Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Is Johnny So Badly Educated?

In America, people like Frank Bruni attack the Tiger Mom and Chinese educational methods because they believe that children who do too much schoolwork and perform too many rote exercises will suffer severe emotional disturbances, even to the point of committing suicide.

We Americans may not know how to teach our children or even how to bring them up to become good citizens of the Republic, but we are aiming at a higher good: their mental health.

When British educators saw that their own schoolchildren were falling behind Chinese students in all measures of academic performance, they sent a delegation to teachers to China to find out why.

Business Insider reports their conclusion:

Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.

Great Britain and America adopted “a more collaborative approach to learning where students had greater control.”

The advent of the new pedagogical techniques dates to the time of the Vietnam counterculture.

Business Insider describes what happened:

Traditionally, classrooms have been organised with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.

Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorising times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.

Influenced by the self-esteem movement, teachers started handing out large dollops of praise, regardless of whether or not it had been earned.

The result:

Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.

Studies in Australia, where the new age techniques were also implemented, drew a similar conclusion:

Many in Australian education believe children are only really learning when they are active. As a result, teachers are told it is wrong to sit children at their desks and ask them to listen to what is being taught.

Again, the evidence proves otherwise. The UK report suggests that even when sitting and listening children are internalising what is being taught. Learning can occur whether they are “active” or “passive”.

Often derided as “drill and kill” or making children “parrot” what is being taught, the UK report and other research suggests that memorisation and rote learning are important classroom strategies, which all teachers should be familiar with.

The UK report states that teachers need to “encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas”, while research in how children best learn concludes that some things, such as times tables and reciting rhymes, ballads and poems, must be memorised until they can be recalled automatically.

Ah yes, automatic recall of multiplication tables, classroom discipline, teachers who exercise authority… these are the basis of education.

Business Insider concludes that there is a place for more individualized instruction, but that the foundation for good education resides in rote memorization:

In the early years of primary school, children need to memorise things like times tables and poems and ballads so that they can be recalled easily and automatically. Education is also about curiosity and innovation and there will be other times when rote learning will be unsuitable – for example, when students explore a topic that excites them and where they undertake their own research and analysis.

Depending on what is being taught, what has gone before and what is yet to come, whether students are well versed in a particular area of learning or are novices, and even the time of day, teachers must adapt their teaching to the situation and be flexible.

The problem arises when teachers and teacher education academics privilege one particular approach to the detriment of all others.

But, how many American educators are capable of admitting that they got it wrong? When they denounce techniques that are producing better results—on the grounds that these techniques are fomenting mental illness-- they are defending themselves and refusing to change their ways.

We will see what effects this study has in Great Britain and Australia. As for America… American educators’ skill at critical thinking vanishes when it is directed at them.


Sam L. said...

"But, how many American educators are capable of admitting that they got it wrong? When they denounce techniques that are producing better results—on the grounds that these techniques are fomenting mental illness-- they are defending themselves and refusing to change their ways."

Too damned few.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

It seems like it might be difficult to assess education within the U.S. given the independence school districts are given. But on the other side there's also nothing here about the ever increasing amount of testing required of students, and the risks of "teaching the tests" when schools are financially rewarded for improved test scores.

I remember in elementary school a student teacher who came to read to us each day, and when he left he tried saying something about each student, and to me he said he thought I knew how many bricks were on the building across the street. It surprised me because I never thought about looking out the window, and I certainly wasn't focused on anything as boring as bricks.

I do wonder if different subjects need different sorts of techniques, at least math is a subject where you know if you get the right answer, and you can even correct the teacher when he makes a mistake and he'll usually thank you, while grammar teachers are maybe less tolerant of students correcting them.

I'd say I benefitted more from curiosity of "self-directed learning" than listening and memorization, but I guess listening sort of gives the "wide overview", so students get a map of what they're learning, and how things fit together, while once you have a map, then you can see what's left in the details. But maybe that's all for me, and 90% of other students see things differently, need different promptings.

I know grades didn't much motivate me when I was younger. I don't think my parents being disappointed by my C's and D's when inspiration failed me in a class. Fortunately my brother got more attention than me.

But if I worried my mediocre GPA was going to prevent me from going to college, I might have tried a little harder.

Finally talking about a "disciplined classroom environment" I've talked to a couple friends who taught in inner city schools, with kids who had many more problems than remembering to make sure their dog ate their homework, and I'm talking poor urban blacks primarily. Is it possible teachers could use more "forceful" methods to get students to pay attention?

This article from last year showed 85% graduation rate for whites, and 56% for blacks, while Minneapolis students are barely graduating above 50% for all races.

Those low numbers are crazy to me. It would be great if we could blame the teachers for their poor techniques to explain it all.
The graduation rate for Minnesota students is the highest it’s been in a decade, even though many minority students continue to lag behind their white peers when it comes to getting a diploma on time, new state data show.

About 79 percent of all students graduated in 2013, up from 72 percent in 2003. Last year, 85 percent of white students, 56 percent of black students and 58 percent of Hispanic students graduated, according to data released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Education.

State education leaders said they are encouraged by the new data, which show minority students making big gains from year to year. The graduation rate for black students rose almost 6 percentage points from 2012 to 2013. That increase is five times the progress made by white students.

Led by a much stronger graduation showing by its American Indian, Latino and black students, Minneapolis Public Schools posted its second consecutive year of steady gains in its four-year graduation rate.

The district saw an overall increase in its graduation rate from 51.8 percent in 2012 to just under 54 percent in 2013. Much of the improvement was posted by American Indian students, who gained from 26.9 percent to 33.7 percent; black students, whose graduation rate rose from 38 to 43.6 percent, and Latino students, who jumped from 37 to 41.3 percent.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis’ Asian students held steady at 68 percent, while white student graduation fell slightly to 72.1 percent, a 1.2 percentage point drop.

Ares Olympus said...

Uh oh, what do you know, PBS newshour has a 7 minute piece on Wednesday on a teacher who started a school on the motto "Let kids have choices" 'World's best teacher' does not believe in tests and quizzes

Looks like PBS doesn't use Business Insider's expertise in teaching for its news.

The "World's best teacher" is donig 100% reverse of what B.I. is reporting! Curiosity and passion? No tests! student self-assessment?!

How are we going to create good human cogs in the industrial machine to maximize productivity?