kitchen table math, the sequel: What do children want?

Monday, July 8, 2013

What do children want?

Fabulous post from a substitute teacher in Great Britain


Anonymous said...

So, so, so, so true.

SteveH said...

They should also ask the parents of the best students what they do at home. We don't just turn off the TV and model and interest in learning. I remember thinking that I should have kept a log. It consisted of a lot of memorizing and development of skills.

We parents got notes telling us to work on math facts with our kids. Of course they believe in facts and skills. They just don't want to do it. Direct lecturing is fine as long as the classroom is flipped and the kids get the lectures at home on YouTube.

We did go to museums, such as the Boston Museum of Science, where we saw the lightning show:

"Indoor bolts produced by the world's largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator spark exciting explorations of lightning, conductors, insulators, electricity, magnetism, and storm safety."

Actually, it didn't spark much of any learning for my son. He could have learned more at home with specific lessons on specific topics aimed at his level - developed by a parent or teacher. Those kids are right. They shouldn't have to research everything they have to learn. It must be nice to have a pedagogy that puts the entire onus on the student.

Maybe, just maybe, a few kids will see one T-Rex skeleton that drives them to become a walking encylopedia of dinosaurs ... oops, I didn't mean encyclopedia as in facts. I mean, well, you know, like, knowledge. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Facts are apparently good if you dance around them for a while or if you draw pretty pictures of them. Then, it's not memorization. If kids memorize facts themselves because they are excited and motivated, that's OK too.

Of course, most of these silly ideas go away by high school unless you are really unlucky. When my son was young, he used to tell me that he wished that teachers would get to the point.

Many educators have this idea that learning isn't real unless students have to work hard or struggle. This is absolute baloney. For so many things, I just look for a better book or source with a clearer explanation. Learning involves plenty of struggle without having educators make it more difficult.

froggiemama said...

What age students were these? The language doesn't sound right for kids younger than high school. Perhaps this teacher was asking them leading questions?

And with high schoolers, in my experience comments like "we want the teacher to teach us!" are really code for "we want to be spoonfed factoids that we can regurgitate on a test and then forget".

RMD said...

froggiemama said:

high schoolers say. . . "we want to be spoonfed factoids that we can regurgitate on a test and then forget"

Because their school curricula jump around from spot to spot with no follow-up, they have learned that knowledge is not very useful later on.

They are just using the lessons that we've taught them.

SteveH said...

It's always good to judge the premise of an article, but this is not something new. It's common practice for many teachers to put almost the entire onus of learning on the kids. So which do we have, lazy students or lazy teachers? When teachers talk about having students become life-long learners, "my experience" tells me that they really just want to follow a rote teaching process and not take responsibility for ensuring skills and knowledge.

One could say that this was a typical wasted substitute class, but, apparently, the assignment was not unusual, and it was the opposite of "spoonfed factoids that we can regurgitate on a test". It's really the teacher's fault if that's the kind of test that is given.

Is the problem that we can never trust what kids say they want? I don't find their comments on group work to be self-serving or wanting to get away with less work. The comments on "research" are also telling. There is a world of pedagogy between doing vague research and just learning factoids. There is also a world of difference between "general" students and "honors" students.

I think that online blogs and post-article comments are a big improvement over the days of newspaper oped comments, but I still see a wall when it comes to digging into the details. Too many articles start out at a vague or high level, leaving plenty of room for spinning the meaning one way or another.

Catherine Johnson said...

boy, I'll tell you

I get the sense that things are AWFUL in UK. Awful, awful, awful.

Apparently, in UK, the establishment belief now is that knowledge is actively bad in the sense that all knowledge is indoctrination.

In the U.S., knowledge is short-shifted on grounds that "you can look it up."

There knowledge is politically incorrect.

I'll get a post up about the new book: 7 Myths of Education as soon as I can --- but in the meantime you should Google it. (You can look it up!)

