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Stop Teaching My Kid.


mshapiro
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... The vast majority of Americans would be shocked to learn of one potent force that keeps the quality of public education low. Budget problems, you ask? No. I'm talking about parents.

Why would parents want anything but a rigorous curriculum for their children? I honestly don't know. In my experience, however, most parents want an easy pass (in some cases, an easy A) rather than a course in which their children acquire real knowledge and skills. ...

Those lines are from a recent guest commentary in The Irascible Professor by high school teacher Elise Vogler (pseudonym). This particular commentary generated more page views and more reader comments than any previous commentary published in the five-year history of the site.

Although the commentary was aimed primarily at a U.S. audience, I'm posting the link to it since it might be of wider interest to the education community.

http://irascibleprofessor.com/comments-03-04-04.htm

Sincerely,

Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

Editor and Publisher

The Irascible Professor

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Dear IP

I'm very interested to read articles such as these. (I've just written a response to the one on Inclusion on your page)because our education gurus here in Tasmania are telling us that what is going on in the US is what we should be doing. However, I believe they have got the whole thing completely wrong, in believing that what we need here is the sort of progressive, discovery oriented, "authentic learning" that they are proposing is successful in the US.

We have already over the last decade, adopted parts of that which do work and have grafted them on to our regular curriculum, so that we now have a mixture of traditional, basic curriculum which then extends into problem solving and applied learning where appropriate. But we are now being told that this isn't enough. We must move into the 21st century with deep thinking, "powerful pedagogies" transdisciplinary learning, removal of discrete subjects, "thematic rich tasks", community based learning etc etc. Our older teachers feel devalued, insulted and generally made to feel that what they have been doing for the last 20 years has been wrong, inadequate and not good enough. Specialist teachers are being forced to become generalists and many don't believe there will be enough time for teaching content and skills. The argument is, of course, that these are no longer needed in the brave new world of IT and that all kids will need in the future is the notion of how to learn, how to think, etc. They are also told that they don't need to give up content and knowledge all together, but must find a "balance" between the two methods, but in the same amount of time.

It's beginning to drive older teachers out of the profession, but that is to some extent seen by hierarchy as a "good thing" - out with the old guard and in with the new will get things done.

I am a little cheered by what appears to be already a backlash to this stuff in the US.

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Dear Jaywalker,

Unfortunately, reader comments are not made public on the site. However, I do collect comments that are sent via email -- such as yours. For articles that I write myself, I answer the emails directly. For articles written by guest commentators, I forward the email directly to the author. Generally, the author will reply directly. However, for the "Stop Teaching My Kid" article the volume of mail was so high that I doubt that Elise was able to answer all of them.

Dr. S.

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Difference in systems are what makes the world an interesting place. But my experiences in the North American education system included many multiple choice questions and classes all working on the same levels- even sometimes the same English texts. Even today, when I browse school websites I see the same texts. The Red Badge of Courage, etc. How is this dragging our students into the modern world?

In my Australian experiences I have always (or almost always) taught mixed ability classes. While I may yearn to inherit a class that all has the same educational background and who all could start at the same level, maybe it would be less than interesting for me as well as students. Teaching mixed ability classes forces us to provide a range of activites and to meet the learning styles of a range of students.

Yes, parent expectations vary. Those parents who have left schooling with such an antagonistic attitude make life difficult. But maybe by immersing their children in vibrant interesting classess, we can keep them at school a little longer and they will learn a little more than their parents. After all, isn't there some recent research suggesting that each generation scores 15% higher on IQ tests? Some one must be reaching a wider pool somehow.

Don't despair. There have always been Knockers. And someone else has always had a better class.

Pauline

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Pauline

Perhaps I should have added that what we are having thrust upon us here is not the old style American curriculum (heaven forbid), but what a few US states are apparently moving into. My beef is that what they are trying to sell to us, is actually what most Australian teachers have been gradually moving to over the last decade, but hadn't given a specific name to, and our hierarchy will not acknowledge this fact and want us to go much further down the road of "discovery learning" and transdisciplinary generalist teaching, even right up to Yr 12 without any evidence that it will improve outcomes or adequately prepare students for tertiary education. It has been done on the run to such an extent that teachers are compelled to teach, assess and report in a completely different way next year, but we do not yet have any pro-formas, calibration of the "learning markers", or a tested and proved IT system to support it, and it hasn't even been sold to parents yet. The whole thing has grown into a gargantuan chaotic monster which is dividing teachers into camps at a stage in their life when they are stressed enough already. I'm all for innovation, but not this way at the expense of teachers' sanity.

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Problems with parents and their expectations seem to be global phenomena; we have loads of those in the German system as well.

Even though I do not completely understand what is happening in Australia it sounds like the reforms our educational authorities want to impose upon us.

To understand what is going on in Australia and to maybe share some of my German experiences could you please explain the following statements to me:

We must move into the 21st century with deep thinking, "powerful pedagogies" transdisciplinary learning, removal of discrete subjects, "thematic rich tasks", community based learning etc etc

Thank you

Ulrike

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Hi Ulrike

It's quite hard to explain what's happening here in any brief way, but I'll try.

Our new curriculum is called The Essential Learnings and instead of it being divided into learning areas and content, it is expressed as "outcomes". eg Students will become communicators, students will be numerate, students will be information literate, students will be Arts Literate, students will be enquiry thinkers, students will think ethically etc etc. From this comes the proposition that what is needed to achieve these, is not discrete subjects such as English and History, but transdisciplinary topics which take about 6-8 weeks to complete and incorporate literacy, numeracy, science skills, IT, art etc. These "rich tasks" as they are named, may have titles such as "What does it mean to be an Australian?" or "Setting up a Virtual Science and Ethics Conference" or "What is Beauty" or creating a documentary film on a given topic. Schools here are doing it in different ways. Some are doing these topics maybe 2-3 times a year and teaching basic skills in the remaining time, others are doing all the basic subjects via these topics in the morning and going out to optional subjects such as languages, Music, in the afternoon. Others are allowing students to do one of these topics on one line of their timetable while attending regular classes on all the other lines. It seems to fit primary schools much better than secondary. We are told it is NOT like the old "thematic topics" of the 70s, but is much deeper and more focused on outcomes thatn they were.

