Monday, May 16, 2016

No Bells - part two. Focus

I ran across an article: School Bells Interfere With Learning but unfortunately it has some points backwards. It misinterprets much of the what and why of bells and classes. Let me explain.
"... because we partition students into neat packages called subjects, they are implicitly taught that learning is something we do in compartments."
Actually, this is called focus (or uni-tasking) and we aren't partitioning the students at all. We're separating the subjects for three reasons: so the students can concentrate on one thing at a time, so that the most competent teachers for each subject can teach them and so the students don't have to have the exact same schedule of learning - each is able to specialize in his or her own way.

It's a NEW IDEA called differentiating.

Since students aren't going through the day in lockstep with all of their classmates, we must keep to a schedule so that everyone's time and preparation can be utilized most effectively.
If you try and introduce a little bit of another subject in your subject, students object, saying "This isn't English, Mr. Wees. Teach us Mathematics." (I've actually had students tell me that). Where in the real world is learning sectioned off like this?
Frankly, everywhere. Learning is always focused on one topic. When was the last time you attended a college class called "College Algebra and British Lit as used in Cobol programming?" Teaching at the elementary grades is cross-curricular by nature. The higher you rise, the more likely you're going to specialize. Not only is each student's course mix different but the levels are, too. One freshman may take Honors Algebra2, Spanish 3 and H.English but the other takes CP English, CPAlgebra1 and Spanish1.

Then, there's competence. I can teach Physics and any level of math, but I'd be fooling myself if I thought I could do Biology, History or Latin. I hate it when some other teachers try to teach math because they invariably screw up and I'm sure the English teachers would complain about my writing style. Even within a certification area, teachers have strengths and weaknesses. Some teachers are great with Geometry and others aren't.  Calculus is beyond many and some don't have the patience for pre-algebra or consumer math.
"Mathematics do English (and other languages) when they explain their discoveries to other people. Biologists use geography to decide where to start their research. All of what we learn is interconnected, and more of these connections need to made obvious to the students. This is not easy to do in a school with nine 45 minute separate blocks."
Ignoring the grammatical weirdness, this is the crux of his problem. Just because we are dealing with a vast interconnected world doesn't mean that the best way to learn is by studying the whole thing all at once. The connections cannot be made clear to students until the students understand the two (or more) things that are being connected.

There is also a huge difference between "learn" and "use." I use English to explain my thoughts on math but that doesn't mean I can teach English and it doesn't mean that mixing math and English will improve the learning of either. (Educational pundits went to school but that doesn't mean they know how to fix it, either, but I digress.)

The argument that connections can't be made in 45 minute blocks is precisely the reason many schools went to 90 blocks. Not that it helped anything.
"Maybe we should even rethink how we schedule kids, and consider other instructional models. There are schools where there are no bells, no classes like what you would see in a traditional school, just kids (and adults) learning."
I want a school with no classes.
Cliche alert! 

When will otherwise well-meaning people realize that the vast bulk of their students are not "natural students" who, "unlike themselves", have greater interest outside of the classroom than in?

There's a reason that these schools are few ... they don't work for most kids.

The "no bells, no classes" scenario ... there's also no learning. These schools are filled with the spoiled rotten children of money. In return for the kid's chance to pretend to learn, the schools pretend to give them an education, whitewashing over the fact that the kids have little interest in anything and school is below "nothing" on their lists.

The teachers think they're being "cutting edge" and "understanding" and the school is "so 21st century" that your head might burst from the fuzzy good feelings. I've seen this kind of school go straight into the tank. Fortunately for the kids, their parents have plenty of money because that education isn't cutting the mustard.

Those kids who can do the "unschooling" kind of thing are the ones who could pick up a "Perl for Dummies" book and teach themselves programming over the weekend. They also tend to have parents who take the place of the school.

Those aren't your kids. Or my students.

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