Archive for the ‘Teacher Motivation’ Category

Why the Flipped Classroom Has Gone Too Far

April 20, 2015

 

Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom is just not appropriate for all subjects, all of the time.  This educational fad has gone way too far, and is being used for the wrong reasons.  Most importantly, it runs into problems when teachers attempt to use it as a time-saving device in order to cover more material, because only a small percentage of students’ reading levels are actually up to grade level.

While the flipped classroom sounds like a new idea, it is actually an old idea.  Several decades ago, it was called preparation–a good name–in Britain, although I am not aware of any specific name for it in America.  It often consisted of reading a selection in a text book before arriving in class, for example, so that one could better benefit from a lecture.

The flipped model works extremely well for math classes.  As an elementary teacher, I would look each day at the following day’s homework section.  I would give about fifteen minutes of instruction and guided practice specifically on what my third graders needed to complete that day’s homework. We did not waste time in class doing homework.

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I expected all children arrive in class with their homework complete, in order to be ready for the most important part of the lesson, learning from mistakes.  Right or wrong, they all got nice, big A‘s on the homework for completing it in pencil (including showing all work and carry numbers or cross-outs).  If they did not show their work, or if the work was either undone, or incomplete, they got a large, red F.  Within a short time EVERY child arrived daily with homework done.  We then put pencils away, and got out ink pens which we called “marking pens.”  Each child corrected their own paper.  There was no incentive to erase wrong answers, because the child already had an A, just for completing the homework.  We spent the following 30 minutes going over the problems missed by the largest numbers of students, working them on the board.  Students learned so much when they could see where they went wrong.  In most cases, we found errors such as subtracting the ones place, while adding the ten’s place, in the same problem–or, in forgetting to add in carry numbers, things like that.  In math class, the flipped classroom works fantastically.

Using the flipped classroom as a time-saving device runs into trouble in subjects which require a lot of reading for two reasons.  One reason is that in many good schools, students are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of homework, leading them to take ineffective shortcuts.  Using Spark Notes, and similar services, just do not engage student interest, and students miss the benefit of the literature.

The most important reason the flipped classroom runs into trouble is that students’ reading levels are just not up to grade-level standard in terms of being able to read either text books, or literature, on their own.

This problem is not new.  It was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s.  Secondary teachers in Colorado at that time were required to take Reading in the Content Area.  It was a course designed to help secondary teachers help students who were unable to read their textbooks adequately.  Because of the decline in book reading and adequate reading instruction, together with the rise in technology, in 2013,  more than two-thirds of students in the United States were now below reading level for their grade.

4th Graders Who Scored Below Profient Reading 2013

Unfortunately, today, most students, even some of the best students are not even attempting to read literature (or their history, or science, text books).  Most are attempting to find the film online.  Poor readers who attempt to read Spark Notes have trouble understanding even that, and certainly no one finds Spark Notes inspiring.

Many secondary English teachers (including elementary reading teachers, and secondary science and history teachers) are now assigning reading for homework, in order to cover more material and just have discussion in class.  The problem with this is that two-thirds of students are either not able to read effectively, and do not even attempt to read because of feeling overwhelmed.

So what do teachers need to do in order to combat these problems effectively?

First, they need to read the book (or text book section) themselves, in the mindset of a student, thinking about vocabulary which many students may not know, and noting it down.  They need to think about the major ideas and how those ideas relate to life today.

Next, they need to introduce the book or reading selection with a short, inspirational talk, that will make students feel like they can’t wait to read more!  They need to talk about and explain vocabulary (whether it is old-fashioned language or science terms) before students start to read.  History teachers need to think about the problems they are teaching about in a historical context and how those problems relate to life in the world somewhere today. Introduce the similar problems and questions of today and how they are being dealt with in the modern world, then look at the same questions in how they are being dealt with in the novel, or in history, or in the science text book.  Discuss what could happen in the future with the same issues.

Rather than starting a unit with reading the text book or novel, start the unit with a discussion of the students’ life questions about the issues which will arise in the reading selection  Here are three examples:

R-20091229-0074.tif

History:  While studying various political decisions of Roman Emperors, first discuss similar problems in the modern world.  Open with a question, “What do you think about when you hear of an apartment building collapse that kills people because of shoddy building practices?  What should be done?”  Or, “What’s it like to be stuck in rush-hour traffic?  What would it be like if the highway were also clogged with pedestrians, donkey carts, and horse-drawn carriages all at the same time, and it happened four times a day instead of two times a day?”  Then, “Now let’s see how they dealt with these same problems in ancient Rome.”

