kitchen table math, the sequel: comp lit

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

comp lit

High Tech High again:
The students, almost all African American, more than 80 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, came with skill levels all over the map; a majority read at a 5th-grade level or below. Used to worksheets, paper-and-pencil tests, and being asked to regurgitate information, many weren’t prepared to take control of their own learning. Some thrived on the project-based, interdisciplinary, and technology-rich model, and were finally able to connect to the purpose of school; others simply found it bewildering.

High School 2.0
By Dale Mezzacappa
Education Next
Last I checked, Education Next was a center-right, pro-standards, pro-accountability, pro-knowledge journal sympathetic to the arguments of E.D. Hirsch. And here we've got Ed Next excerpting a book passage that takes as a given the wrongheadedness of everything E.D. Hirsch stands for.

This is what you call your discourse speaking through the subject. Foucault was right.*

Joanne Jacobs has a post.


critical thinking challenge

How much "information" is a high school student who reads at a 5th grade level able to "regurgitate?"


* Either that, or the entire universe of edu-writing is being funded by Bill Gates.

next time, try Core Knowledge
Battling the Progressives
what do parents want? Sweden's "Knowledge schools"
comments on Knowledge Schools
project learning in Holland

19 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

best comment on the Joanne Jacobs post is from Bart:

"Maybe they should try a School of the Past."

Catherine Johnson said...

I have a question: what was supposed to happen with the kids who came in reading at a 5th grade level?

Catherine Johnson said...

Apparently the folks at Microsoft forgot to notice that in a high-SES public school the parents do the projects.

momof4 said...

All too true. I remember when my local junior high (7-8, now a 6-8 MS) dropped their science fair, because of massive interference of parents. There was also the unpleasantness when the project of a kid whose parent was a scientist at NIH etc. or a faculty member doing research at a local university or med school didn't get the grade/award the parent felt it deserved. Lots of ego involved...

Cranberry said...

I don't take the paragraph as a refutation of everything E.D. Hirsch stands for. I doubt the students came from schools using the Core Knowledge curriculum. You're falling into the bifurcated default viewpoint of education--beware! There are more than two approaches to education!

Worksheets, and "regurgitating information" covers a wide spectrum of American education. Allowing and encouraging children to learn facts about history and the real world does not mean that one is wedded to worksheets.

Our local public school uses worksheets, teaching-to-the-test, and project based group learning all at the same time.

AEI held a symposium on this high school last year. http://www.aei.org/event/1865 It is an example of what not to do--and an illustration that technology is only a tool. If you have no idea what you want to do with a hammer, or your committee can't agree what to do, or your leadership keeps changing, and your five year plan of hammer use keeps getting amended, that tool, the hammer, will never be used. It's potentially useful, but gathering dust.

Catherine Johnson said...

You're falling into the bifurcated default viewpoint of education--beware! There are more than two approaches to education!

Broadly speaking, there really are just two approaches -- or at least two mainstream approaches.

Progressive education & traditional education.

Progressive means 21st century skills, technology, and projects; traditional means the liberal arts whether taught effectively or not.

Catherine Johnson said...

Allowing and encouraging children to learn facts about history and the real world does not mean that one is wedded to worksheets.

It pretty much does if you're going to remember what you've been taught.

You can't store knowledge in long-term memory without practice, and to practice you have to use worksheets in one way or another.

The worksheets can be virtual, but regardless of form they are not 'critical thinking' or group project work.

Now, it **is** true that you can accumulate a fair amount of material in long-term memory through repeated exposure to it without 'deliberate' practice. So if students did numerous group projects requiring them to measure area they would eventually remember that L x W = area.

You can have distributed practice via group projects.

But to acquire a great deal of knowledge you're going to need a more efficient mode of learning.

Catherine Johnson said...

"Traditional" means the liberal arts with each discipline taught incrementally and practiced until the student has mastered it.

Conceptual understanding grows organically with procedural mastery.

(Wow! I said 'organically!')

It's true -- in a good traditional education understanding can't be separated off from procedural knowledge....

(I'm reading an interesting paper on learning disabilities as being in fact a form of procedural learning difficulty ....)

Catherine Johnson said...

Lots of ego involved...

It's not just parent ego.

It's also that the assigned projects are over the kids' heads.

Many of the projects being assigned in schools are far beyond most kids' ability to organize materials, content, and time.

e.g.: Kindergarten children doing "research"

Catherine Johnson said...

Also, you have to look at the language being used in this article.

The author uses the word "regurgitate" to describe the activities taking place in conventional public schools; he uses the term "technology-rich" to characterize the scene at High Tech High.

These aren't neutral descriptive terms.

Here's another passage:

Those involved discovered that the default educational model—organized around bell schedules, teaching separate subjects in isolation, the assumption that most students learn the same material in the same way, the lockstep progression through grade levels, report cards with letter grades, and other conventions that most of America understands as “school”—does not give ground easily.

