Saturday, September 08, 2007

Teaching Children the "Basics"

School started. Blogging will be intermittent for the next nine months.

One of the things we learned in our "professional development" sessions in the days before school started was the importance of establishing routines in the first days of the school year. This was in addition to a session on "brain-based education". The brain based stuff, the way it was presented by our highly motivated and charismatic speaker, was one of the standard mixes of the newer educational programs, a kernel of truth surrounded by a body of generalizations, wishful thinking, and simplistic ideas that might work for some students, but will be forgotten by this time next year.

Establishing routines, on the other hand, is a main idea of Harry Wong, the newest latest and greatest guru of classroom discipline. I've seen a couple of his videos and skimmed his book. According to Wong, if you establish student routines at the beginning of the school year, and teach students these routines, you will have fewer discipline problems. That makes sense. Students need to know the procedures for coming into class, going to lunch, when it's OK to get up to sharpen a pencil, etc. He recommends that these routines be taught and practiced until students understand them and can follow them. After all, how can we, as teachers, expect students to know what to do if we haven't taught them what to do?

So why do these same teaching professionals insist that students do NOT need to be taught how the English language works, that they will figure it out on their own if they are given enough exposure to the written word? Why do they claim that students should NOT be taught standard algorithms in math because they need to understand the concepts and come up with their own (inefficient, time consuming, useless in the real world) algorithms?

An idiot can learn to stand in line, but our students need to practice it. The English language was developed over hundreds of generations. It has a complex system of rules that governs its correct usage. Algorithms were created by adults who were proficient enough with numbers (because they spent a lifetime devoted to working with numbers) to discover ways to handle difficult computations that could be taught to people, and with enough practice be used to handle every day transactions. Many different ways were developed by various civilizations to manage numerical concepts, but the base ten system, first developed in India, has become dominant because it is the one that is most efficient. But somehow the same students who need to be taught the proper way to go to the bathroom, will magically understand math and the English language on their own. Never mind the fact that most adults could not do this if asked.

The troubling part is that they really don't admit the contradiction in that position.

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At 11:45 AM, Blogger Jungle Mom said...


At 12:47 PM, Blogger jennifer said...

Harry excellent post. Just like your comments on my blog. I got sidetracked yesterday in the link of brain based education, and forgot to come back.

Quite the touchy feely make sure we are all mentally not harmed type of direction.

I went in several links and can only say I really understand the problem in education.



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