Rhett loves Scarlet, while Scarlet loves Ashley and uses Rhett!

Rhett loves Scarlet, while Scarlet loves Ashley and uses Rhett, in Gone with the Wind

Literature:  “How many of you have ever had the experience of being in love with someone, only to have that person be in love with a different, third person?”  Then, “The problem of love triangles is universal throughout human history, and that’s what this novel is about.”

Science (Astronomy):  “Does alien life exist on other planets, or in other galaxies?  What do various current scientists think about this, and why?  Which planets and stars are most likely for this?  What kinds of planetary conditions are thought to be necessary?  Could we actually travel to other stars or planets, and how long might it take?”  Then, “Now let’s turn to the text book and begin reading together about the planets.”

Lastly, MUCH more time needs to be devoted to in-class reading (even in high school).  If teachers are concerned about embarrassing some students reading aloud, or if there are poor oral readers, students benefit greatly (even in high school) from the teacher reading aloud well (and adding in inflections and pauses), while they follow along.  It also gives everyone a chance to stop and discuss various points, such as how they feel about actions characters take, or what situations they find themselves in.

Teachers need to inspire and motivate students, and help students to see connections that they would not see on their own.  If the teacher is excited about the material, he cannot help but communicate that love and excitement to the students.

–Lynne Diligent

 

 

The New Math: Part II – Three Reasons Why It’s NOT Working in So Many Schools

September 5, 2013

My students come to me for math tutoring because they continue to flounder with the “new math” curriculum.  For a complete description of what is being taught and how it feels for students, see Part I of this series.  Part I – The New Math:  Why We Have It

If expert mathematicians have redesigned the curriculum, why aren’t the results better?

Expert mathemeticiansEinstein

I believe it’s because the experts aren’t taking into account the developmental stages of most students, and because they really aren’t aware of the problems most classroom teachers are faced with.

The new math teaching methods are mainly designed to create:

1.)  the ability to work in cross-disciplinary teams;

2.)  understanding (now viewed as even more important than being able to compute); and

3.)  innovative and divergent math thinkers–the three characteristics increasingly required of white-collar jobs in industry today.

Yet the new math curriculum is failing to achieve these goals.  Let’s take a look at WHY, by seeing how these things actually play out in most classrooms.

How These Three Goals Actually Work Out in Classrooms:

1. Creating an ability to work in cross-disciplinary teams. The idea is clearly that “putting students in groups to solve problems” will create this ability. However, there are TWO IMPORTANT REASONS why this is not happening in most classrooms. The first reason is BULLYING, and the second reason is STUDENT ATTITUDE and LACK OF MATURITY.

cross-disciplinary teams

Middle-school, when most students are first put into math-solution groups, is the age of the MOST EXTREME BULLYING (although bullying starts in Kindergarten). Students are usually left to sort themselves into groups, and usually, in-crowd friends choose each other, while the remaining students are randomly forced into groups with students who regularly bully them. This same situation continues in many high-school classes, and is sometimes worst of all in the smallest schools where there is only one math class per grade.

It takes an extremely effective teacher who can give groups precise tasks, direction, and rewards based on individual effort to get a group to make effective progress. Generally what happens is one of several things. The students don’t understand what they are doing at all and therefore have no idea (or motivation) even to try. They end up wasting time and talking about non-math-related matters. Or, at best, one or two students do understand and do the work, while the others loaf and do nothing, but coast on the group grade (if there is one), having not done the work, and not understanding the work that was done by the others. Or, those who are friends in the group use the hour as a social time, while the unwanted group members spend the time staring at their papers, feeling excluded, and just wasting the whole hour.

Requirements for effective group work are:  1.) being in a group with others you like or respect, and others who like or respect you; 2.) Having enough background in the subject, that when given A SPECIFIC TASK, all the individuals in the group can work on it;  3.) Being able to effectively subdivide tasks; and 4.) Having individual accountability for one’s contributions to the group. Most teachers do not have either sufficient time or experience to be effective in all these ways and rely on immature students who are not willing/able to these things themselves (as an adult work group would be able to do).

