Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Learning to read, reading to learn"; anything more than a jingle?

Decisions are being made that will have a profound impact on the education and lives of children in public schools.

It will be a mistake to make those decisions based on a jingle;
"the catchy sound of a simple, repetitious rhyme or doggerel"
rather than on the best interests of those children.

It will always be in the best interests of a child to be learning.
It will always be in their best interests even if they're learning something other than;

  1. the same thing 30 other kids are learning; all at once, or, 
  2. what anyone else thinks they should be learning, but aren't, at that moment instead.
On the first; currently, as many as thirty children with nothing in common but the year of their birth, are assembled into "thought choirs".  For reasons of economy and supposed advantages in behavior management, and in blatant disregard of the individual needs of students, they are seated in five rows of six desks, and expected to learn in unison, for twelve grueling years.

Cemetery seating; rows and ranks of students in desks, was created in acquiescence to fact that there was only one teacher.  The only way a teacher can teach groups of kids in is by first forming them into groups.  It precludes a teacher's individual attention to students. Thirty students cannot individual attention at once.  Independent learning in conventional class rooms is all but impossible.

If the goal of public education is to create independent lifelong learners, why aren't we teaching students how to learn independently from the start?  Independent learner don't need "teachers" most of the time.  That frees teachers to give the individual attention students need.

On the second;
You can lead a horse to water.
You can't make it drink.
You cannot make students who are not paying attention, learn.
In particular, you cannot make very young children pay attention.

A mother cat doesn't "teach" her kittens by herding her kittens through the world, she teaches them by allowing them to learn, and keeping them out of trouble.

Teaching small children in groups is like herding kittens.
Even if you could do it, why would you want to?
Why do students need to learn to be herded in the first place?

Children come to school excited and motivated to learn.
That excitement is our advantage.
What is the purpose in taming it for no purpose?

For how long do we let our kittens follow their noses?
When do we insist that they follow "our" path instead?
Certainly by high school graduation, in exchange for a certificate, they must comply with our determination of the width and depth of their knowledge in specific areas.  One could argue that a students' individual path to that point is inconsequential.

One could argue as well for mile markers along the way; ideally growth would be measured continuously.  Students, in order to graduate, need only to be making continuous and adequate progress toward that day.

If  teachers weren't so busy trying to keep students learning in unison, they would have the time to pay individual attention to students.  Teachers would have time to individually encourage their kittens to move in appropriate directions.  Students will not arrive at graduation day without anyone noticing they haven't the credits or skill set for certification.

Those who argue that if a child cannot "read" by the third grade, s/he should be held back in every subject other than reading, argue without evidence that, if a child cannot "read", they cannot learn.

The fact that every reader was once a non-reader and learned how to read anyway, proves non-readers can learn.

If textbooks are your only tools, then yes, students have to know how to read, and read well, very well.  And, all but the most proficient readers will be handicapped in every other subject they learn.

By all means, by any means, students should learn how to read.   Learning to read doesn't have to precede learning everything else.  It needn't even be the first thing that is learned.  Learning to read requires a preexisting vocabulary.  There are ways of building vocabulary besides reading. In fact, if your only source of vocabulary is reading, you're pretty well screwed.

Does anyone really suppose that student who is failing reading but really interested in and learning about something else, something they find intrinsically motivating, is not going to learn how to read in the process?

Isn't a child who learns an "unimportant" thing better off
than a child who doesn't learn an "important" thing

Independent learners don't need most teachers, most of the time.

A whole class needs the teacher at once is when the teacher to get the whole class to do some thing at once; managing every kids behavior all at once; when teachers are expected to be the conductor a thought choir of students learning in unison.

When a student needs a teacher, they need individual attention.
Individual attention, at the time it is needed, is not possible if the teacher is conducting a "class".

Individual educational paths allow students to get individual attention.  In the proper circumstances, the attention would come from a subject specialist, not a generalist.

If a kid or kids cannot manage independent learning, then by all means slap them into desks arranged in five rows of six, give them textbooks to read in unison, and watch them flourish.

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