Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Case for Chutes and Ladders

Posts are really going to be few and far between for the next few months. As much as there are things I want to write about, I'm already giving up enough sleep. This one should have been done over a week ago. There was this article in Newsweek that I took to school, made copies of and passed out to my principal and a few teachers who asked about it. I asked my principal if I could make copies for the staff and for the district administrators. I asked first because the administrators might not see it in the same light that I do. He hasn't answered me yet.
Considering that there is nothing to the "Mozart effect," in which playing classical music to babies supposedly improves their "spatiotemporal reasoning," it has had amazing staying power. Along with similar cases of a gullible public's going crazy over preliminary findings that ultimately fell apart, it has created a bitter rift among scientists about whether neuroscience can explain how the brain learns and thereby guide teaching. Now some scientists are fuming about "scientifically unsupported" claims, about parents and teachers who are "misinformed" and about "myths of brain-based pedagogy."
That's not the part that might upset the big cheeses.
Critics are certainly right that there's a lot of bath water that should go down the drain, starting with the Mozart Effect itself and moving on to "brain-based" toys whose benefits remain more mythical than real and "brain-based" education consultants who peddle their questionable (and expensive) services to schools. But the critics go further. In a guest editorial in the journal Science last month, two scholars called "brain-based pedagogy" a "myth." They are especially concerned that teachers, who pay $500 to attend "learning and the brain" conferences at places like MIT and Stanford, believe the research is solid enough to use in classrooms today, such as by teaching boys and girls differently. "People have been sold a bill of goods that there is enough here to make curricular decisions," says psychologist Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University, coauthor of the editorial.
That's the part they wouldn't like. Our district combined their resources with two other districts to hire a "brain-based" consultant to entertain us with a half-day workshop. The speaker was very good but we are still making fun of the presentation. We may be public school teachers but we're not total idiots. The dimmest among us could see that there was very little of value there.

This part is important though. It's what I've been teaching and what I've been trying to get reinstated into the district.
Petitto, for instance, led a 2007 study that settled a decades-long debate over how children learn to spell: does the brain uses the same processes for words you can sound out ("blink") as for those you can't ("yacht")? Brain imaging showed that blink-like words use the brain's soundprocessing system, while yacht-like words rely on circuits that encode memory and meaning. That suggests "a dual-route model of spelling," Petitto says. "Knowing this, there's no way I'd teach a child spelling without phonological information. This is finally evidence that the brain needs that and uses it."

The new journal, called Mind, Brain, and Education, is full of other fascinating hints. One study found that when children begin forming mental representations of letters, more than the visual sense comes into play. Crucially, the brain's premotor area, which plans movements, does. That suggests that having children try to write letters at the same time that they're learning to recognize them might produce what Denes Szucs and Usha Goswami of the University of Cambridge call "a multisensory representation" of letters, and "deepen learning."
Yes, multisensory instruction works, but just try to get an educational "expert" to admit it, or a public school administrator to adopt a language arts method that is based on the concept.

That's mostly why I want this article passed around. It's validation. I'm not the only one in the world doing it. We could all be teaching that way and we wouldn't have such an absurdly high illiteracy rate in this country. Fewer people might be fooled by Al Gore's anti-capitalist - destroy industrial society crusade. More people would understand that the Islamists and their totalitarian supporting leftist allies are not working in the interest of freedom and do actually want to do harm to our families. Things could be turned around if enough people fight hard enough.

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At 9:58 PM, Blogger jennifer said...

Harry I check nearly daily for a new post so don't worry. I love reading your thoughts on things.

I have been saddened by the schools for awhile, but still find comfort that many HARRY'S exist in the schools. So be strong and be the influence so that YOUR students will be able to discern truth. Teach your students the way to research and study.

I know that perimeters for you to teach have long been established, but use the classics to teach this..Shakespeare. Twain etc.

The great works have such messages that don't exist today...

Oh well be busy stay safe and enjoy the upcoming winter(or summer for the global nuts)


At 5:25 PM, Blogger Rancher said...

"having children try to write letters at the same time that they're learning to recognize them might produce what Denes Szucs and Usha Goswami of the University of Cambridge call "a multisensory representation" of letters, and "deepen learning".

You don’t say. How about having the kid write the letter, say the letter, make a sound the letter represents, and give a word that begins with that letter? What exactly is the current approach for crying out loud?

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Harry said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I think we will have to change the name of winter to summer jr., or mini summer, or not quite winter, or . . . I'm sure some environmental organization is working on coming up with just the right scary name.

The current approach, as far as I can tell, is to introduce capital letters in Kindergarten (even though lower case letters are used the vast majority of the time) and have the kids copy them. Talking to an ex-first grade teacher, they don't actually teach the kids to make the letters, they show them the letters and the students figure out how to make them on their own. According to her, there isn't enough time to show them how to make the letters. Kids come up with some wacky ways to make them. I'm working with some fourth and fifth graders in order to help them stop their reversals of "b" and "d".

The fun never ends.

J and R,
On the plus side, (sort of) my fourth grade class was recently converted into an impromtu 4/5 split. Since there isn't time now to teach both the 4th and 5th grade basal readers, I'm going to begin my own reading program and teach both groups together.

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Rancher said...

Well hang in there, we love you for it. My wife is trying to get hired as a teacher again, also elementary school.


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