2.  Creating understanding of WHY methods work, rather than merely learning computational solutions.  This is an admirable goal, but it is not being correctly implemented at the proper ages, in the proper stages, or in the proper ways.

understanding the new math

Mental maturity, and ability to deal with abstract concepts arrives at different times for different students.  Abstract thinking arrives for a very few students in the lower elementary grades, for a few more students in the upper elementary grades, for about half of students by middle school, and for at best two-thirds of students by high school and early adulthood.  For some people, it never arrives at all.  Having taught a great variety of math topics over the years, some students grasp one topic at a young age, but don’t grasp another until many years later, if at all.  Since every student has a unique profile of what they grasp or don’t grasp, this is the origin of the “spiral curriculum,” where each year, many topics are introduced, and each year, the math texts cut slightly deeper into each topic (assuming the school is still using math texts).

Let us take telling time as an example.  A few students are able to grasp telling time well in kindergarten, while others, no matter HOW much time is spent in the classroom in grades two and three, just cannot grasp it until fifth grade.  Then suddenly, something “clicks.”  Their brain has arrived at the right level of mental maturity.

Unfortunately, today’s curriculum introduces so many topics that few are actually mastered.  Thus, many students move up through the grades NEITHER understanding, NOR being proficient in calculating.  Most students need and WANT to become proficient at calculating and getting the right answer in the elementary grades.  This builds their confidence.  They also want to know in what situations they might use those skills (which gives learners motivation, and is often an area neglected by teachers).  Those who do not become proficient at calculating lose confidence in themselves and are certainly even LESS likely to be open to any discussions of “understanding.”

A current controversial topic in the math field is whether students need a certain amount of proficiency before they can understand “why” things work.  After two decades of experience teaching math at the elementary and middle-school levels, I come down hard on the side that it IS necessary.  Young elementary students can appreciate that a correct answer can be found through several different methods, but it is a waste of precious class time AT THAT AGE to spend a lot of time on WHY (an abstract concept which despite the weeks spent on it does not actually increase their understanding) instead of on developing proficiency and thereby building students’ confidence and excitement about learning more.

It was not the intent of the math experts, I am sure, in revising math curriculum, to have students wind up being neither able to understand, NOR be able to calculate!  Their intent was to WIDEN the curriculum to INCLUDE more understanding.  But with only four-to-five hours a week (at best) of classroom time to teach math per week,  at least half of the available time is being taken up with “understanding” (which is not being understood by the majority of students), and not enough time for most students to become proficient at calculating.  Those who do become proficient are generally having additional support from parents and tutors.  Furthermore, homework has been greatly reduced from a decade ago (approximately cut in half) which means that more students than ever before are not mastering basic procedures.  When students get into middle school and one-third of them still cannot determine the answer to 3 x 8 without consulting their calculators, it is highly unlikely they will gain any “higher understanding.”

3.  Creating innovative and divergent math thinkers.  Criticisms of the past were that students were memorizing times tables and learning to calculate, but not understanding what those calculations meant; students were unable to take even a simple story problem and know which calculations to perform.

innovative and divergent thinkers

After two decades in the classroom, I can easily see this problem did not stem from memorizing or calculating.  This problem stemmed from teachers throughout school not teaching children how to TRANSLATE between English words, and math language.  In most cases, elementary teachers are not math majors.  In fact, most became elementary teachers because they are math-phobic!  They teach the calculations, and generally skip all the story problems (as did I when I first began to teach math).  Yes, it is partly a time problem, but the REAL problem is that most teachers are afraid they will not be able to explain to students how to do story problems, because they never learned themselves! Speaking as someone who did not learn this skill myself until I was an adult, I see that this is the number one area that students need the MOST help with.  I find myself wondering if students in India, China, and Japan are getting this sort of help from a young age, while students in the West are not?

Rather than wasting precious elementary time on esoteric math subjects, and making “arrays” for WEEKS in order to “understand” multiplication, students would be much better served learning to calculate, and having DAILY GUIDED PRACTICE on particular types of story problems, both in order to recognize types of problems, and to be able to readily understand how to translate the English language into MATH language.

