Sunday, September 20, 2009

Opinions Gone Wild

Well, I've still got some great education questions that I'd like to answer, so I'm back on that today. The Colonel and Luckeyfrog asked two questions that I think dovetail nicely, so I'm going to answer those today.

The Colonel wanted to know when school became so "student-focused." He seems to feel that many excuses are made for kids these days and that teachers are bending over backwards to accommodate them. He clarified by saying that he didn't mean children with documented disabilities, but just regular kids.

In my opinion, there's one big reason for this and then a couple of smaller ones. First and foremost, in this country, education is a right and not a privilege. Regardless of how well a person does or whether or not they show any interest, a person is still required to attend school for most of their young lives. In many states the age a person is allowed to drop out of school is seventeen or eighteen, which means that they will be in the system until adulthood. Furthermore, most states have every single student on a college-prep curriculum.

Piled on top of that are the requirements that teachers have. Teachers are judged on many, many criteria including the number of students who pass their class, the number of students who pass the state test, and possibly even the attendance of their students. When I worked in Texas I received a note from my principal stating that I had more students failing my class than the maximum recommended guideline of 10%. One of my students was a drug addict who had not come to school in over a month. My class only had five students. When one out of five is failing, that means 20%. I'm not sure what they wanted me to do about it--pass a student who didn't attend? When I worked in Arkansas, we were given a number of students expected to pass the state test each year. Every year we fell short and the next year the number would be even higher. Logic just doesn't enter into the equation. Some states link the state test to graduation, but Arkansas wasn't one of them. Basically, the students had no incentive to pass the test. None.

So there's a lot of pressure on teachers to pass students--to accommodate them. Personally, I think it's great when teachers bend over backward to enhance student learning, but many times these measures lead teachers to grade inflate or to create enough easy grades so that no one fails.

But Luckeyfrog wanted to know about another group of students that might appear in her class--those with disabilities that are in the mainstream curriculum. When I was in school, this wasn't discussed AT ALL. I had no idea what it even meant. I had trial by fire, though, as my first teaching assignment had mainstream kids and every job after that actually involved developing modification plans for my students. Here's a quick list of what worked for me:

  1. Give students a word bank of choices.

  2. Make sure a word bank has about five choices in it--giving them fifteen choices isn't helpful.

  3. When giving a multiple choice test, eliminate one or two of the choices depending on the student.

  4. Assign only evens or odds on a worksheet.

  5. Put students in pairs and let them read to each other--let students divvy up the material.

  6. Try to plan lessons that appeal to different learning modalities--consider visual and tactile experiences as well as auditory.

  7. Consider contract grading for students who seem dejected.

  8. During seat work, sit next to students and work with them or pull a small group of kids who struggle.

  9. If giving notes, consider creating a "note helper" for students--a sheet with blanks to be filled in rather than just writing down everything you say.

  10. When giving notes, walk around the room and tap desks of students easily distracted.

  11. Try a variety of seating strategies.

  12. When teaching a subject like math or science, focus on the subject and try to remove all barriers to the material. If the child has trouble reading, see if there's an audio version of the book or text book. If the child has trouble writing, allow them to give you answers orally. Getting hung up on what they can't do can lead to a loss of learning. Being unable to read or write doesn't' mean that their brains can't process other types of information. I had one student who could barely read, but who could solve complex algebra problems in his head.

  13. Above all, focus on student strengths and work from there.

Standing practice. I can't get him to look at me because he's too busy smiling at my computer's iTunes.