Saturday, November 13, 2010

PLENK2010 What Do You Know?

PLENK2010 Do you know what you know? If you are a teacher, you probably do know what you know. But many of your students may not be too sure of what they know.
I have found that there are are both children and adults who have no confidence in their own knowledge base. Sometimes they are perfectly right to doubt. When they graduate from Grade 12 and apply to university or community college, they are told that they are reading and performing at Grade 9 level and have to take some make-up courses.

Is it that we gallop through the text book without establishing a foundation in anything? When students are rushed along, absorbing only 50% of anything, they know nothing. That is all about money. The government will not allow the student extra years/time to learn, nor the teacher/school extra hours to teach.

Is it because we don't say to the student explicitly: "Right! You know this. Now you are ready for the next thing."? Is it because as teachers, we have our eye always on the curriculum and the huge body of knowledge yet to be learned. We need to take time to celebrate the real achievement of essential skills. Do you know what they are?

One little girl told me, "I don't want to take remedial reading. I want to learn to tell time." So I gathered some materials for teaching/testing telling time by the analog clock and checked her out. She did know how to tell time. But no one had told her that, so she did not trust her skill.

One woman joined the children in the remedial reading class in taking the "Sounds of the Alphabet" test. She was shaking with fear. She was right. She did not know all of the sounds, although she had graduated from high school. No one had taken the time to check and correct--a small point, but foundational. It, among other situational factors, had undermined her education.

It is not good enough to say 50%, 60%, 30% and leave it at that. When the mastery mark is 80% or 90%, you need to re-teach and re-test until the foundational skills are in place. You need to teach those who have mastered the skill to turn to the task of teaching the others to save time in the re-teaching.

It is not good enough to throw young energetic fresh teachers into a K-3 class with 20 kids unless she is thoroughly grounded in all of the reading and math foundational skills from university. Is she a reading and mathematics specialist? If she doesn't know ALL of the skills completely, hire an old teacher, who has had years of experience, and knows what the kids need. It is better to train that eager new teacher by having her teach Grade 5, and then 4, and then 3, and then 2, and then 1 and then K, until she knows all that the child needs to know, where they are coming from and where they are going. Then she is ready to take on that K-3 class.

This old philosophy of education had some value: Teach little, but teach it well. Now we teach a lot, but seemingly not the essentials, and not very well.

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