What the math “experts” who design curriculum are not realizing is that showing students all the different possible ways to solve every type of math problem does NOT create the “divergent” innovative thinkers they are looking for.
As for math majors, sometimes (not always), those who were brilliant in math are unable to explain it clearly to those who are having trouble, because the teachers never experienced those same troubles themselves.  Sometimes (not always) teachers who were not good math students are able to master math, and are far better at figuring out where and why students are “stuck.”  Lucky children with difficulties have those teachers!  The very first requirement for becoming a divergent thinker is self-confidence in one’s own abilities.  This comes from being sure that one knows at least ONE way to get the right answer every time, even if one knows that other ways do exist.  The main thing is to MASTER at least one method.

Beyond competence, creating divergent thinkers is more of a personality-trait question.  This question has more to do with motivation and stimulating interest, and comes from the sort of child who always asks, “Why?”  Most children don’t ask why, and most don’t care about why.  To create more innovative, divergent thinkers, every teacher in every classroom, in every subject, needs to challenge ideas and get students excited about learning.  And yes, teachers need to be “entertaining,” too! Innovative thinkers aren’t usually innovative in just one area (such as math).  Most innovative thinkers draw their ideas from multiple sources and synthesis of ideas from multiple disciplines.  Students need help becoming competent, and beyond that, to be inspired enough to pursue their own interests in a self-directed way.  Curriculum which forces students to calculate by many different methods fatigues many students and actually de-motivates them from further self-directed learning.

It is difficult for a new or average teacher to overcome these difficulties.  Hopefully with time and experience, Western society will adjust to the new math curriculum, but I am afraid it will be later, rather than sooner.

–Lynne Diligent

The NEW Math:  Part I – WHY We Have It

The NEW Math: Part I – WHY We Have It

September 5, 2013

Test Anxiety

“PLEASE, can you help me, Mrs. D.?  We are having a math test TOMORROW and I don’t understand anything!”  This has been the most common complaint I have from my sixth- and seventh-grade tutoring students (ages 11-13).  Whether the topic involves geometry, equations, story problems, or even more basic calculations, nearly all my students (excellent students, too) are having the same dilemma.

If you are a parent or educator who has wondering for years (as I have) WHY we HAVE the new math, this post will explain it clearly.  (Part II explains why the new math is not working in many schools.)

 The New Math Style

The new math style in some schools appears to be, “The teacher doesn’t explain—he or she merely facilitates ‘groups’ while students (hopefully) just teach themselves.”  Like many people, I have felt confused for several years about the new style of math teaching.  Instead of presenting a lesson, giving students guided practice, and then sending them home to do independent practice (homework), the new style, which my tutoring students are experiencing, seems to be, “Don’t follow a text book (even if they are available).  Instead, just find some seemingly random problems off the internet (seemingly without any overall coherent plan of units), tell students to put themselves into groups, and pass out the photocopies.  Tell the students, ‘See if you can find some solutions to these problems.  Do this for three or four days, then tell students, “We will be having a test on Friday.’ “

Imagine middle-school students with these feelings being asked to get into a group and work on random problems.  It is not likely to go well.

Imagine middle-school students with these feelings being asked to get into groups and work on random problems. It is not likely to go well.

Of course parents’ reaction to this is panic.  Eighty percent of the children are LOST with this approach. Those who can afford it are rushing to math tutors, who teach the children by traditional methods what they should have learned in school.  Those who cannot afford it have children who fail.

Let us look at a “hammer” analogy.  Instead of saying, “Let’s learn how to use a hammer and see if we can get a good result with the nail pounded in correctly,” the new approach effectively asks, “Let’s learn why the hammer was developed, and how and why it works in theory….but don’t waste your time becoming competent in using one!”

hammer nailing into a board

Next, students are given a national or state test consisting of pounding nails into a board, which of course they FAIL!   Meanwhile, the “experts” lament that they are unable to do it!  

This is exactly what has happened with math education.  Teachers using “traditional” methods have been drummed out of education (mostly retired), while younger teachers have all been trained to use the “new” methods.  

WHERE did this approach ever come from?

I finally found the answer I’d been searching for, in a MOOC (FREE online course offered through Coursera, taught by world-renowned British mathematician Keith Devlin of Stanford University, Fall 2013, called Introduction to Mathematical Thinking.)

