Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Bullet Train Approach"

Marlene Armstrong is holding a discussion on the Susan Winebrenner book Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom and recently threw out a question about pacing. It reminded me of a discussion I had two years ago with Rory at Parentalcation on the same topic. I decided to post my comments to Rory on Marlene's blog rather than retyping my thoughts. That reminded me to post it here to see who's reading.

To Marlene: I agree with "faster isn't always better" but picking up the pace for bright kids would help a lot and would cut down on what they hate most--repetition. Research shows that gifted students need 1-3 repetitions to learn something where the average learner needs 17 repetitions. Could the gifted learners be delving deeper? or extending what they have learned?

Whatever you do make sure that they aren't helping the slower learners catch up! Gifted kids hate doing it and even if they don't hate it, they are there to learn new material, too.

There are many obvious problems with moving through the curriculum at your own is a comment I made to a guy I was arguing with on this exact topic a couple of years ago. Rather than retype I'll c/p what I said to him about the 'bullet train approach' to teaching, in this case mathematics.

To Rory May 2007:
"I actually agree with what you say “One have to learn a set of skills and knowledge during certain number of years to survive (and be successful) in the human world”. But maybe I’m more of a realist. I’ve been teaching for 25+ years and have had my 3 gifted sons in public schools and state universities for that whole time. (They are now grown—a lawyer, a chemical engineer and a philosopher)

I have always been concerned about the lack of academic rigor and the pace of the curriculum in schools, especially grades K-8. I am a special education teacher who provides services for gifted kiddos. I teach in a Title 1 school in a large suburban school district. Here are the facts—50% of our students are children of poverty, do we leave some of them behind in our quest for “a set of skills”? 25% of our kids leave during the year and are replaced with new move-ins, do we leave them behind? Some are underachievers and choose not to perform, do we leave them behind? 20% do not speak English as their primary language, do we leave them behind? Many have no parental support, do we leave them behind? Some are gifted girls who just want to “fit in”, do we leave them behind? Some of them only come to school 3 or 4 days a week, do we leave them behind? We’ve established who gets left behind.

OK, now we have this forward moving group. Some are moving faster in math, some reading, some computers, some history, some science, some art, some music. Are you going to be the person that schedules these kiddos into classes with teachers qualified to teach them? Let’s take math for example…you have 8 kids ready to move forward through pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, Pre-Calc etc. Who is going to teach them? If they don’t take the class at a high school they won’t get high school credit; if they don’t take Honors they won’t get a 5 point A and it will affect their GPA. The teachers certified to teach them have 7-12 certificates, so cannot work in an elementary school. Let’s say, this does work—and you can find a highly qualified math teacher to teach them and they get the credit they need for their high school transcripts no matter their age-- 8 years old, ten years, old, etc. Then what?

They need to be driven to the local college or university for advanced classes, they can’t drive—parents work all day. Are you as a tax payer, going to have your local school district provide transportation? Then what, doesn’t this kid still need Science instruction? History instruction? English instruction? Does he go to grade school for this? middle school ? high school?

Does he need recess? Gym? Choir? Fieldtrips? Does he need to learn how to work with others? Have time to think about what he is learning? Think critically and creatively?

For those parents and teachers who want the “bullet train approach” claiming faster is better, I have seen no workable solutions—just a lot of complaining. If you want changes in your child’s school then lead the charge, if the schools won’t listen change schools, if you can’t afford to change schools then home school. If you teach in a school that won’t listen then change schools, if you can’t change schools then change careers. We are all just doing the best we can. What I do is provide gifted kids with alternatives to low level discussions, slow progress, material already mastered and drill and practice—even if it is only 20% of the week—it’s better than nothing."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

School Supplies

Someone at CR 2.0 wanted a list of school supplies from back in the day. I started school in 1954 and compiled a list of this and that--can you think of any other school supplies we used? Cross post on A Very Old Place

1. Big Chief or Alladin Tablets
2. Crayon 16 pack (?) in early grades there were 8 colors, they were big and fat with one flat side
3. Big Husky wooden pencils with real lead
4. Pink Pet erasers
5. Cartridge pens, (fountain pen with nub; bought replacable cartridges)
6. PeeChee folders
7. 3 ring notebooks blue canvas cover w/ color-coded dividers; notebook paper with reinforcements (liitle white canvas circles)
8. purple memeographed handouts (they smelled)
9. metal lunch boxes and thermos' with glass liners (always got broken!)
10.In junior high and high school all textbooks had to be covered with brown paper
11. no backpacks--you just stacked up you stuff and carried the stack either in front of you or if you were very clever on your hip!
12. Sliderules, if you took advance math
13. Chalkboards and chalk
14. Black and white essay books for tests
15. LePage Glue--glass bottle with ruber top, top has a slit in it and you press the top on the paper and the glue came out or white glue (did it have a brush or a paddle) that would harden into a lump and there was always a kid who would eat it.
16. We put all our pencils and stuff in a cigar box.
17. This was the same time as white soxes, brown tie up shoes, petticoats, twin sets, girls never wore pants, Ah those were the days!! I'll add more as I think of more during this trip down memory lane.