Saturday, December 5, 2009

Group projects

Group projects, while occasionally useful in limited settings, are usually just easier for the teacher, not best for the student, despite all assertions to the contrary. They create less for the teacher to grade, and what is graded is highly subjective. The teacher also knows that SOMEONE in the group will make it happen, and this will allow the teacher to pass everyone, thus avoiding confrontations from students earning poor grades. However group projects are frustrating to those who do the work and have to put up with those who don't. By avoiding giving the grade deserved by each individual, because the teacher doesn't even know what each individual has done, it short changes the students who have not been productive. In fact it promotes the attitude of just sit back and let someone else do it, because someone WILL do it, and they'll all get the same grade anyway. It actually creates the same situation that causes communism to fail! Even the pilgrims of Massachusetts found that people work harder when they have their OWN property to take care of individually rather than collectively.

Grouping works best if it is very short-lived, not graded, and used mostly to discover or reveal some little thing, after which the lesson continues. There may be some limited success using group projects, but usually this is not the best way to teach or for students to learn.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quality teaching

The quality of teaching depends more on the character, rather than the pedagogical training, of the person.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Memorization - "low" level? - unimportant?

Those who mindlessly rail against memorization are using shallow and low level thinking skills! Memorization DEVELOPS the thinking ability and gives a person more to think about! Memorization, particularly of more important facts, is like giving a brick layer more bricks with which to build.

Memorization is encouraged for older people to prevent dementia. It builds self confidence in children. It gives debaters more ammunition. It actually develops the ability to think, because it practices thinking. It exercises the mind!

Constructivists maintain that repeating something memorized is a low level thinking skill and should therefore be avoided. They denigrate it by saying it is "regurgitation" of "mere" facts, as though it is vomiting worthless bits of data! They equate it with "old fashioned, traditional" teachers.

Bloom's taxonomy of thinking skills should be drawn as a pyramid, because "lower" level thinking skills form the foundation and basis of the higher level skills such as evaluation and should have more time spent developing them. How could one evaluate without having the facts?!

Another way of looking at it is that NONE of these skills should be considered lesser or lower. All are necessary. Considering the body, do we need the nose more than the feet, the shoulder more than the hand, or the eye more than the stomach? All parts of the body are important, and the eye cannot say it hath no need of the neck, to expand upon the holy writ.

Memorization of IMPORTANT facts is very valuable. Constructivists don't like to judge one fact as more important than another, but some facts are much more worth knowing. Knowing dates of certain historical events helps one tie happenings together, developing a better understanding of why certain things happened then and now. Memorizing the top ten song hits of a particular year probably won't develop anything worthwhile.

Some things are more worth knowing, even though some may not understand that. Truth is independent of opinions however. Some educators make themselves popular by encouraging the learning of things that are popular instead of things that are important. This lack of discrimination of facts shortchanges students. We NEED to memorize worthwhile facts in order to become wise.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Professional development" employees

I'm coming to the conclusion that "professional development" officials give the inference that classroom teachers don't know much, because that makes their teacher training job so needed. They say it so often that they actually come to believe it, but it really is for their own job security. They don't really want the teachers to be good, because then they wouldn't have a job, since they wouldn't be needed. That may be why they always push a constructivist philosophy, because it doesn't work. When this is the official policy and teachers try to implement it (since it doesn't work) the teacher is made to look bad, thus guaranteeing the further need for more "professional development!" That is why they are so eager to agree with board members and conservative legislators when they bring complaints about teachers. Between the lines they're saying, "Increase funding for professional development, my job, and my status."

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Round Robin Reading, the whipping boy for every college of education professor and reading specialist, is mis-defined, mis-described, mis-researched, and most tragically mis-blamed.

Round Robin Reading (RRR) is when an authority figure (teacher/parent) has a group, usually in a circle, read out loud in a known order such that the subjects know ahead of time in what order and what portion they will be reading when it is their turn. This is the way most families read scripture together. Each reads a verse or two in order, 'round the room or by age.