Keith Devlin

Keith Devlin

Devlin explains that in the job market, there is a need for two types of mathematical skills.  He describes Type 1 skills as being able to solve math problems that are already formulated, and it’s just a matter of calculating the correct answers.

carpenter measuringmachinist measuringloan officers

Type 2 skills involve being able to “take a new problem, say in manufacturing, identify and describe key features  problem mathematically, and use that mathematical description to analyze the problem in a precise fashion.”

aircraft designBoeing CEO

“In the past,” Devlin says, “there was a huge demand for employees with Type 1 skills, and a small need for Type 2 talent.”  In the past, education produced many Type 1 employees and a few Type 2 employees.  However, in today’s world, the need for Type 2 thinkers has greatly expanded.  Not only do scientists, engineers, and computer scientists need to think this way, but  new business managers also need to, in order to be able to understand and communicate with math experts and make decisions based upon properly understanding those experts.  So the “new math” curriculum is an attempt by the “experts” to produce many more Type 2 thinkers; yet, it is FAILING to do so.

Prior to the late 1800s, math was viewed as “a collection of procedures for solving problems.”  In the late 1800s a revolution occurred among mathematicians which shifted the emphasis from calculation to understanding.  The new math of the 1960s was the first attempt to put this shift into the classroom, and the results were not successful.  I see the current shifts to put new math into the classroom as the second attempt, which is different from the 1960s attempt (children are not studying various bases these days), yet no more successful in reality.  Part II of this series will explain the three reasons WHY this is happening.

 –Lynne Diligent

The New Math:  Part II – Why It’s NOT Working in So Many Schools

“Animals Can’t Think, Because They Don’t Have a Brain,” My Student Said.

January 16, 2013

Animal brains

Here in North Africa, we were discussing organs in animals, and I reminded my student that he’d forgotten to mention the brain.  My 13-year-old student said, “Animals don’t have a brain.”  When I asked why he thought that, he said, “Animals can’t think because they don’t have a brain.”

Even though I told him that most animals do have a brain, the conversation continued to trouble me.  I wondered, “How could an intelligent 13-year-old, who is a good student and reasonably good in science have this idea?”  I decided to speak to a teaching colleague from the local culture.

My colleague suggested that I remind my student of the annual Sheep Sacrifice Festival, where a sheep is  butchered in nearly every home (except the very poor).  He suggested I ask my student if he had remembered eating the sheep’s head, and that inside the head are the brains.

Sheep

My colleague and my husband (both from the local culture) explained that since there is emphasis here on humans being able to think and reason, and animals just acting on their instincts, so that it’s generally said, “Animals don’t have a mind.”  My student, himself, apparently interpreted that to mean, “Animals don’t have a brain.”

When I spoke about this to my student, he said, “Oh, YES!  I HAVE seen that!”  I explained that every animal needs a brain even to walk around, even to eat, even to see.  He said, “Thank you for explaining this!”

–Lynne Diligent

Middle Eastern Student Shares REAL Reasons Behind Anti-American Protests

September 21, 2012

Anti-U.S. Protests in Pakistan

The Arab World does not hate America because of their materialistic culture, their television programs, or their freedoms.  It’s not about that.  The real reasons behind the anti-American protests come down to an imbalance of power between the United States and the Arab World.

This week, one of my students commented on the recent violence occurring in reaction to the anti-Islamic video and the French caricatures.  She expressed a viewpoint which has merit, but which I have not seen reported elsewhere.  Quoting my student:

“The Muslims feel in competition with the West.  They feel that they have to be better, on top, the winners.  Every time the West does something, even on television, Arabs feel they have to compete.  For example, when America created the show America’s Got Talent, the Arab World created Arabs Who Have Talent.  When the West created The Voice (with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton) the Arab World created The Voice in the Arab World.  To copy American Idol, they created Arab Idol.  They copy every single thing!  They always feel in competition with America, because they feel America hates them, and does not like Arabs.  They always feel they have to be the best, but particularly better than America, most of all.”

Egyptian Winner of Arab Idol

My student also explained that the reason Muslim populations always take the side against the United States in international disputes is that they feel the REASON America doesn’t help Palestine is because they are Muslim, and that they help Israel because they are Jewish.  (Of course, not every person believes this, but generally speaking, it is quite commonly believed, even among the well-educated.)   “Here,” my student said, “they always take the side against America because they believe America doesn’t help Palestine because they are Muslim; they help Israel because they are Jewish.”

