. But so much of our focus is on memorization of facts. What’s sticking in my mind right now is this post from David Warlick. Have a read. I’ll wait… I’m going to be more than a little angry if my daughter makes a 52 on a test because she can’t name off dates and places but can accurately explain causes and effects of a war, the advantages and disadvantages of all sides, etc. So while the balance of teaching what’s necessary and not losing creativity is as important now as it ever was, I think the “what’s necessary” has changed.

Totally with you on standardized tests and reading levels. Huge advantages for kids that can read well, and not just on the reading tests. The Math TAKS requires an awful lot of reading. I don’t think it’s so much that we value the worth of the kid with the higher reading level more than the other. Well, okay maybe society does. You’re right. Well, you could be right and I hope you’re not. For me, I don’t value the worth of the better reader more than the poor reader, but I do value the reading skill. So it may come across that we (society) values the person when it’s really the skill. Because it’s natural to want children to “succeed.” And we have a hard time realizing that success is not necessarily making lots of money – it’s enjoying and being good at what you do.

We’ve never gotten… biblical on this site, but you’re analogy of the eye not being more important than the ear sure reminded me of scripture. You’re right, and I’m glad you have given me pause on this. While we should always encourage each child to do his absolute very best, we should also accept that that very best is not going to be equal academically, but it should certainly be equal for self-worth. Reminds me of more scripture, but then I’ll really go off on a tangent!

Dee, I’m so glad you responded and I wish we were sitting at a table with some coffee and lots of time because I know this would be a great discussion.

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LisaB said in January 27th, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Anna, if I bring donuts, could I sit at the table with you and Dee? :-)
It sure does seem like the educational system is being stifled at every turn. The one room classroom reminds me of the Little House on Prairie days. They taught all ages in one room–she had to make multiple lesson plans, I’m sure! She too, had her concerns–back then, kids didn’t go to school that much during harvest time. Being in the fields was considered a priority. Now education is considered an priority.

I would love to be able to volunteer to help other kids; but I’d also like to work with mine, and let them engage in educational stuff at home. I remember a time when I was a stay at home mom, I’d enjoy the homework sessions, because it gave me an opportunity to teach! Of course, I was just basically reviewing what the teacher had already taught… but… still.

I have to admit, it does seem like that we are teaching children to think for themselves, rather than to memorize a lot of facts and figures. Unless of course, these facts and figures relate to their real world life. Memorizing dates of wars won’t be beneficial to our real world life, but pehaps relating the causes of war will cause us to think more clearly in politics for instance. “Back in the early 1800’s we fought ___________because of _____________. Now, with modern technology we fight________________because of_______________” can we learn from our past? I’m rambling too, I suppose.

Ahhh.. all part of the same body :-) Yep.. I love that scripture. We don’t all have the same job, but we’re all equally important. Those that function in the same said body–hopefully will work in unity. Unity that is held together by the sinews of Love :) Yup–another tanget :)

Okay Anna… curisoity is getting the better of me. WHich scripture reminds you of children’s self worth? None come to mind? Share, dear sister! :-)
Sigh–my mind is working faster than my fingers can type and I can’t keep up. And i have lesson plans to write. And I have papers to grade. And I’ve started three sentences with conjunctions :oP

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Helen said in January 28th, 2007 at 12:06 am

Here’s my two cents worth…I can see your point, Dee…we do have to have structure and think through the grouping of students. But at what cost? I’ve never been a morning person, and I hate when I’m expected to be 100% at 8:00 AM. Now, if you catch me around 10:00 AM, when I start hitting my stride, then we can talk. But my entire life, I’ve been ruled by the 8:00 AM clock–ticking away. If school were designed for me, it would have flexible times, many learning choices, and a variety of mentors (as opposed to teachers). Maybe some day…it’s like that John Lennon song, “Imagine”…

Along the lines of the valuing reading skills, I think you’re right. Not only do we value better readers, but those who excel at test-taking. Of course, if you are a better reader, then you will score better on tests. And we all know that your standardized test scores are directly correlated to the amount of success you will have in life, right? (*sarcastic smirk) Don’t get me wrong; I was one of those good test-takers. I’ve been successful in school. I learned what society deemed important, and I’ve worked hard to be good in that sense. Our schools are mired in bureaucracy, and many of us are good at bureaucracy and have been rewarded as such. But now, it’s time to stretch ourselves—to change our thinking. To challenge the way we’ve always done things—maybe school doesn’t have to be desks in rows in classrooms with 4 walls and whiteboards and textbooks. Maybe it’s different cohort groups…maybe it’s authentic project-based learning with many types of resources…maybe it’s year-round learning or flex days…

I heard this question posed, “If tomorrow you went to school and every staff member worked to ensure that every child had engaging, meaningful learning experiences every day, and all of a sudden every child started being successful, then what would do you think would happen? If every child started scoring in the 80 and 90 percentiles, what would you say? What do you think parents would say? Community members? Would they say we lowered standards? Or inflated grades? You see, it’s true. My child is good because your child scored lower. My child’s success depends on your child’s failure. We achieve rank based on our scores. In everything, we always look for what’s better and what’s worse. I like what Dee said about equal parts…eyes and ears…why can’t we all be successful? Who’s to say that each of our successes, no matter how big or small or different, isn’t just as important and should be just as important in the eyes of the community.

