kitchen table math, the sequel: developmentally inappropriate

Thursday, July 16, 2009

developmentally inappropriate

Vicky S emailed me a wonderful summary of a core issue in public schools, one I haven't managed to put into words but have been thinking about for quite a while now.

She was responding to another email I'd forwarded from a friend whose son will be attending Hogwarts in the fall, re: clarity of summer assignments at Hogwarts vs our public schools:
[The Hogwarts summer assignment] list confirms 1000% that this is the school for E. and that public schools don't know what they are doing. When I would look at the work that my kids were given, from K - now, I would have NO IDEA myself what the teachers were asking for. And if I can't understand, I don't know how the kids are supposed to understand. I feel like taking the Summer Assignment list to my meeting with [the school] and just laying it down and showing them what CLEAR is. All of E's "needs break down of directions" and "chunking material" that's on his 504 plan is done on the Hogwarts Summer Assignment list without any "504 accommodation."
I had exactly the same experience myself last summer, contemplating C's summer assignment list from Hogwarts.

For instance, one part of the summer assignment for The Odyssey was the following:
Based on your reading of books 1-12 of the Odyssey, answer each of the following questions in essay form. Each answer must be no less than fifty words and no more than seventy-five words. Combine all three essays on one page in New Times Roman, 12 point, single-spaced format. Staple your page of answers to the Odyssey identification page you are submitting in September.

1. Show three ways in which the challenges Telemachus meets in establishing his male identity are similar to the challenges certain students entering Hogwarts as freshmen meet in establishing their male identity. [have I mentioned lately that Hogwarts is highly boy-friendly?]

2. What do you consider the three most admirable qualities of Odysseus and why are they still needed today?

3. The Odyssey is filled with interesting female characters. Tell who is the most interesting female character and tell what are her three most admirable qualities.
I still remember, vividly, the feeling of relief that washed over me as I read this assignment.

It was clear.

It was simple.

It was direct.

It was doable by my son.


Here is Vicky S:
This brings up something that's been rattling around in my head. Seems like in so many realms, the schools have completely lost track of developmentally appropriate strategies. They are applying a very simple model. Whatever they are striving for, they try to accelerate. Doesn't work that way.


How to develop expertise:
Schools--put the kids in undefined environments and encourage them to think and act like experts.
In reality--provide kids (people) opportunities for knowledge acquisition, then synthesis and opportunities to apply their knowledge, over lengthy time periods (years), with the happy outcome of creating an expert (at the end).

How to make sure kids learn algebra:
Schools--teach algebra at earlier and earlier ages
In reality--teach basic math better, prior to teaching algebra

How to teach kids to handle long term/multiple projects:
Schools--give them long term/multiple projects at earlier and earlier ages. If this does not seem to work, go even earlier.
In reality--start with small nightly homework, several years of assignment books, parsed out assignments, frequent check-ins, short projects one at a time.

This is true in other areas too--

How to produce confident independent child:
Wrong--force child into independence early, cry it out, tough it out, figure it out
Right--meet child's many needs with constant love, attention, affection; kill boogey men; kiss away tears.

The general principle that I'm trying to articulate is that if you want to achieve a certain goal, you don't do it by prematurely acting as if you've achieved the goal. You don't do Z at an earlier age to achieve Z at a later age. You do X and Y at the earlier ages, which then allow you to move forward and achieve Z. The "X" and the "Y" are what developmentally appropriate education is all about.



Catherine Johnson said...

I've had Vicky's experience over and over and over again (& this relates to Allison's post about Cargo Cult Education & to Robert Pondiscio's comment, I think).

Time and again, administrators here say, "They have to do 'X' now because they're going to have to do 'X' in high school [or college or middle school etc.]

We now have Kindergarten children assigned "research."

The entire notion of how to get kids ready to do something challenging in the future is to have them do that challenging thing NOW.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've just discovered that the school is going to have the "Writer's Day" again next year at the middle school. This is a good idea; they bring in writers from the community to teach the kids for a day. (Ed and I volunteered but weren't asked to participate...)

Next year, the way it's going to work, is that professional writers are going to spend some time with the kids telling them what their writing jobs consist of, then the kids are going to have 'hands on' experience with a writing project, and then they're going to undertake a writing project with their teachers that "emulates" what the professional does.

I was going to volunteer again; I'm thinking that given the change on the school board the district may decide to allow me to take part this year.

But I can't figure out how a 7th grade student would "emulate" what I do for a living.

What I do is not do-able by a 7th grader; it's barely even do-able by me.

I work with people like Temple, I spend many, many hours interviewing her & trying to get inside her brain, I spend countless more hours reading & trying to self-teach her area of expertise, then I juggle a zillion different factoids & research 'pieces' and thoughts & novel ideas, trying to figure out the common thread that unites seemingly disparate 'stuff' ---- I can spend a year trying to come up with a thesis.

Then just trying to pull things into some kind of order that makes sense & is compelling-----

Writing nonfiction for a living is a huge amount of trouble, and there's no reason for a middle school student to emulate it (unless you're trying to impress upon the kids the wisdom of NOT trying to write for a living!)

Barry Garelick said...

Yes, exactly.

This was also brought out in the paper by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark in their paper called Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and
Inquiry-Based Teaching

In particular, this passage hits the same point that Vicky does:

"Despite this clear distinction between learning a discipline and practicing a discipline, many curriculum developers, educational
technologists and educators seem to confuse the teaching of a discipline as inquiry (i.e., a curricular emphasis on the research processes within a science) with the teaching of the discipline by inquiry (i.e., using the research process of the discipline as a pedagogy or for learning. The basis of this
confusion may lie in what Hurd (1969) called the rationale of
the scientist, which holds that a course of instruction in science
should be a mirror image of a science discipline, with regard
to both its conceptual structure and its patterns of inquiry.
The theories and methods of modern science should be reflected
in the classroom. In teaching a science, classroom operations

should be in harmony with its investigatory processes and supportive of the conceptual, the intuitive, and the theoretical structure of its knowledge. (p. 16)

This rationale assumes

that the attainment of certain attitudes, the fostering of interest in science, the acquisition of laboratory skills, the learning of scientific knowledge, and the understanding of the nature of science were all to be approached through the methodology of science, which was, in general, seen in inductive terms. (Hodson, 1988, p. 22) "

Catherine Johnson said...

oh, Barry -- thanks!

I'd completely forgotten that passage.

I have to get your great lines (from Discovery article) posted 'up front,' too --

Barry Garelick said...

I have to get your great lines (from Discovery article) posted 'up front,' too --

Well if you do that, the papparazzi are NEVER going to leave me alone!

Catherine Johnson said...

take cover!

Anonymous said...

I'll add another layer to chew on in this discussion. In math, the push to drive concepts down in grade level has a compound impact.

What happens is that text books and curricula do pay homage to developmental appropriateness but they do so in a perverse way. Here's an example...

Geometry, taught correctly, is intensively wound up in language. It's all about precisely honed definitions used to build a hierarchy of proof and logic. When you push it down to elementary school you must water it down (in acknowledgement of appropriateness). The impact of this in higher grades is devastating.

Instead of kids having a knowledge of the structure of geometric thinking they have a hodge podge of accumulated facts brewed with infinite misconceptions that have to be deconstructed and put back together again in a real geometry class.

It is far more appropriate (in my addled thinking) to defer such things to a point where kids have the language skills to engage with the real deal.

Geometry, Algebra, and Probability are not, IMO, developmentally appropriate when pushed down. The folks who advocate this are neglecting the ancillary skills that kids need to have in their ZPD to make sense of the main event.