Today I watched to see what the reaction in third-world countries would be to the second print-run of the French caricatures.  Surprisingly, I found only very minor protests against France, and continued protests against the U.S., such as mobs burning the U.S. flag and pictures of President Obama in Pakistan.

Why were the protests against France so feeble, while weeks after the YouTube video, the protests against America continue so strongly?

A BBC interview with Pakistanis, on the streets of Lahore following the protest, also supports this same point-of-view my student had.  The BBC asked, “Where is all the anger coming from?  Is it all over a low-budget movie, or is it something else?”  Half of the respondents said it was because of hurt feelings over religious insults, while the other half said something different:

“They’re not just angry because of the movie.  They have their personal political issues, their personal problems.  They are angry about the wars (U.S. power in the region).”

“Whenever the powerful countries try to take over the resources of the weaker countries (how America is perceived in the entire Middle East), obviously the people living in those countries will try to protect their rights, and try to protect their resources.  Every country should have equal rights with every other country (angry about lack of power).”

“They are angry over poverty and unemployment.  There are many rich people and very poor people, and the difference is very great.  They are angry because they don’t have enough food, and mostly because they don’t have enough power.  So they are not just angry because of a simple movie.

Basically it comes down to a question of power.  Those who are choosing to protest actually have underlying anger issues at the United States that go far beyond the YouTube film.  What they are angry about is the imbalance of power–that the United States seems so overwhelmingly more powerful than the Muslim countries, and the Arab World.  There were comparatively few protests against France  because France does not have the same overwhelming power and influence when compared to Muslim countries.

At the end of my discussion with my student, I asked, “So, what you are saying is that the only way to get the Arab World to stop protesting against America  is to stop helping Israel, and to become weak (at least weak enough to be no threat to the Arab World)?”

“Exactly!” my student replied.

–Lynne Diligent

Is “Handwriting without Tears” a Good Program?

August 1, 2012

The Handwriting without Tears curriculum  is currently being implemented in many schools throughout the United States.  Is it a good program?  I have been asked to give my opinion.

I am an expert teacher of handwriting, and have over 20 years of experience in teaching both printing and cursive at both the Kindergarten and Grade Three levels.  So the opinions below are my impressions from what I can gather about the program from the Handwriting without Tears website and from online information (at present I live and teach overseas, and have not seen or used the program myself, nor ever heard of it, before being asked for my opinion).

This Program Directly Addresses a Major Problem

One of the main problems with teaching handwriting (both printing and cursive) is that most current teachers have never had any instruction themselves in how to teach these skills.  This program takes students from Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade.  It appears that the program is well-thought-out in terms of appropriate motor skills for preschoolers.  Specifically, it appears that the program TEACHES THE TEACHERS HOW TO TEACH IT.

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

It is not so important which program is used in teaching handwriting (although I personally found D’Nealian more difficult than other styles to teach well).  The important thing is, does the TEACHER feel confident in his or her own handwriting skills, and with the methods to be used in communicating and practicing those skills with students?  These days, most teachers do not feel confident with these skills (either because they were never taught as students themselves to the point of mastery, or because they had no instruction in how to teach it, and they don’t remember it from when they were young).  This program DIRECTLY addresses these problems, which I would say is a big plus.

The other big plus with this program is that all teachers in the same school are being trained in use of the SAME program.  It can be frustrating and confusing for students when they go from class-to-class, and each new teacher has a completely different type, standard, method, and approach to teaching handwriting.  So this factor is especially helpful for students.

Handwriting Standards By Grade Level

This programs sets in place standards to be achieved between Kindergarten and Fourth Grade.  Frankly, these standards do look a bit low to me, speaking as a veteran teacher of many years.  However, their video (on home page) mentions that the program only takes ten minutes a day.  Looking at it from this perspective, the standards are good.

Writing Style

Printing Style for “Handwriting without Tears” (as found on the internet).

This printing style is the same as traditional printing, as it was taught before D’Nealian style (slanted, with tails on the ends of letters, which most probably CREATED all the handwriting “tears”).  This vertical block printing is both the most legible, easiest to master for the student, and easiest to teach for the teacher.

Desk strips in the new “Handwriting without Tears” cursive style.