"separate subjects in isolation" is what the liberal arts disciplines are. They are disciplines; they have different subject matter and different methods -- methods that have to be learned and practiced over many years.

btw, I'm perfectly happy for parents to choose 21st century skills for their children if that's what they like. Microsoft is free to build 21st century schools.

What I'm not happy to see is a book excerpt that fails even to notice that High Tech High is a **very** controversial model of school improvement.

CassyT said...

You can't store knowledge in long-term memory without practice...

I'll say it again: practice makes permanent.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've never heard that!

practice makes permanent

Lately I've been thinking that the utter scorn for practice may be **the** 1 worst thing about public schools.

I didn't have a very good education but I did have practice, and the limited content I did learn has stayed with me.

Catherine Johnson said...

Engelmann has posted Comparative Preschool Study: High and Low SES Preschoolers Learning Advanced Cognitive Skills

Here's a relevant passage:

The children’s self images were shaped by evidence of their performance. The children in Group 2 [high SES] were blasé at first, but as they solved challenging problems, they became more highly motivated. The study unintentionally demonstrates the cruelty of lower performers placed in heterogeneous groups dominated by higher performers (Eran in Group II). The lower performers receive ongoing
demonstrations of how inept they are. When both the instruction and the other members of the group are at their level, they receive far more information about their competence than about their incompetence. They therefore enjoy the sessions more and have stronger motivation to learn the material.

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder if a desire to avoid unintentional cruelty is part of spiraling.

If you don't move forward in a straight line it's harder to tell who's ahead and who's behind.

Barry Garelick said...

From the article in Ed Next:

“As soon as we had to fit within the system, we lost everything innovative,” he said. “All over the country, urban districts are failing with the traditional curriculum. There’s a 45 percent dropout rate. These students don’t need that. They need something very different. Successful people learned by tinkering, by doing, they did not learn by sitting in a classroom in front of a board.

The author, like so many who paint "traditional" education with the same brush does not define e define what is meant by “failing with the traditional curriculum”? What are the numbers of students who failed and the criterion for failing? If traditional teaching failed, was it because of traditional teaching done poorly, or is that too much work for the author under deadline with set margines to fill. Has the author considered that teaching at Schools of the Future may be done poorly because it is inherent in the progressive nature of the “student-centered” and “inquiry-based” structure? How does the author know that succussful people did not learn by sitting in a classroom in front of a board? Have the successful people he has met been taught exclusively by inquiry based and student-centered approaches, with cooperative learning, and popsicle stick dioramas of World War II?

Cranberry said...

The author is trying to relate the views of the team which founded the School of the Future. It is not her job to make her report on the school's difficult beginnings into a criticism of progressive education. It's a report, not an opinion piece. Indirect discourse, and all that.

There are some wonderful progressive schools in this country. Most of them are private. Most of them practice selective admissions. Most of them have control over their curriculum and staffing. None of that was true for the School of the Future, as you will see if you read the article.

Frankly, the school could have tried to implement a traditional model, and it still wouldn't have produced results better than the surrounding district schools. You cannot construct a curriculum as you go. You cannot shape a school when you don't control hiring. For heaven's sake, they were a technology centered school, and didn't have an IT department from the start, if I remember correctly from the podcast.

As an attempt to prove the concept that technology makes everything possible, it failed.

Crimson Wife said...

The problem is that you've got all these unusually bright folks like Bill Gates and other tech pioneers thinking back to their own childhoods and overgeneralizing. Malcolm Gladwell has a very interesting discussion about Bill Gates' childhood in the book "Outliers".

What may be perfect for the Bill Gates of the world and fine for garden-variety gifted kids may be very inappropriate for regular students.

Catherine Johnson said...

The author is trying to relate the views of the team which founded the School of the Future.

You could be right; the writer may be trying to write a neutral story on SOF. There's no way for me to know what's inside the writer's head.

The problem is that she hasn't used the conventions writers use when they wish to convey neutrality.

e.g.: one of the 'rules' for writing an objective report is avoidance of loaded terms such as "regurgitate." When an author wants to report on a phenomenon without endorsing or rejecting that phenomenon, he or she either substitutes a more neutral term or encloses the loaded term in quotation marks to make clear that she is conveying the worldview of the people she's writing about, not expressing her own views one way or the other.

Another important convention is liberal use of phrases such as "in their view" or "as they see it" and so on. These phrases make clear that the author is describing the views of the people she's writing about while neither endorsing nor rejecting those views.

These are well-known conventions; all professional writers know what they are and how to use them.

Catherine Johnson said...

There are some wonderful progressive schools in this country. .

Oh, sure!

Diane Ravitch sent her kids to progressive schools in Manhattan!

Private schools, as you say.