In education, broke or not, fix it different

All right. I know it’s another rant, but hey! this is edumacation……  It’s really part of my individual growth plan for the year—a bastardization of merit pay where they withhold the pay part. Well, whaddaya know?

In trying to advance the reading of my students, I have taken to heart the writing of Frank Smith, the research of the Institute for Learning and the concepts of using existing knowledge and understandings to comprehend what is being read and expanding that foundation through guided effort.

Reading is a cognitive process, the visible manifestations of which are measurable–factual recall and recognition of text, inferential conclusions, and even stylistic connections between text and some notion of author’s intent. But in this last manifestation, I see questions of the validity of these “measurables”.  As I write this, I am vague in my own mind about the intent–certainly to complete a task for TAP, probably to clarify my own thoughts about a lingering conflict, and possibly to take a stand in opposition to authority, thinly veiled as recommendation. In sum, my conclusion is to use the manifestations to reveal the areas of process that need development.

If identifying factual matter in the text is not happening, then I need to determine what lexical knowledge and syntactical habits need development and redirection. Both of these are slow to happen, but respond well to direct instruction and multiple repetitions. Many poor readers are in this predicament.

If inferring conclusions is flawed or absent, then the neural patterns that carry this process can be developed, again with well structured direct instruction–modeling leading to frequent, applied practice–learn it from a worksheet and immediately begin applying it to reading. At least once a week throughout the year, year after year. And this is easy to apply to all the reading that is going on in rooms.  Verbally annotated read alouds help students understand how to understand texts in discipline-specific ways.

If stylistic features are as yet unlearned, they need to be taught and demonstrated and the students need then to practice finding examples. Formal style is the realm of criticism, not composition. Personal style is the coloring (and clarity) of composition and may not yet have been codified by the scholars. Certainly, our students’ styles have not been identified. This is all by the book learning, and only appropriate in preparing students for post-secondary literature studies. Realistically, we’re wasting our students’ time if we are trying to teach them all to be English majors.

Author’s intent is most often questionable and seldom clear enough to be apprehended by the vast majority of readers. How many of us simply avoid the discussion of this point, much like the discussion about the definition of a sentence, leaving it to others to believe they understand? Probably much more important (to the reader at least) is a impact the piece or writing has on the reader, and that is what is actually most often tested for in our dumb-data driven education culture.

And herein is the conflict I have with the current trends in education policy: the powers, driven by politics and public finance, measured in votes and dollars, have the desire of raising the numbers of “passing” students on large scale tests. All very measurable. A who’s-better-than-whom competition that will always have a top and a bottom. And all tied tightly to public dollars–taxes. We have pit the common good against common greed, and in this, I am on the wrong side of winning.

I am not interested in raising a number; I do not care so much how many pass a test devised to further divide people into haves and have-nots. I care about every student who passes through my room, even those that our leaders, national, state and district, are willing to consign to penury and hopelessness. I don’t want to manage them or control them or change them; I just want to give them enough to have hope and the ability to scramble over that line into a life worth having happened. Am I not obligated as a fellow human being to serve “even the least of these my brethren”?

So what I’ve learned again is that someone will tell me to stop what I’m doing even if it’s working, and do what they want because they know better and have a well-made package to show it, and I will agree as faintly as possible, and keep doing the best I can for the students who need my help.

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About Jay C Ritterson
If I say nothing, it might be that I have nothing to say.

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