The Myth of College Readiness

Just because children have to do something when they grow up does not mean it is appropriate for elementary school students. 6 year olds are not college students. Not yet.

I am so tired of “college readiness” being used to justify innumerable teaching mandates that are not developmentally appropriate. For instance- the common core shift to non-fiction in writing and reading, or there was that time my principal told us to use testing language with first graders, and then of course, the pages of homework being sent home starting in kindergarten. I don’t care what they have to do in college- 5 and 6 year olds should be writing stories, not essays, using language that makes sense for them and playing, not filling out worksheets after school.

You know what else college students should probably be prepared for? Sex. But no one has mandated that teachers introduce kindergarteners to details of STD prevention. Because it is not appropriate! They are not ready!

One teacher at my school recently told me that she thought taking tests in 3rd grade was important practice for the SATs. Wait. A. Second. So we need to be preparing kids for the SATs almost 10 years before they take them? Taking a 3 hour test might be developmentally appropriate for 17 year olds. But make no mistake, no matter what anyone tells you, any seated task that lasts more than 40 minutes is not developmentally appropriate for a typical 8 year old.

If we really want our elementary school kids to be “college ready”, we can…

a. Make college affordable so they actually have the option of going.

b. Offer them rich, sensory, creative and meaningful learning experiences so that they love school and develop some of the non-academic skills that actually matter in college – self motivation and self control, executive functioning and organization, independence and the ability to problem solve and communicate.

c. Meet kids’ needs in the here and now. Stop worrying about what they need to do when they are 18. You know what they need to do right now? Eat breakfast every day. Button their coats. Make friends. Solve problems. Feel emotionally and physically safe. Read books they love. Write stories. Do experiments. Play outside. Dig in the dirt.

Imagine if doctors started telling parents that their babies should practice walking immediately upon emergence from the womb. We have to prepare them now for the walking they’ll do later in life, they might say. Make sure you stand them up on 2 feet right after they are born so that they get a head start. And then just let go, they’ll be just fine.

That is what we’re doing to our children in far too many schools, all for the sake of college readiness. Enough.

 

Personalized Education is a Scam

Personalized education is code for students sitting in front of computers programmed according to their level in math, reading etc. This kind of “education” is great for tech companies, but research shows it is not so great for kids.

My experience proves the same: all my “high achieving students” spend their weekends at museums, parks and zoos, in art classes or building structures at home. All the kids that spend their time on a DS, computer or staring at the tv are the ones with delayed language development, non-existent problem solving skills and poor self control. My main goal every day is to level the playing field with lots of messy, hands on, interactive learning experiences and an emphasis on interpersonal skills.

Learning is a social process and relationships between students and teachers are the basis for all real learning.  Children learn by doing- with their bodies, their senses, their voices and with each other. This is not my opinion, it is proven by decades of research.

Computers are fine and can be a useful tool for skill building, research and  creating student materials. Pencils are also useful for learning, but no one is saying that they can fix everything missing in education.  There should be computers in classrooms, but they can never replace teachers and can never replace the social, active and sensory experiences that constitute real learning.

I’m glad I have a computer in my classroom, but if I had to choose I’d take scissors, glue, and construction paper any day.

http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/12/leonie-haimson-did-mark-zuckerberg-make-another-mistake/

Why do teachers give students numbers?

“I don’t understand why so many of you cannot remember your student number.”

I heard this in a 3rd grade classroom last week in school. More and more teachers I know are assigning students individual numbers. I don’t understand it. Is this a charter school thing? If someone out there can explain the advantages of referring to students by number rather than name to me, please do. Especially considering that giving students numbers seems oddly mechanical and is certainly dehumanizing.

I even know kindergarten teachers who call students to line up or come into the room by number. Of course the 5 year olds sometimes forget to respond to their numbers, which leads to disapproving  chastisements from their teachers. Personally, I think getting mad at a 5 year old for forgetting to respond to a number is not only inappropriate, but also, a waste of energy.

Imagine if you went to work every day and your supervisors referred to you by number.” Number 14, 15, and 16 come to my office.” I know I would never choose to work in an environment like that.

Even if it helps teachers stay slightly more organized, what is numbering teaching students about how to treat others and how we view them as individuals? Is it so hard to label your files and checklists by name each year? It’s the kids we should be worried about, each and every one with their own unique names and needs, not  how easy it is to keep track of our spreadsheets and student data.

Class Dojo and Other Ways We’re Preparing our Children to Live in a Surveillance State

I hate class dojo. I hate it and all the other apps, and monitoring systems, and zero tolerance policies and discipline ladders- they all make me queasy.

For the uninitiated, Class Dojo is an app that teachers can use to monitor student behavior through a point and demerit system. Parents get notified daily with how many points students earned throughout the day and for what. And yes, many teachers were doing this same thing before the app, and I too have concocted incentives and point earning systems out of desperation. But I knew then and certainly know now that that was not good teaching. And now Class Dojo is rampant and it all makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Why?

Well first off, we’re quantifying behaviors and habits of mind that really can’t be quantified- yet another way we’re turning our children into data that is often meaningless but can still follow them forever.  And of course, there are many privacy issues when data about a young child is tracked by a large tech company and made public to an entire class, often without parental consent.

Second, fear should not be a daily teaching strategy, neither should complete surveillance and disempowerment. Children will not learn to be good, thoughtful, creative and critical people by getting negative points when they talk out of turn or fidget in their chairs. Instead of empowering children to make choices, instead of creating community and building trust, all of these apps and systems shift the emphasis away from the children toward teacher centered control, as if control= learning.

Although organization, clear expectations, and routines are a part of learning, controlling children is not the same as teaching them. So many of us, especially Reformers, buy in to the myth that the quietest classroom is the best- even though deep down we know and research has shown that that is FALSE. Rather, real learning is noisy, messy,playful, circuitous, involves mistakes and is highly social. Keeping kids quiet and sitting still does not equal good teaching, nor does it actually give students practice with authentic self control and compassion- which are the real end goals of behavior management.

Being scared into silence does not breed empathy, nor does constant monitoring from above. When these kids graduate from high school, is there going to be someone to monitor their every choice? Who will give and take away their points? Who is taking away points after school? We need students to be self aware, to self monitor their actions, to be reflective, to understand that they have a role in a community which comes with certain considerations and responsibilities- that they have a responsibility to themselves. We want them to be engaged, to love learning, and to be motivated to learn from something deeper than a desire to hear an app ping.  Control via app is not engagement and it is not learning.

What’s more, the worst thing about class dojo is that it is often public- students are getting points removed or earned in front of a whole class. All that teaches is shame and resentment, two feelings already enjoying a renaissance in public schools thanks to the culture of education reform and high stakes testing.

It makes me queasy every time I hear another teacher tell me they are trying class dojo, because it “works.” If by “works”, you mean that your students are quiet, maybe it does. But are they engaged? Are they empowered? And most important, what exactly are they learning? If children learn by doing, all they learn from Class Dojo is fear and obedience, two qualities valued by the powerful and useless to everyone else.

And that is why, I will never, ever, ever use class Dojo.

…. the NY Times seems to agree with me Class Dojo Times,

and Alfie Kohn : “This is just a flashy digital update of programs that have long been used to treat children like pets, bribing or threatening them into compliance,”