Sunday, August 18, 2019

What kind of nut case believes all kids will be proficient at the same time?

Children are different!  They aren't robots! To fully understand this, we must first understand that ALL children are different.  In the words of Dr. Howard Gardner "The biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all students as if they were variants of the same individual and thus to feel justified in teaching them all the same.”  The answer to the afore mention question is yes for both!  Because children are different, for some, under the current system of education, poverty becomes destiny due to the enormous obstacles put in their way.  Obstacles, like childhood stress, literally slows the brain.

According to Dr. Kara Fitzgerald; “So essentially what we saw, that a stressful environment really coordinates three kinds of responses in the body: an immune response, a metabolic response, and a behavioral response. ….When something stressful or threatening happens, it’s not just our brain that is involved. We have to recruit everything from the immune system, to the fat system, to the heart. And therefore, what I believe is early in life, children are getting this information, life is going to be tough. And they are kind of altering multiple systems to deal with hard life. And hard life involves social threat, it involves food threat, lack of food. It involves bacterial infestation, so it prepares for all of this.”

With these obstacles, learning becomes difficult.  On the other hand, the answer is also yes, many of those in poverty are protected from obstacles that impede learning and therefore poverty does not become destiny.  They learn in a normal manner.

Significant is that when we generalize terms, it is easy to infer anything we want and justify anything we want.  It is easy to dive fully into the confirmation bias and give more weight to those ideas that confirm what we already believe and less weight and even ignore ideas or facts that don’t.

By generalizing poverty, combined with continued large class sizes, it is difficult for the classroom teacher to determine which children are learning slow due to obstacles or those who are simply perceived as learning slow due to their zip code.  This, then often leads to unnecessary low expectations.

When we understand that all children are different, we come to the realization that as a classroom teacher, we don’t know who is affected by the obstacles and who is not.  Therefore, it is essential to have high expectations for every child that enters the class.  That is easier done when we have a plan for students who don't meet those expectations, as well as those who advance beyond expectations. 

No longer may we give students progressing slower a failing grade which, in their minds, calls them stupid.  Nor may we pass them on with a D- that increases their potential for failure in the future.  Instead, we don't give them a letter grade.  We do devise a system of education that builds "failure" as a part of the learning process, a lesson to build on.  Children then maintain hope as they continue to move forward at their best rate in the way they learn best.

And no longer may we hold back the advanced student.  They too must be allowed to progress at their best rate even if it means taking university classes earlier. 

With smaller class sizes teachers can not only work closer with the students learning styles, but they can better understand the different background information of each student.  Thus they can teach all children in the way they learn best.

Currently the system of education gives teachers two major choices for those who progress slower.  Students can pass or fail.  If they fail, they move on to the next chapter never learning the needed information.  This leads to another dilemma.  At the end of the school year they can either pass without learning or fail back to repeat the whole grade or subject over again.  After this happens twice, they will realize, in high school, that they are too old and out of place and thus will drop out.  They have either been failed into oblivion or given a fake diploma, so the school records look good.

To resolve this problem systemic change must occur.  That is when grade levels, letter grades and an artificial system of failure must be replaced by a system that better serves all students.  Demonstrated proficiencies allow learning to be demonstrated in many ways; grade levels become age levels, not indicators of achievement; and a new system allows failure to be an integral part of the learning process as it is in life.  We all learn through failure except in school which equates failure with stupidity and eventually pushes children into the school to prison pipeline. 

Envision a MAP (My Action Plan) where students are allowed to re take an assessment after they were unsuccessful and learn from their failures constantly moving forward to ultimate success.  Those assessments will allow students to be monitored as they move forward in the process enhanced by small pre and post-tests readily available to teachers to compare with their daily progress in the classroom.  Assessment is only as good as the information gathered and its application to the education of the child.  Remember, the teacher sees the child a couple hundred days in a year while the artificial standardized test sees the student a couple hours a year and is long delayed getting information back to teachers.  This renders the big test more useless than it already is.

At what point do we determine the requirements for graduation.  This has always been a concern as the community needs of students vary.  Now it is time to use your imagination.  The MAP is a portfolio of learning throughout the school years.  What if a student, at any age, would present that portfolio to a university for acceptance?  That University would then analyze it, accept the student or, if not accepted, would identify skills to be gained.  The student could then return to high school of go to a community college to enhance those skills.  

The same would be true for an employer.  Is the student ready for hire or do they need to enhance their skills.  This way students could hang on to their dreams and continue to move toward their goal in life. They may choose a different course to follow but either way, their decision would be based on information relative to their future, not just an SAT or other artificial tests.  The decision is with the student along with parents and trusted friends and professionals. 
Children might not get to the end result at the same time as everyone else.  They aren’t robots.  But they will get to the end result, a successful education and hope for their future in their world.

Eldon “Cap” Lee