Saturday, January 24, 2015

Personal Connections to Learning; Ten Obvious Truths about Educating Kids that Keep Getting Ignored

Re:  Ten Obvious Truths about Educating Kids that Keep Getting Ignored

The above article touches on a lot of what I have to say, but I want to consolidate my own thoughts about what we know, but ignore.

Engaging interest; telling our personal stories.

There is a huge time crunch in schools these days.  As a teacher, you are supposed to get through the given reading lesson, for several different reading groups.  You are supposed to teach mini-lessons on writing to a given writing prompt and there all all those other literacy things that you are supposed to teach, too.  You have a (largely scripted) math lesson that needs to be taught.  You have to fit in those social studies and science lessons somewhere.  And then there are silent reading and read-aloud times that you know are so beneficial.  There isn't really time to get the students really interested in the subject matters and most of all there is no time to pursue things that the students really ARE interested in.

Say you are supposed to be teaching a lesson about longitude and latitude.  How many lessons actually start with kids holding a plain ball (an orange, a pummelo?, a rubber playground ball) decorated with random dots?  How do you get kids to actually wonder why we need longitude and latitude?  How could you get kids to describe exactly which dot was indicated?  Put random continents on the ball.  What directs would you give to get from one dot to another?

Who has time for this?

Instead, you have the kids read the two pages on longitude and latitude and then do a worksheet trying to find Chicago (which half of them think is a state or a country) or find the object that is at 40 degrees North and 105 degrees West.  Which they also don't care about - unless they live there, and then it is mildly interesting, but quickly forgotten.

When I am subbing, I generally carry a picture book to read to the kids, if there is an awkward time when something is cancelled, a lesson is too short, kids need to settle down from recess, or whatever. One of the books that has been very effective for me is Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French.  Part of the reason this book is so effective is that I take the time to talk about going to Australia, going to a couple of zoos and seeing wombats in real life.  I physically show them about how big wombats are and tell them that the ones I saw were rather stinky, but still adorable.  Then I tell them about the author of the book, who actually had a wombat living under her house.  All of these stories are personal things that interest me.  And since they interest me, I am able to get the students interested in them.  And even though the kids don't really know me, personal stories connect them to the book.  If there is time, we can also talk about their personal encounters with interesting animals.

The key word in the previous sentence is "time".  Too often, there just isn't time.  How many times have kids been assigned the ubiquitous "Do a report on your favorite animal" project?  How much time does the teacher take to help the students decide what it is about the animal that they find interesting?  Usually, what I see is a list of things the kids are supposed to find out about "their" animal (habitat, range, life cycle, etc.).  And a stack/shelf/cart of books.  And Kid X can't do their project on Animal A, because that animal was already taken by Kid Y, so they will have to do Animal B.

Perhaps most teachers do take the time to develop the interest in these projects before they set the kids loose on them.  As a sub, I am only there for a short time - usually just one day - so I probably, yeah UNDOUBTEDLY, miss most of what the teacher has done.  But I also know that kids generally seem detached from these sorts of assignments.  They aren't really following up their interests.  Gory shark attacks aren't generally allowed to be discussed in their slide show, but it is really what interests them about sharks.  There isn't time for that.

We need more time and more personal connections.

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