Core Knowledge has a pots up.

The author is British.

SteveH said...

I don't believe that educators think that knowledge is politically incorrect. I just think that they expect it to happen thematically or by osmosis. They do NOT want to teach knowledge or skills directly. Just like flipping the classroom. Direct lecture is OK if the students watch YouTube videos at home. But do they replace class time with individual homework? No. It's used for very wasteful group work. They don't mind direct study of math facts or else why would they ask parents to do the job?

Why is it that K-6 educational pedagogy dominates K-12 when there is a world of high school and college teachers who successfully use textbooks, nightly homework, and direct lecture? My guess is that ed schools don't have anything else to call their own. They clearly can't own the content and skills. All they have is the process. Besides, they don't want to go to parties and talk about how good they are at ensuring mastery of the times table or fractions. They want to talk about 21st century knowledge and skills. Apparently those facts and skills are OK. They want to talk about critical thinking and understanding that is somehow unlinked with mere facts and rote skills. Except for those 21st century facts and skills.

Anonymous said...


I've just found your blog (interesting!), and your link to my post 'Just Teach Us', along with the above comments.

I'd like to respond to some of those comments, as I understand that the educational systems in the two countries are quite different.

The pupils are in secondary school (high school), Year 9 (age 13 - 14), the third year of secondary education in this country.

In the UK schools are inspected regularly by Ofsted, whose judgements can make or break the careers of teachers and school management. Ofsted publish their inspection reports online, and these show their bias towards a specific style of teaching. That style is 'independent learning'.

Schools therefore insist that teachers follow the Ofsted approved model (which officially doesn't exist) and enforce this through regular observations and 'learning walks' where the management team just 'pop in' to classrooms without warning.

Independent learning does not mean pupils practise skills they have been taught after instruction from the teacher, it means that the pupils must find out all of the information they require for themselves without any input from the teacher.

Yes, it is mad.

The reason for this is that somewhere along the line, 'Twenty-first century skills' has become the epitome of education. Knowledge is a dirty word, and imparting facts is akin to child abuse, apparently.

Children are expected to compensate for their lack of knowledge by having the ability to find out the information as and when they need it. Usually with the help of a computer.

Teachers who do not follow this model often find themselves out of a job pretty quickly. Inevitably, if Ofsted are observing, the teaching model becomes that of independent learning, rather than direct instruction. Incidentally, Ofsted also mark down lessons where the teacher has talked for more than five minutes at the start of the lesson.

Independent learning, interestingly, rarely happens independently, unless it is set as a homework or project. Instead, the usual model involves group work, the 'independence' part of this being the lack of teacher input - instead the children are meant to ask each other.

The result?

Classes of children who lack the basic knowledge to access the sources of information they need to complete the work set. Or pupils that complete tasks which are wholly irrelevant to the topic they are studying.

The current educational mantra is summed up by the oft-quoted phrase "guide at the side, not a sage on the stage" - in other words, don't be the main focus of either the lesson or your pupils' attention, let them discover things for themselves.

The Government and the media then wonder why so many children leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate.

There are many teachers who disagree with this style of teaching, but they rarely make it into educational management, so their voices are not heard. Even if they did, any school which deviated from this method would fail its Ofsted inspection, and the staff would be in danger of losing their jobs.

The 7 Myths book mentioned above is definitely worth reading (By Daisy Christodoulou, available as a Kindle download on Amazon). The author is a UK trained teacher (currently out of the classroom) and wrote the book following a number of years trying to make the educational theory she was taught work in a classroom. Not surprisingly, she had problems.

There are also a number of UK teacher bloggers who write about their day-to-day experiences of teaching in this environment . They are certainly not shirkers or lazy teachers - they want to teach, to impart knowledge as well as skills, but are prevented from doing so by the UK educational system.

Andrew Old has set up The Echo Chamber which re-blogs educational blogs. It’s definitely worth reading -