Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Ambiguous Lectures Hurt Students

Today, D-Ed Reckoning has a very thorough post explaining why many kids are finding themselves behind: The root cause.

Teachers and education schools are spending more and more time encouraging other teachers to get more creative and write their own lesson plans, instead of using pre-made lesson plans and scripted curricula. But the truth is, teaching a group of students is very hard, and it's probably a rare person who can make perfect lessons in a short time or on the fly. It's very easy to see how a student could get confused, even learning very fundamental concepts such as "color" or "red". It's ten times harder to think of teaching something like reading.

Creativity has its place. Everyone wants to love their job and feel like they are doing something special. As a scientist, a technical writer, and a programmer, I've seen people who just go too far in trying to be creative. For example, I know it's a very common thing for technical writers to bristle at templates, style guides and writing rules, because it seems like it's taking away their creativity. They just want to fiddle with the font a few more times, or use a word a slightly different way, or just mix things up so their life is a little less scripted and predictable. But, while this fiddling may make them feel more productive, creative, smart, or useful, frequently it is a detriment to their product. If they change the template too much, it will look different from other writers' books. If they change the common convention, it can make it harder for new users to adapt. Just think about software or web sites you've used -- you can see how people have come up with new paradigms and metaphors for interacting with their design, but quite often users aren't looking for novelty when they are just trying to find what they are looking for or to efficiently complete their task.

Creativity is only good in small doses.

While homeschooling my son it is very easy for me to stop when he is confused and help correct him immediately, so incorrect ideas don't linger in his head for a long time. If he understands well, we can go rushing forward. If it takes him a month to figure something out, we can do that too! I believe in teaching to mastery. If you don't internalize what you are learning, you won't be able to build on it.

Last night we finished lesson two in "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons". Some kids just figure out reading without any special instruction (my sister and I, for example), but I've decided to see if my son gets more confidence with this scripted direct instruction approach. I know that other males in my family have struggled with slow or non-fluid reading skills, despite being quite intelligent, and I wonder if a direct instruction approach like this would have helped. Or not. But if I see it isn't working, it's easy for me to change gears on the fly!


concernedCTparent said...

I'm homeschooling my fifth grader and afterschooling my kindergartener and second grader. (For the details on this crazy set-up you can visit my blog Clio's Classroom: I'm also teaching my daughter with the 100 lessons. I found these printables that coordinate to be quite nice: We're on lesson 20 and my daughter is enjoying this method. I actually interrupted the 100 lessons because I got a little nervous. You see, I taught the other 2 children to read using Hooked on Phonics. They are very strong and voracious readers (@ 5+ grade levels ahead of their peers). But we're back to the 100 lessons because there is so much about Engelman that just makes sense. After only 20 lessons (brief lessons), no fancy books, CD's, DVD, or fluff, she's starting to read words that I wouldn't have expected a new reader to be able to tackle.

Good luck and congrats on the decision to homeschool!

Anonymous said...

I read an article a year or two back that suggested using phonics with boys and word recognition methods for girls - unless the boy in question was a highly visual-spatial learner. For high VS learners, phonics is, in effect, trying to route the learning through the wrong circuits. VS learners are the 'gulp down the words, then gulp a phrase at a time like you're supposed to do when speed reading' type.

Most boys, however, have language and reading on the same side of their brains and do best when the learning style takes advantage of this.

Girls, of course, utilize both sides of their brains for communication, so are more adaptable to reading by word recognition.

On a personal note, Zachary learned letter sounds fairly early and, through phonics, developed nicely to where he's reading relatively advanced chapter books on his own for hours at a time each day (his favorites are from the "Boxcar Children" series). As a six year old, he's been leaving quite an impression on the parents of his peers.

Zoe, on the other hand, taught herself to read simple words by watching Zachary and asking questions when she was three. We're a little reluctant to push it - after all, how badly does a just turned four year old REALLY need to read? We figure we'll go with Bob books and reading her bedtime stories and see where that leads us.