Friday, April 6, 2012

Arrrggh! All Direct Instruction All The Time

To quote Charlie Brown...
Uh-oh, the third kid from the left has his legs crossed at the ankle.
Of course, students of all ages need to sit at attention, postured uniformly at their seat with feet parallel under the table or desk, one elbow gently touching the edge of the table or desk top, eyes respectfully resting on the instructor (with micro-second glances at the projected image, perhaps; but just a micro-second), sharpened pencil placed precisely between first and second digits, balanced by the thumb awaiting the split second cue to write Cornell notes on a precisely organized five-subject notebook. MOUTH CLOSED, face with respectful attitude. Second graders can do this; and middle-schoolers, and students in rural areas, and urban areas; students from 8-18 years of all economic levels, all ethnicities, ESL kids, they all can do this for an hour, every hour, all school week; all quarter, every semester, K-12. All direct instruction all the time.

OK, yes, holding the pencil correctly is important.
Yeah, that'll create successful kids.  ARRRGGH!

I am being sarcastic; but I have really had it with the lack of knowledge concerning how kids learn among those who should know and care how kids learn. For the teachers' own self interest, and effective testing, classroom instruction cannot maintain too many consecutive direct instruction minutes. Even if the students comply and don't riot out of boredom, you can't check for understanding if there is no unique student product to demonstrate what they are thinking and comprehending. ESL kids need to use language in groups to reinforce their language acquisition. That's not even touching upon the sense of isolation a kid may feel when there is no teamwork or comradery in the class. Students can gain important confidence, validation and social skills in groupwork.

This is a review of John Holt's book, "How Children Learn."

This is part of the author's opinion of what we need to address as kids learn.

 " Fear of failure, punishment and disgrace, along the with the anxiety of constant testing, severely reduces students’ ability to perceive and remember, and, thus, drive them away from learning."

Students could be considered non-compliant if they don't succeed in Direct Instruction directives, ending in failing grades and discipline.

Could this be part of the story of low test scores?  Kids need to have the opportunity to be accepted and succeed according to the appropriate methods for their age and needs.

There are many methods and activities to increase learning and create confidence in the classroom. And these are actually not too much trouble to implement. (I think the teachers that overuse Direct Instruction are concerned about losing control of the class with any movement or talk among students.)

Man, I would really love to be in this class! And I don't even know what they are doing.

I can't say as a classroom teacher I ever have been extra fancy or super organized. But I have been privileged to collaborate with fine teachers, from whom I have stolen ideas. So I would begin class with the kids' in groups facing the front, the board, which also was the upfront lecture area.. These are 7th graders. (You may show awesome respect now or maybe whisper a little prayer for all 7th grade teachers. ) They had bellwork (also called seatwork) and after @5 minutes of their working individually and then explanation and recognition of their seatwork, I would tell them it was time for Direct Instruction/notetaking. They had been trained to recognize what that meant. The agenda for the class was on the board, so the anticipatory set was all ready to go. Technically, lesson plan-wise, when we got to guided practice, that's when the desks moved to groups. The kids just stood up and moved the desks in a preordained, teacher-approved team facing each other. If your kids are at tables, figure out a way they can have a clear view of the teacher for Direct Instruction and notetaking, and then a way they can physically change their environment to be a team. It is important for students of all ages to not just sit.

Let's git er dun.
Yes, it takes quite a bit of energy to wrangle a 7th grade class in activities. But it is worth it, and not all 7th graders are rascals, only about 25%.

More information on the definition of cooperative learning.

Team activities don't have to be sophisticated. They might just be collaborating on guided practice leading to homework. But there are so many interesting and fun activities that create learning and serve as an effective review of the material. I believe if teachers recognized team activities as the very effective review of material that they are, class would be more fun and test scores higher.
This is for you visual learners.
Collaborative learning can hit all styles of learning and learning gates for a more thorough saturation of the subject in the student's mind. Kids will retain the information they review in teams because it is a different venue. It engages their emotions in a positive way (if teacher is supervising properly) adding value and import to the experience.

                                                    Anansi of the Many Stories
                                                                  (this is a great link)
 You don't have to spend money on this. One schoolyear to review the week before State tests, I found all the humorous selections in the English textbook. We did one selection a day, reviewing the genres, characters, plots, even parts of speech and sentence structure with various games and activities. Because the topics were essentially relaxing, being humorous selections, discipline was lighter (and that year was a hallmark of rascals, too.) We had the best CST scores in the District that year. Thank you Bill Cosby, Shel Silverstein, and Anansi the Spider.
Sarah Etc. avoiding chores.

Fat Albert and his cooperative learning group.

Spencer Kagan's organization has tons of ideas for group learning. Our district has been exposing us to these forever.

This is a summary of their philosophy:

 Cooperative efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit so that all group members:
  • gain from each other's efforts. (Your success benefits me and my success benefits you.)
  • recognize that all group members share a common fate. (We all sink or swim together here.)
  • know that one's performance is mutually caused by oneself and one's team members. (We cannot do it without you.)
  • feel proud and jointly celebrate when a group member is recognized for achievement. (We all congratulate you on your accomplishment!).
Maybe that quiet teacher uses these.

Your colleagues also probably have many successful activities.  Especially that quiet teacher that never says anything at staff meeting. She might just be a marvelous creative resource. You never know until you ask her.

Remember we can incorporate the arts across the curriculum. Let's be using both left and right brain!
Here is an excellent group to check out for support in bringing the arts into all classrooms.

The Arts Education Partnership.

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