Here is my response to Not So Master Teacher John Spencer's blog "I Feel Like Giving Up".
Funny you should post about this. I know where you are coming from. I teach gifted kids (top 1%) and yesterday we started a curriculum on inventors. After an introduction 6th grade students were to pick an obscure inventor, research by reading three websites, writing two paragraphs and including 2 pictures. It took some of them over 2 and a half hours!! Remember these are the brightest kids in their schools! I couldn't believe it, my co-teacher and I brainstormed the problem and came up with some possible reasons.
1. Scripted reading and math programs (preparing for high stakes testing and state assessments) have turned kids brains to mush.
2. Kids cannot think for themselves because they have not been given opportunities in the classroom.
3. They can't think in higher levels synthesis, analysis and evaluation-- aren't given enough practice in earlier grades.
4. They can't type, keyboarding time has gone out of favor since so much reading and math is being taught. Many do not know how to save an image, and wrap text around it.
5. Student assignments are formulatic with everybody doing the exact same things.
6. They can't focus--this is part of our classes' problem. When given the freedom to explore on their own they have no skills to get down to work.
That's all we came up with but I'm sure you are seeing the same thing. I didn't mean to imply that this is the situation in your classroom but that you are feeling the past "mistakes".
Self contained at 5th and 6th is good, you'd like it. Read Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire by Rafe Esquith. It will make you realize what is possible.
4 years ago