Now I’m rambling…bring on the java girls…

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Dee said in January 28th, 2007 at 9:06 am

Sorry about running off and leaving this discussion last night – the joys of sharing a family computer!
I’m up for coffee right now and will probably not be as coherent at this 7:40 am as I was last night but I guess a lot of my views from not just being in education but in raising two high school students of my own.
I want them to not only know where to go for information but to have a desire to obtain that information and make choices based on an ability to evaluate and reflect on it. The key word for me there is desire. While we can teach the where and how can we teach the desire? I also want them to have the desire to not just complete the basic requirements of a project but to go that little bit extra to make it special and there own. How do we teach that? The school walls are becoming are transparent and learning can now take place anytime and anywhere but how do we make them want it?
There is a part of me that loves the idea of a place where students come and go at their own times and learn at their own pace but what percentage just wouldn’t show up at all? I know I’m sounding very negative here and I really don’t have answers – just more questions. That’s why I read blogs – I’m hoping someone else can answer some of these questions.

I remember learning phonics in elementary school and in the next few years it went out of fashion. When my brother was in the grade I was taught phonics he was having difficulty reading and my mother would have me sitting on the kitchen floor while she cooked supper, teaching him phonics from my old workbook. That was my first example of how “fad education” can be problematic. It’s not that I don’t advocate change because I know it is sorely needed. I just want us to take the time to reflect (which I guess is what we are doing here LOL) and not leap without looking.

PS the scripture came from 1 Corinthians 12 – didn’t mean to get biblical and I don’t want to get off on another tangent but for me it all speaks to the problem. There has to be a standard by which children and their teachers can measure value. Information has a filter for all of us. We filter it through our own experiences, our emotions at the moment we are receiving the information, and the climate of our surroundings at that time.

Throughout history things have been more valuable because of their scarcity. Before the printing press very few people had access to information. Has information become less valued because of it’s availability? I think it’s the filtering that we need to concentrate on for ourselves and our kids.

I agree with David and I think the discussion with his daughter about why the war was fought is exactly what I’m talking about. He was teaching his daughter how to filter the information. I personally appreciate the why more than the exact dates but how do we reconcile these different filters and teach our kids what to value and what to set aside as not having priority. I think a future employer would value the ability of the person to be able to discern what is important in the context of a particular job and to make decisions based on that ability.
The problem here is how do we assess that? It comes back to what standard do we use to determine what has intrinsic value and who makes that decision? Big time gray areas here.

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Helen said in January 29th, 2007 at 12:52 am

Dee said “I want them to not only know where to go for information but to have a desire to obtain that information and make choices based on an ability to evaluate and reflect on it. The key word for me there is desire. While we can teach the where and how can we teach the desire? I also want them to have the desire to not just complete the basic requirements of a project but to go that little bit extra to make it special and there own. How do we teach that? The school walls are becoming are transparent and learning can now take place anytime and anywhere but how do we make them want it?”

That’s exactly what we should be worried about. How do we design the work to be so compelling that students want to do it? and how do we ensure they continue to pursue the work even when it’s difficult? That’s the “think different” piece…we have to figure out what motivates our students–not all students–the ones in our class–the ones we work with everyday. What speaks to them? What are they interested in when they’re not in school? I think if we can distill down what motivates our students, we can begin to figure out how to integrate that in to the work we give students. We can command that students attend school, but how are we going to compel them to give us their attention and commitment? You’re definitely right about facts vs. concepts. There’s still a time and place for facts, but facts can be taught within the framework of an overarching theme that draws from multiple disciplines AND helps students make connections. In order to be truly effective, our assessment needs to stop being multiple guess tests, and look more like conversations with students and projects. If we truly know our students, and we’re talking to our students, we’ll know if they get it or not, and isn’t that what assessment is supposed to be about?

So no answers, just more thoughts…more questions…more frustrations…I think we’re going to need lots of coffee and pastries for our conversation :-)

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Anna said in January 29th, 2007 at 8:09 pm

You obviously can’t “teach” a student the desire for learning. But I believe we can model that. If you teach behind a desk, or with worksheets, or with a monotone, you’re not showing that what you’re teaching is worth learning to you and you’re not making it relevant to the students. But if you’re animated when you talk about something – even if you aren’t that thrilled with the subject yourself. If you show in your tone and in your posture and in the relevant connections you make to those students’ worlds, then I think the desire will happen if it can happen. I have taught the same lesson to different classes and my attitude and delivery have been different. One I was tired and short and just matter of fact. The kids did the lesson but there were no ooo’s and aaah’s. But then I gave the lesson again and even though I was still tired I forced myself to be more lively and “into it.” My voice pitch was different. My stance was different. I said things like, “isn’t that cool?!” And this group of kids loved it. They wanted to work in the lesson than the first group and when they saw me in the halls, they asked when I was coming back again.

We all know this – that you can’t teach someone to want to learn, but I do believe if you show your own desire for knowledge, share your own passion for a subject, they’ll mirror that.