The all-knowing and wise stewards of education tell us that this "creates too much emphasis on decoding," which most students get too little of anyway. It "interferes with the development of a nurturing environment by creating a situation that presents great risk to students for embarrassment," which, if it happens, is more a reflection of how the teacher manages the class than of this method of teaching. Assorted and sordid other evils have been assigned RRR as well, which, again, are more reflective of the teacher's style than of RRR itself, such as that it prevents self-correction, is inferior in promoting fluency, and in promoting comprehension.

Let me address these concerns more fully. Thanks to these gurus of education, who gave us whole-language, which almost totally eliminated phonics, grammar, and spelling, we have a generation of students who can't decode and whose writing and spelling can't be understood. I ask, "Will it hurt if we DO emphasize decoding a little more and actually practice word attack skills?" With the so-called "balanced literacy", which was meant to balance whole language and include phonics, we still have too many teachers, who have also been trained to hate RRR, telling their students NOT to "sound out" the words. It is my opinion that we could use more coaching and practice in "authentic" decoding.

RRR is only embarrassing if the teacher creates or allows that climate in the classroom. From decades of experience I can tell you that, providing the teacher does not make it embarrassing, every student loves to read out loud once they have been given the chance to participate in it. After the first week or two, every student in my class wants to read, including those who are below grade level. There is no reason that reading out loud should be made embarrassing. If it is, the teacher has made it so, or has not prevented it from becoming so. It was not the reading before the class that made it embarrassing.

Contrary to the accusations, students love being in the spotlight that reading in front of a group or class gives them. In fact doing so gives them confidence that they are a good reader. One jr. high teacher used to comment that she could pick out the students that came from one particular feeder school because the older faculty there called on students regularly to read out loud in class, and thus they had confidence when they read, enough so that it was noticeable.

If the teacher corrects the student too quickly when they make a mistake, that is a problem the teacher has - not the fact that the student is reading aloud before the group or class. When appropriate, I use certain of those times to teach word attack skills. This makes the phonics training authentic, meaning that it has been done in a setting that has a real application, where the student is more likely to remember the skill or see the value in knowing it.

These sages of pedagogy conclude in their findings-predetermined research that RRR is "inferior to shared reading in promoting fluency, word recognition, and vocabulary acquisition." I ask, "Inferior in what way?" The only thing they place in its stead is "whisper reading (but not in unison or by taking turns) just loud enough for the teacher to listen-in as they read through the text several times," while the teacher attempts to listen in as she is able. Doesn't that sound like something that will inspire the student and keep them engaged in reading? No? Me neither.

When the group or whole class is taking turns reading, particularly in other subjects such as history or science (which is another no-no the ivory towers defame) words can be discussed together giving authentic situations to learn definitions, breakdown of, or etymologies of words as well as sentence and paragraph meaning. Again, it isn't the method, but the teacher that uses or misuses the method that causes success or failure.

The inference about RRR these omniscient pre- and inservice providers of teaching methods give to new teachers is that ANY calling on students to read out loud is RRR. Remember RRR is only when out loud reading is done in a round (where students know who will be called on next). This CAN cause a problem if students are looking ahead to their turn and ignoring the reading being done. This can easily be cured by having a different method of choosing students to read so they don't know who will be reading next. Students also need to have some consequence, if when called on they don't know the next word, meaning they haven't been following along. In that case I give them sleeping time (5 minutes of "sleeping" at their desk at recess for sleeping on the job). It is a small penalty, rarely used, but keeps the students following along. The best part of doing this is that I am teaching reading AND history or science at the same time!

Even pure RRR as defined with its potential problems is not deserving of the vehemence used in vilifying it. However having something to castigate makes the listener more willing to accept what the lecturer is proposing instead. THAT, I submit, is the real reason for the demonizing of RRR. In too many cases these self-proclaimed experts do not really know how to teach reading, so they parrot what others in their own circles say without really finding out themselves.

By calling on students to read out loud before the class regularly in the way I have partially described above, my students always have higher than average value added scores in reading. They make significant progress with DRA scores by January, and they enjoy it without putting an undue burden on the teacher. Castigating RRR is a diversion for not giving due diligence to really finding what will improve reading.