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Fri, 02 Dec 2011

Different Kids - Different Education

I was reading the Monday Morning Quarterback by Peter King. He quoted John Fox, coach of the Denver Broncos: "So here, we just figured let's try to do what Tim's comfortable with. It's just coaching. Doesn't matter if you coach JV, high school, college or the pros -- when you've got different kids, you need to do different things. Figure what your players can do, and adjust to them."[1]

While this quote is about handling a young quarterback in the NFL, it just might also apply to education in general. Education of a classroom full of students isn't an easy, endlessly repeatable application of a formula which worked once with a group of students. A classroom isn't a factory floor on which consistent actions reproduce consistent results. A classroom with several students and one teacher has been developed as a way to be efficient, though. By providing common tasks and activities to the group of students, a teacher seeks an effective path to develop skills and thought processes for more than one child at a time.

David Warlick recently wrote "[A] vision of teachers as curriculum curator is inconsistent with a central and arrogantly authoritative blueprint for everything that learners need to be doing for hours, days, and years of their childhoods and youth."[2]

No two children are the same. While they are similar, each child struggles through the early stages of life working like crazy to be part of a group and simultaneously to establish a working individual identity. Teachers play an important a role in the struggle. Effective teachers consciously spend hour upon hour seeing each child as an individual, recoginizing their unique contributions to a class discussion, a project, etc. Teachers also help children work out their differences, allowing a team to build itself in their classrooms. Being a curriculum curator and being a good coach are both valuable ways to describe the role of a successful teacher.

It is time to recognize that children deserve the dedication of teachers who see more than the "easy" goal of improving standardized test scores.

Read more:
[1] http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/peter_king/11/14/Week10/index.html#ixzz1dgozyFId
[2] http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=3290

posted at: 12:54 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Reinvent the Wheel

"Well, in education, sometimes you DO want to re-invent the wheel!" -- Michel Paul

One of the biggest, and often overlooked, elements of education is that students need well structured environments in which they try to reinvent the wheel. Too often, society sees children as empty vessels whose brains need to be filled with approved content. Thoughtful educators understand that children need to "try stuff out" not just be told something is true.

"Here is another idea: enabling children to learn for themselves. There is a considerable literature on learned helplessness and its cure, including the fact that schools are organized to produce it. The most important fact about learned helplessness is that once one has gotten out of it, one cannot be put back into it. The second most important fact about it is that the cure is a lot of work, and seemingly nothing happens until the person reaches a tipping point, when it happens all at once." -- Edward Mokurai

Today's curricula may be too rigid, telling a child what to do and how to do it, even when to do it. What would happen to a child, a classroom, a school if children weren't endlessly put into one rigid curriculum after another? Isn't there also an assumption built into those curriculua that there is a "right" answer? If a right answer can be assumed, then, of course, it is practical to put it as one choice on a standardized test. Then, certainly, the standardized test measures a child's progress and that progress is applicable back to the classroom, the teacher and the school.

Pedagogy: to lead a learner. I'm put in mind of the image of a child moving along after a teacher in just the way a bull follows the herdsman with his hand on the rope that attaches to the solid ring on bull's tender nose.

I think I prefer the image of a teacher, one well informed and helpful, playing a flute like the Pied Piper with a score of children following, smiling and laughing, cavorting, playing, learning the dance and following the music, then taking up an instrument themselves and practicing the music with a tune of their own.

There's an important element to be injected into any curriculum. Children who learn by following an interesting piper(teacher) are still potentially only followers, just like the ones who were lead by the nose. Our society needs a kind of cohesion, being as harmonious as we can. As citizens in a society, we may continue to be followers, of a spouse, a politician (with luck not a dictator), a party. Not all of us need to be leaders, at least not all the time. Instead, a successful member of a society is a contributor, lending support to a cause, being an active participant, sometimes adding valuable notes to the symphony, but also sometimes taking the opportunity to grasp the conductor's baton to lead at least during a rehearsal, if not the main performance.

Children need the opportunity to develop an ability for self-expression, allowed to develop that self-expression in harmony with the others in their classroom, school, community, country. Part of the process also involves taking on more and more responsibility. Responsibility develops through practice of both being a group member and simultaneously, an individual. A child needs to learn how to be a self-expressed individual without subjugating, dominating or persistently irritating the others in their group. Striving to improve is natural to children. It is a shame when a society or a school stifles the joy of learning, stifling the attempt to grow into productive personal expression.

Both quotes are from email communications on the Mathfutures mailing list http://groups.google.com/group/mathfuture?hl=en , November 2011.

posted at: 10:47 | path: | permanent link to this entry