lucky?

In my work in Philadelphia, I’m struck by how often people declare that “the students are lucky to have _____,” whether it’s a good teacher, some exotic new technology, or some unexpected resource.

While luck has little to do with it — it’s not luck in Newton, or Radnor, or Edina –there’s another piece. What’s rarely considered is what the students bring to the table: students may be lucky to have some new computers, but the world is lucky that the students have a new avenue of expression. Students may have a great teacher but most good teachers know that it is their students who make them who they are.

Organization

There’s an article in today’s Times discussing how organizational experts benefit students, particularly boys. While I’m not opposed to these consultants (I wish they were free and available to ALL students), I do think it’s worth considering the impact that organization might have on high school classrooms.

For all too many classrooms, having a neat binder is enough. Gathering the worksheets serves as a substitute for any kind of genuine inquiry or authentic work. So I could see where a student taught to meet these requirements would enjoy greater academic success.

On the other hand, these skills will serve all students. Those involved in authentic, worthwhile projects probably need the organizational abilities even more.

My concern, though, is for the classrooms where organization is enough, where organization is the starting and ending point, where the goals of the room never move past the clean notebook. It’s tempting to make organization the focus of your assessments, particularly when the alternative — rigorous academic tasks — require so much work.

Personal

One of the things I’ve struggled with in my pedagogy courses is the intensely personal nature of teaching. The ways in which a teacher creates an effective learning environment are directly dependent on the teacher’s personality. I would argue that some traits are necessary, i.e., consistency, humility, flexibility, but the ways in which instructors manifest these attributes will vary greatly.

How, then, do you ask students to be themselves if they have minimal self-awareness? What do you do if they understand “the personal nature of teaching” to mean “I’m doin’ it my way” ?

The research process

Reading some student papers, I’m struck by the difficulty of asking students to do genuine research when they don’t have access to a first-rate research library. Many of my students did the right thing — they did not use “google” as their primary mode of research — but often struggled to use lexis or eric well.

Furthermore, when they went to find monographs, the lack of titles severely limited their options. It’s not a question of blame; there are all too few great well-funded libraries at this point. Rather it’s a question of how I can work with students to generate lists of texts that they can order.

ETS study

The Times presents an interesting study from ETS:

The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

The actual study is here.