kitchen table math, the sequel: Anonymous weighs in

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Anonymous weighs in

Here's a weird thought to ponder: across the land, future teachers are being taught that direct instruction is bad, that they should be the guide on the side, that the discover method is the best way to educate...but exactly HOW are they being taught this? Does a guide on the side help them to discover the enduring understanding that this is the best way to teach? I bet not. I bet they are being directly instructed not to directly instruct. Hmm...

The reason this came to mind is that I was remembering a curriculum writing workshop in which I was instructed (and it felt direct to me) that if a question has a single correct answer then it is not an essential question.

What has happened is that the understanding-by-design crowd has claimed the term "essential question" as their own special buzzword. I guess the common core crowd is using it too.


SteveH said...

I've noted this irony for years. There is a certain lack of credibility in much of K-12 educational thought. When my son was in Kindergarten, I remember asking how "differentiated instruction" worked. I received a completely vacuous response. It was the sort of response that defied further discussion because it would have focused on complete disbelief. ("Do you really believe that???") The Kindergarten teacher also told us that the fact that our son could read was no big deal. "Lots of kids can read encyclopedias but they don't know what they are reading." Apparently that was not a area where she would "differentiate", and she never tested our son for comprehension. That was one of the preemptive, go away comments we started getting from teachers. Her comment came BEFORE we ever asked what the school could do with our son related to differentiated instruction.

They are not dumb. They know that it's just cover for what they want to do. A few might convince themselves that it could be workable, but I'm sure that what they see is parental help at home. In fact, one of their differentiated "instruction" techniques was to get parents to do the work at home. We had our son reading chapter books and writing short reports in first grade. That was our suggestion. All the teacher did was look at them and put a check on them. (That's one more kid she didn't have to worry about.)

Like their ideas of pedagogy, their philosophy is driven from the top down. They come up with what they think is a good idea and then try to force reality to match it. What they really want is student-driven, mixed-ability, group learning. Forget the fact that this is neither necessary or sufficient. Talk of rigor, critical thinking, and understanding are just cover for these methods. It may provide more for kids at the low end (I doubt that), but they KNOW that it's not good for the willing and able kids in the middle or upper end. That's why they talk about enrichment rather than acceleration.

The basic flaw is that you don't get full inclusion for nothing. It's not like they found research that showed how differentiated instruction can work and then decided that this would allow full inclusion. No. They decided that full inclusion was a really good idea, and then came up with full inclusion and "trust the spiral" ideas to justify it.

You will never "Common Core" this away. Even when you send your kids to private schools, it's hard to escape. A private school in our area is now using Singapore Math, but they don't get it right. They are overly anal about bar models. It's as if K-8 educators desperately look for a process that shifts the onus from the teachers to the students.

I've always said that educators talk of critical thinking and understanding and how the brain works to distract people from the complete vacuousness of their assumptions. They want to define education in their own image. There is only one solution; theirs. It is either very stupid or very arrogant. Which is it?

There is no one right solution, but parents don't get choice. Deep down, the education community must really like the Common Core. It maintains their monopoly. Much better results could be achieved if all of that money went to choice - put the parents in loop. Instead of floating all boats by trying to raise the tide over many years, it would allow many students to fly - right now.

Connor said...

They also write and sell books promoting any thing but direct instruction. Of course a book is the epitome of direct instruction. A very long extended lecture. Also, a great way to learn.

VickyS said...

Almost all the PD I attended when I was teaching was direct instruction. It's effective and efficient. An irony, indeed.

As for the shortcomings of "differentiated instruction" I wouldn't be too quick blame the teachers. Administrators who created classes with far too much diversity (full inclusion) also manufactured the myth of "differentiated instruction" as the means by which teachers are expected to handle those classes. Differentiation works with a fairly narrow range of students. It breaks down, however, as the range gets wider. At some point it becomes what Allison calls "magical thinking," it is promoted as if it is almost self-executing--you just have to "differentiate"--what more do you need to know? By telling teachers that they should all be able to do it in all settings, administrators have nominally pacified parents with their good intentions, but are holding teachers accountable for the impossible. A teacher is not going to confide to a parent: the differentiation I am being asked to do is not humanly possible. But it may well be and the teacher may be very aware of that. Placing the burden on teachers to achieve the impossible through "differentiation" is convenient because it takes the heat off of administration for creating the wildly inclusive classrooms, and no teacher these days dares to complain or challenge.