Tuesday, September 24, 2013

If it doesn't turn you on ...

After my childish little rant yesterday about kids and the multiplication tables playing hard-to-get, Sue left a comment on the post:
If it doesn't turn you on, why would you focus on it? I just read The Book of Learning and Forgetting, by Frank Smith. He makes a sharp distinction between memorizing and learning. I think knowing those multiplication facts is vital to doing lots of interesting mathematical work, but students will only know them if they felt engaged by the ideas at some point. 
If it hadn't been written by SueVH, I'd have been tempted to toss it into the Idiot Pile and shrug my shoulders muttering "What the ... " under my breath.  Sue's right, of course, but I shudder at what a parent or new teacher or student might take away from this.

Here's the problem.  Statements like "If it doesn't turn you on, why would you focus on it?" and "students will only know them if they felt engaged by the ideas" can lead to a dangerous impasse in the classroom.

Students in elementary school, more than at any other level, are influenced by the attitudes of their teachers. They can be convinced or even be taught (or manipulated, or brainwashed, if you want to be cynical and stupid) that math is fun and easy. They can memorize so many things at this age - they're memorizing words, symbols, mores and morals, culture, ethics (to the point they can understand them) - they're a mental sponge. They will absorb everything just because someone said so.

If the teacher takes the approach that the students need to be engaged before they can learn math, then she has lost another generation because she doesn't get turned on my math, won't focus on it, and will teach the children that it's not for their pretty little selves. Her biases and fears and trials and troubles with math become their biases and fears and trial and troubles.

If we are constantly offering the excuse of "They're not engaged" as a reason to blame the teacher instead of the students, why should anyone wonder at the poor results we get?

Motivation is the responsibility of the student.

What we have here is a Failure to Communicate.

Education is an awesome thing. What kills it for me is Educrats and Professional Development. Only in Education is it considered a good idea to run a meetings with the following rules.

Did I say "rules"? Silly me, "rules" is such a simple word. What we need here is a more imposing word, one that will make us sound intelligent and wise. You could say we need jargon, but jargon is used in other fields to take a complex idea and substitute one word to represent it, to simplify speech by "chunking" a lot of information into a small package. In education, jargon is used in the opposite way - to confuse and impress through sheer bluster.

I give you "Protocol".

Specifically, there are "protocols" in place for our next little gathering:

There are over hundred different protocols developed in the field for educators, all of which assure us that we will collaborate better, with deeper understanding. "Deeper" is an important word nowadays - we want to eliminate the "mile wide and inch deep" education that we've been apparently delivering all this time. We're changing to deeper teaching. And don't forget collaboration.

We'll have a scribe who writes all this on a piece of chart paper that will never see the light of day, and probably won't survive the clean-up at the end of the session. But we collaborated and we found the essence of the text.

Of course, sharing a single sentence, phrase and word is hardly a collaboration and it sure as hell ain't a discussion, so I'm not quite sure how I'm going to be able to refrain from my usual snarky commentary. It's essentially going to be a long day.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Isn't it odd ...

Educational expert's view of themselves.
The mantra from the Powers that Be in Education, those educational experts who have never been teachers, is that students are supposed to be given multiple chances at assessing their skills and knowledge, multiple ways to show mastery of a subject, repeated formative assessments and multiple chances at summative assessments.

We are to use the word "assessment" because it has the connotation of measurement without judgement, of placement on a scale with no mark of "failure", unlike "test" and "quiz", which both have such connotations.

Many systems have rules about marking a 50% when students do 0% of the work, or requiring that teachers use nothing less than a 60 in the gradebook so that kids can't "fail".

"Social promotion", education's version of "too big to fail", pushes students beyond their Peter Principle limits, beyond their level of incompetence.

"All team members must have equal playing time" rules create the same situation on the field.

Isn't it odd that the Powers That Be feel that schools can be tested and can fail based solely on the results of students who can't?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Multiplication tables

So how is it that a kid can make it all the way to the ninth grade and still not have memorized the table? It's on the wall of every elementary classroom - how can you possibly not learn it?