Monday, August 24, 2015

Pre-school year jitters

The last year or so, I've done very little writing for learning.  I've done quite a bit of writing in other genres, but I haven't had much to say on my teaching or my growth as a teacher or the state of education in general.  There are a few good reasons for this, and a few bad ones.

For a while, I found the state of education policy to be pretty depressing.  People are pulling out of Common Core for all the wrong reasons, nobody knows what the state of Michigan is doing, and I have no hope of the federal Congress doing anything with the status quo in NCLB.  (The fact that they both have produced a bill means that they've already gotten further than I expected, so maybe I'll be surprised.)  I had no insight to offer, only snark and unproductive bitterness, so I stopped writing about it.

My writings about my personal growth have slowed because, now that I'm a member of a team and a pretty high-functioning PLC, my own reflections aren't my only, or even my primary, vehicle for reflection.  So that's not all bad. 

I'm back to where I was some years ago, though, trying to string together competing demands on my limited classroom time and trying to make the best of it.  Writing through this was useful and re-reading the things I wrote was reflective.

So to begin.  I still think that comprehensible input is the mechanism by which people learn languages, and I think that TPRS is basically the most efficient way to give that to students most of the time.  To put it another way, I follow the "comprehensible input" hypothesis as presented (and defended) by Krashen, referenced to extensively elsewhere on the blog.  I also have a curriculum to follow, and I do this as best I can.

The difficulty is that the CI hypothesis runs counter to the way we run schools.  We want to measure progress in a predictable controlled way.  We have benchmarks and final exams and differentiated instruction and rigidly defined curriculum.  But in a CI classroom, language acquisition happens in its own time, and the teacher's job is to provide the conditions for allowing this to happen.

My current struggle: the assessments for TPRS and (for lack of a better word) traditional* classrooms appear to ask completely different questions, almost as if they value different things.  And they do.  My premise is that if I do my job as a CI teacher, they should be able to pass the vocab assessments without difficulty.  Last year this proved not to be the case, but it wasn't my most stellar year.  (This year, more, better, and above all shorter chunks of comprehensible input.  Like, 1-paragraph stories we finish once a week.)

We'll see how that goes. 

*I'm coming to loathe the word "traditional."  It's essentially a straw man for whatever the well-compensated** presenter wants to argue against. In this case I mean anyone who teaches on the premise that the brain creates meaning primarily based on semantic and syntactic relationships--y'know, thematically-related vocabulary lists.

**I know they're not that well-compensated in the world of professional consultants, but you know.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The agenda of school "reformers"

I wrote this in a fit of pique this morning, after reading about Arizona's teacher shortage and the number of classrooms being run by subs.  Not just uncertified but degree-bearing adults who are dedicated to the task, people I call itinerant educators, but subs.  People who took the gig because it's easier to get a job doing that than designing roller coasters (or whatever).  And not just long-term subs, so at least students would get the same lackluster experience every day.  But serial subs, people who come in for a day or a week and the next time you see them it's in Phys Ed instead of in physics. 

Anyway, the following is based on observation and pattern-finding.  It may or it may not reflect reality.  But I find it useful in explaining the actions of school "reformers" and predicting how their big education initiatives will play out.


The agenda of for-profit cheap-labor conservative school “reformers”:

1.) Make teaching an impossible job.
a.) Require excessive bureaucracy.
b.) Mandate high standards and frequent changes, and provide insufficient support.
c.) Reduce salaries and benefits.
2.) Watch as qualified candidates run to more lucrative careers, like delivering pizzas.
3.) Engage in a number of stop-gap measures designed to exacerbate the problem.
a.) Hire unqualified candidates to do the job.  For example, say that teachers with life experience are better than teachers with specialized training in education methodology.
b.) Badly implement reforms based on actual science.
c.) Blame everything on a lack of God in schools.  (Not a requirement, but good for some chuckles.) 
d.) Under-fund the various employment mechanisms.  For example, say that money used to pay teachers’ salaries isn’t “reaching the classroom.” 
5.) Decry the public-education system as a failed experiment. 
6.) Sell your favorite get-rich-quick scheme (charter schools, exclusively-computer-based learning, vouchers) to the state as the only possible solution.  Promise public-school-level results for the same price.  Spend less than 1/7th of the amount on student education.
7.) Profit!

Epilogue: When this doesn’t work, say that you underestimated the costs of special education.  Pocket two years’ profits, close up shop and push the students back into the public school system you’ve worked to dismantle.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The bilingual "advantage"

The bilingual advantage is a theory (I guess, actually a hypothesis) that states that the brains of bilingual children develop differently.  Specifically, it suggests that multilingual children are better at task-switching (going from one kind of thinking activity to another) and executive function (the ability to manage higher-order thinking skills). 

A researcher analyzed the working drafts of 13 years of conference presentations and finds that this advantage might be over-stated. I read about it in the New Yorker.

I have always been of the opinion that the advantage of speaking another language is your ability to speak another language.  I'm not embarassed to say that I've talked about bilingual advantage (the neurological theory) to sell Spanish classes and other programs to decision-makers.  It seems I'll have to take this new research under consideration.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A brief note

On the subject of solving someone else's problems 
in order to 
Avoid working on my own

A friend posted this article stub on another social media site.  The central thesis is that putting recess before lunch time increases students' consumption of fruits and vegetables by 50%, and it does it by increasing the number of students who eat them by 45%.  This is important because it means the kid who normally eats a banana isn't all of a sudden eating 3 of them. 

This led me to wonder why every school doesn't do it, so I asked my friend.  She said that in her school, students spend so long in line that they don't really have time to eat AND play.  One of her friends said that in another school, recess IS before lunch, but the total time is 30 minutes.  This makes it sublimely difficult to eat enough food.

I started thinking about lines then, and how one might speed up the movement of lines full of kindergarteners.  A quick Google search--"how to speed up lines"--mostly led to solutions dealing with writing concise computer code.  Changing the word "lines" to "queues" meant the results were all about networking.

It was about this time I realized that I was doing this as a deliberate strategy to avoid thinking about my own classroom management difficulties.  So, in order to stop procrastinating, I wrote a blog post.