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Archive for October, 2012

Years ago, I remember hearing that economics and behavior should have no effect on educational success. Poor kids, I was told, were just as smart as rich ones. I could believe that, because we lived well below the poverty mark, and I still did well in school. Has something changed? Or was I just a fluke?

According to the report The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do, from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2007)  

“Research shows that poor children are less likely to succeed in school, more likely to have long-term health problems and more likely to rear their own children in poverty than their higher-income peers.”

” Recent scientific evidence further supports these findings by demonstrating that the detrimental effects of poverty are literally built into the architecture of children’s developing brains.”

Something has happened to our spirits, I suspect. I remember poor kids in the 60’s vowing that their children would never live as they had. We had spunk and hope and creativity! I cannot remember any gap or chasm between myself and the children of the scientists and engineers at the area university or government laboratories.

Nowadays, students of hardship enter my classroom with “hopeless” stamped across their foreheads at an alarming rate. When asked if she couldn’t take her studies more seriously, one student answered “I just want to get out of here so I can have some babies and “draw” (go on welfare.)

Nearly 25% of the students in our area live in poverty. I cannot fathom there being a silver bullet for this. Some days I feel as hopeless as they do. But I still believe that somewhere beneath the hurt and hopelessness is a student who wants to make something of themselves. I just hope I can find him or her before they leave my school.

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I stumbled across a TED video the other day, and have not been able to stop thinking about it since.  Salman Khan was talking about his foray into the education arena. Among all the other down-to-earth, practical things he said was a remark he made about how counter intuitive modern (if you can call it that) education is. We lecture, or demonstrate, or show, during class where students are asked to keep up and then sent home to do “homework” where the amount of available assistance is inversely proportional to the degree of difficulty.

Lectures, demonstrations, videos, etc. can all be done online these days where the student can watch at his/her pace, go back, repeat, slow down, whatever they need. There are now pens that will record everything you write, interface with your computer, and then disseminate your notes online however you wish. Cool, huh? Yeah, but your students already knew about this!

That which we call homework, he suggests, should be done in class, where the teacher can give constant observation and feedback (instruct, assess, adjust-remember?) in the form of Formative  Assessment.

I happen to believe that all teachers are wired for formative assessment, but written work (worksheets and the like) are frowned upon because they look so old-fashioned. As I write this, I am trying to brain-storm ways to use this upside-down model in my area, but no brain-storm yet–maybe cloudy with a chance of drizzle later–we’ll see. But I am committed to trying to come up with clever ways to do more lecture and study at home, and more hands on at school. The idea of  upside-down instruction fascinates me.

More to come. Film at eleven.

Kahn’s video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM95HHI4gLk

His website is here:  www.khanacademy.org

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This post is primarily the result of my thinking out loud. I was listening recently to someone discussing various educational initiatives, and how some school systems actually believe that if they set the bar high enough, and task their teachers severely enough, 100% of their students will graduate on time and go on to college. While nothing would make a teacher happier, and while it may be a worthy (albeit unrealistic) goal, we all know that in the real world this will never actually happen.

No matter how we try to slow the instructional pace, and rein in the progress of our high achieving students (in order to allow the less intellectually aggressive students to catch up, or at least not be left behind) closing the achievement gap is still mostly an illusion. One student’s local grades and EOCs may be higher than another, but it is the ACT ans SAT scores that are a true measure of a graduate’s readiness to go on to college. And, I might add, not everyone wants or needs to go to college.

So, we are presented with this idea that no one should be left behind, or fall through the cracks, and this idea of Academic Darwinism rears its head. The truth is, no one gets left behind; they just get off the train at another stop. No one falls through the cracks; they simply sift out to another level. In this light the idea of Academic Darwinism seems a little less insidious.

This sifting has gone on throughout history. In the Middle Ages, not everyone could make it into a craftsman’s guild. Later, not everyone could read or write, or enter a college, or qualify for higher learning. Just because we have more colleges, better teaching tools, and huge systems of instruction does not mean that we have overcome the human instinct to either seek out or ignore higher levels of knowledge and skills.

Now, I’m not suggesting the use of this topic as an excuse for shoddy teaching. But I am saying that not every one of my students is college bound. AND, more importantly, I am not intimating that those who do not seek out higher education opportunities are failures. I am saying that reality cannot be ignored, rewritten, or used as a whip for educators. I may not produce a bevy of PhDs, but I will produce students who do what they do the best way they know how.

And I will be proud of each and every one of them.

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