Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stodgy thinking for Ernie Pyle Middle School

I have been forwarded a copy of the letter that must be signed
by teachers at EPMS, in order to remain at that school and to
qualify for a $5K stipend. I would assume that teachers at
Rio Grande High School have been given a similar letter
to sign.

The plan is a mixed bag.

It begins with;

Caring and dedicated teachers will have high expectations
and rigorous instruction that motivates the students to
want to learn.
This is common language in educational reform. It is the second
most common statement, the first being;
Any child can learn.
It flies in the face of experience with disengaged learners;
experience which tells us that there is no such thing as a
disengaged learner. The premise is oxymoronic. The simple
truth is that;
you can lead a horse to water, but
you can't make it drink.
Yet here we are again, trying to "teach" children against their
will. The old saw has been rewritten, and now we are to believe
You can make a horse drink bad tasting water
if you offer it to him in a deeper bucket.

The motivation to learn is entirely internal. You can tell a child
that you will reward them for academic success and the result
looks like motivation to learn. In fact, it is motivation to receive
the reward. The same hold's true with the threat of negative
consequences for academic failure; any apparent increase in
motivation is not an increase in the motivation to learn, but
motivation to avoid the consequences of failing to learn.

You are not creating students who want to learn.
The very most that you can expect is begrudged learning.

There is a world of difference between a student studying
because he wants to, and a student studying because he has to.

I have often argued that teaching is like herding kittens.
The worst possible plan, is to try to get them to arrange
themselves in five rows of six, and then herd them altogether in
the same direction and at precisely the same speed.

Common sense tells us that the best way to teach kittens is to
allow them to follow their noses, while protecting them from

If we allowed students to follow their noses, we would have
engaged learners. We would have students learning how to
learn. We would have students who enjoy the learning process,
who approach learning with excitement and positive expectations.

So where is the rub, why not let students self direct their course?

There are those who would argue that if students are allowed
to plot their own course, they will not arrive at the same place;
each with exactly the same math skills, reading skills, writing
skills, ... They would argue that all students would not leave
high school adequately prepared for the next stage of their life.

I would argue that straight A's in any subject at all, is better
than C's, D's and F's in the traditional disciplines. Straight A's
in any subject at all is better than dropping out of school entirely.

Perhaps the answer lies in letting them follow their noses at
least for a while; at least until they grow up a little. At least until
they develop enough self discipline to learn things they really
don't want to learn.

Where are you more likely to find an engaged learner, in an
elective class or in an NCLB preparatory class?

NCLB testing is driving the curriculum.
The tail is wagging the dog.

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