Critical thinking skills, deep analysis skills, "authentic learning tasks" and community invovement are also part of all this.

"Powerful pedagogies" is the jargon term given to a range of teaching methodologies/strategies which teachers are being required to take on, some of which ARE new, but some are just old ones repackaged. They have terms like jigsaws, gallery walks, chatterboxes, placemats (don't laugh!!) and rehashed mind maps. Teachers will be compelled to assess and report on these outcomes across the subjects, rather than on subject specific content and skills. So, next year all teachers will have to assess and report on "Arts Literacy". In other words all the teachers who teach subjects such as Art, Music, Dance, Drama etc will have to come up with a combined assessment of whether the student is "Arts Literate".

If you put all this together, you are supposed to have come up with the curriculum for the 21st century. Hope this all makes some sense.

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Dear Jaywalker,

thank you very much for the explanation. Our educational reform is not as far reaching as yours, but the methods you described (jigssaws, mindmaps etc.) are in fashion here as well and they are sold as some form of heal-all which they definitely are not.

We try to incorporate some of the aspects you mentioned in our ordinary lessons leaving the timetables untouched, so that e.g. in history students learn among other things how to visualize texts, how to read for understanding, taking notes etc. The core of the lessons and the curriculum for one year is still defined by contents. As Grammar schools are still seen as institutions peparing students for an academic career our lessons and curricula are focused on acquiring a basic academic knowledge as a precondition for being successfull in tertiary education.

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We must move into the 21st century with deep thinking, "powerful pedagogies" transdisciplinary learning, removal of discrete subjects, "thematic rich tasks", community based learning etc etc

Dear all,

This is going to be an international discussion ;)

In France, these 'strong strategies' have been incorporated within the curriculum for many years.

We have tried to mixed up all you have previously said.

Critical thinking skills, deep analysis skills, "authentic learning tasks" and community invovement are the very basis of the project we are doing 3/4 times through the pupils' curriculum.

I try to explian to you...but not that easy...

In Collège (11-15 yo) we have 'Itinéraires de Découverte': (Discovery researches).

Pupils. 2or 3 teachers from differesnt subjects are looking for cross-curriculum items and try to involve the pupils. It could be for example 'the Muslim world'. In this case a History/Géography teacher will have to make the pupils think and search about the origins of the muslim world, where it is located etc etc; a Math's one wil have to explain and make them thinking on the importance of Maths in the muslim world through centuries and a litteracy's one wil have to try to initiate them to the muslim litterature. But, they will have to do it together, during the same hours. Visits, conferences with specialists, researches in libraries are part of this project which can last 6 month to one year.

In lycee (16-18 yo), the last two years students have Travaux Personnels Encadres. They have some cross curriculum themes, but here the students are free to choose one issue and write an essay, make an exhibition, do a film etc etc

For example: European Union: they can choose the issue they like within this theme. If they want to choose EU and Arts, the Schengen space, etc etc they can.

This year we choose Wars, testimonies and representations: students choose what they want and develop it. Some choosed to compare Mauss from Art Spiegelman and Primo Levi books....some are doing exhibitions on the monuments commemorating the I WW and the II WW, some are making a film on the resistance in France during german occupation, some on art during May 6 in France....

We are two teachers by class but the subject area is not always ours..We have to adapt ourselves and try to help them the best we can. ;)

To do so, we removed in our curriculum some discrete subjects, or some hours in imortant one (for example in english they lose 1 hour per week to do this...and after english teachers are blamed because the students are not good enough in english ;)

But, for the vast majority of the students, they like it...it can be included in the final exam mark (that's perhps why), but also they can work together (2-3 per group) and do some researches by themselves (autonomy is a central skills now in France).

Hope it's clear (not very easy in few lines)

Jean Philippe

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Hi Jean Philippe

That is very interesting and very similar to what is happening here. Can I ask you, how you do your assessment and reporting on these units of work? Do you have set criteria for them? Do all teachers of the unit contribute to the mark?

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Hi Jay,

The assessment is divided in three distincts way: (we usually mark out of 20)

8 points are for the involvement of the students, their ability to communicate between them (as a group) and the teachers, a diary (they have to fill a diary of their researches...) etc etc. These points are given by the two teachers who followed them during 6 months.

Then, there is a final exam two other teachers who don't teach to these students

6 points are given to evaluate the work they completed: based on skills, thinking etc etc

6 points for the oral presentation: they have 20 to 30 minutes to present their work and to answer the teachers' questions.

Hope it is clear....please tell if not!

Jean Philippe

Edited by JP Raud Dugal
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Thank you for that explanation. It was very useful to me because here we are arguing with our education department about how to assess and report on these units. They want us to do very complicated assessments, using calibrated criteria, rubrics, comparative graphs and so on. Teachers are very concerned about ti and it's refreshing to hear that France is doing it in such a straightforward way.

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It's considered as an optional subject. We add it to the other subjects.

It can help some students to have the Bac :P

I think, there is no need to do what you described about your education dpt. It seems to me, they want sciencific marks :angry: Very, very hard.

When you have to mark such works, there is always a part for your subjectivity...(hope I write in english...)

During a semester, the students have 2 hours per week to do it. It's enough I think.

How does it work for you?

Jean Philippe

Edited by JP Raud Dugal
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