Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Social promotion forced choice lacks insight

The debate over whether to promote public school students who lack third grade reading skills has settled on two choices;

  1. continue promoting students who cannot compete or even survive because of their lack reading skills, or
  2. make poor readers repeat third grade in its entirety, including coursework they have already learned.
The choices are narrowed to two, by rigid thinking; we must do things the way they have always been done regardless of the myriad of changes that have taken place in how students can learn.

There is no shaking the belief that children learn best when they are sitting in classrooms in five rows of six, each with a textbook open on their desk (whether they can make sense of it or not), each expected at any given moment, to be in the same book and on the same page.

"Third grade" standards represent the performance standards for the average eight year old. The underlying premise being, if they're eight years old, they are all equally mature and fully capable of meeting the same standards as every other eight year old child.

Why can't a student follow a prescribed curriculum, at their own pace? Why do they have to march together in a thought choir for twelve years? Why can't they be allowed to slow or stop when they need to and race ahead when they want to?

Twenty five years as a public school teacher have led me to conclude that textbooks are among the least useful of all the teaching and learning tools available to teachers and students.

For no more money than we spend on textbooks, obsolete before they are published, we can give every student access to the internet. I say "internet" to connote the magnitude of the resource, not to suggest giving children unlimited access to the actual internet.

Let's call their machine a "laptop", their "internet" a thumb drive.

Instead of reading in a textbook about history or science or math, they could watch a video production of a moment in history, an experiment in a laboratory, or mathematical concept explained by an awesome computer generated effect. All without having to be a "reader".

Against my better judgement, I tried to present an alternative to social promotion and retention, on KKOB. Immediately, my alternative was defending itself, by itself, of proposing students never have to learn to read. For the life of me, I can't explain that leap; it's almost like they don't want to understand.

We're talking about elementary education here.

The social promotion debate is about third graders not about
high school graduates, though there is that debate yet to be had.

My argument is;
third graders can continue to be challenged in all subjects, including reading, though the use of audio, visual, and participatory learning activities, while we are doing every thing that we can do to address that student's individual difficulties in learning to read.

And that we can do that by using teachers and textbooks as two of many reference sources, and not as the only ones.
The greatest stumbling block to changing the way we educate students in public schools is an unswerving belief in an untested and unexamined apothegm;
Students must learn to read by the third grade
or they cannot continue to learn at all.
And all the while seated in five rows of six, each
with nothing but a textbook in front of them.
No one will admit that there are ways to learn without reading. Students can also learn by watching, listening and doing.

No one will admit that there can be classroom arrangements other than cemetery seating.

Reading is learned by non-readers. One can practice reading skills by reading, but the skills themselves were learned by listening, watching and doing.

If non-readers can be taught to read; they can be taught everything else a third grader needs to know to succeed in any discipline except reading, while they learn to read.

photo Mark Bralley

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I must agree slow readers have a problem but I don't think it is sever enough to require progress in all other subjects be put on hold. What would be wrong with remedial reading being taught as an adjunct some point in the school day - not leaving time after school as a viable option - being taught one on one by upperclassmen. 6th or 7th graders would be honored to be called upon to assist in a project where they could see progress - and know they were asked to participate by their teachers.