kitchen table math, the sequel: Palisadesk says discovery learning has disappeared from low-SES schools

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Palisadesk says discovery learning has disappeared from low-SES schools

palisadesk writes:
I haven't seen much if any "discovery learning" emphasis outside of Kindergarten for 15 years or so, and the primary approach is definitely teacher-centric. Not so much "lecture" -- attention spans of young children are limited, so an interactive direct teaching model is more effective -- but definitely not "guide on the side." I've been in 4 low-SES schools in that time, one of them high-performing, but have seen similar instructional emphases in all of them. The quality of the instruction certainly varies (my current colleagues are almost all very effective but in other schools there was a wider spread of teaching ability).

However, I've never seen the attitude that seems to prevail in upper-SES schools, even in my district, where responsibility for kids' learning the basics is offloaded to the home. It was hammered into me from the get-go that it was MY responsibility to teach kids the things they needed to learn, not the parents' responsibility (which in many cases they did not have the resources to do anyway). It helps that the families in general support a more instructivist stance and expect us to be hammering the foundation skills. We allocate 20 minutes daily across the grades to structured practice of math skills. Counting, math facts, metric conversions, fractions, formulae -- depending on the grade. Our math results are better than those in some of the middle-class schools, which I find interesting. We are doing something right.

Even so it is an uphill struggle because many kids need far more instructional time than we can provide, and issues like absenteeism, frequent moves, family crises and hunger do affect kids' learning no matter how well we can teach them. But I haven't seen the following in any of my schools for over a decade:

1) movies shown during instructional time

2) "art" projects in reading or math.No dioramas, foldables, posters etc.

3) "discovery" learning."Guided discovery" is a bit different -- in a science activity, students might be led through a series of steps to "discover" something (really, to observe it) and detail their observations, but they aren't turned loose with stuff and expected to "discover" something.

4)"group" work with the exception of leveled groups for reading and math; when not directly taught by the teacher the groups will have individualized seatwork or follow-up assignments.

I think it may be a very different ethos in the low-SES schools. Three of my four were schools (large, with around 600-700 kids) with NO middle-income families among them. The curriculum is, supposedly, the same, but how it is delivered is very, very different.

It's a matter of where the locus of responsibility is believed to be. I and many of my colleagues believe the kids' academic progress is OUR responsibility. Perhaps in better-off neighborhoods this "locus of responsibility" is not the same. Certainly many parents here (and on some of my listservs) have shared stories that suggest it is not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

20 minutes a day of practice (whether of math facts and algorithms, or the content and skills of the other subjects, is drill but not kill. It's good drill and especially if the kids are not expected to pretend to be learning stuff they've already mastered.

Direct Instruction is derided for using scripted, interactive practice as a way to reinforce its (also somewhat scripted) instructional segments, but that's why it has been so successful in helping children master the content.