I do not like the new Handwriting without Tears cursive style at all; in fact, I find it quite ugly.  It is completely vertical, and devoid of both lead-in strokes or tails (lead-in strokes are used in the traditional cursive methods, while tails replaced lead-in strokes in more recent methods such as D’Nealian).  My thoughts are that the vertical style was adopted in this method to do away with the need to turn the paper.  Slant is not very difficult to master on a sheet of paper, but is nearly impossible in a workbook, such as is used in this program (and other recent programs).  No doubt a simplified style was adopted to help students with dysgraphia.

Conclusion

In recent years, it seems that the major problem in teaching handwriting has not been whether the students learn cursive at school; it has been whether the students’ writing is legible at all!

Speaking as a veteran expert cursive (and printing) teacher, looking through the program, it seems very expensive with many unnecessary bells and whistles (expensive manipulative and workbook materials and expensive workshops).  None of these things are at all necessary to teach cursive effectively.

Preschool manipulatives for the Handwriting without Tears program.

For teachers who have no idea how to teach cursive, and who have never been taught, this program does offer good support.  The use of manipulative materials can be fun for students and give new teachers of handwriting confidence in what they are doing.  (I was fortunate to recall how I was taught as a child; I also had the support of another cursive teaching expert, a generation older than myself, who still happened to be teaching in the same school).

Overall, I would come down in favor of this program because it addresses the following issues:

1.)  Handwriting instruction IS being given to students, with a focus on at least achieving legibility.

2.)  Teachers ARE being given good support and training.

3.)   The program seems to be well-thought-out over several years, and all teachers in the same school are being asked to use the same teaching methods, and same style of printing and cursive.

4.)   The program maintains an emphasis on the positive and fun aspects of handwriting, with students and parents,  through use of manipulatives, and by working only ten minutes a day (according to the video.

–Lynne Diligent

A Health Problem in North African Schools and Society?

May 16, 2012
Typical American school restroom for primary-school girls

Typical American school restroom for primary-school girls

As an American teacher living in North Africa, I was complaining to a public-school teacher friend in the same country about my perception of lack of adequate toilet facilities for girls in the international school where I taught previously.

I said that we only had had only four girls’ toilet stalls for four classes of girls.  Each elementary-school class had about 30 children, and about half of those were girls, so we had four toilets for about 60 girls.

The problem was that for several months, two of those toilets WEREN’T WORKING.  For more than two months, ONLY ONE TOILET WAS WORKING.  (For reference, current American law requires that for students over five years old, one toilet needs to be provided for every 20 pupils.)

My friend began to laugh, and told me that in his small-town school of 1600 students (approximately 1,000 boys and 600 girls), there were only three toilets for girls, and three toilets for boys!

No wonder my own school didn’t view getting the toilets repaired quickly as a problem in need of urgent remedy!

Modern school bathrooms in the United Kingdom (England)

Lurking in the background is a behavior assumption which is still unclear to me.  I have been told by some in North Africa that it’s “not polite” to use the restroom (toilet) anywhere other than one’s own home (or relatives’ home).  Yet when I asked other people, they haven’t heard of any such “rule.”

This is the type of toilet found in most schools (public and private), but as you can imagine, they are not nearly this clean.

Many public toilet facilities are unclean, but the cleanliness issue is not the subject of this post.  The AVAILABILITY of toilets, and whether or not it is socially acceptable to use them, is the topic.

When I go out with my North African husband, and we are away from home for several hours, I think it’s normal to need to find a restroom.  But my husband gets very upset and complains that “other people don’t need to use the bathroom” and that I “must be drinking too much water” or that it’s “embarrassing” for HIM if I need to find a restroom!  I wondered if this is normal, or just my husband?

When I mentioned to a North African woman friend that my husband didn’t want to take me to a musical event in the evening which he goes to regularly, and I mentioned that the reason he gave was that I said I would certainly need a bathroom during the course of the evening (8-10-hour event), she immediately agreed, “Oh, yes, that would be a big problem!”

The type of evening musical event which my husband and friend indicated would be “a problem” to take me to (if I should need a bathroom).

Doctors in North Africa have told me often over the years that people here don’t drink enough water.  On the other hand, both men and women over the years have told me, “Yes, it’s true all the doctors say to drink more water, but I don’t do it because then I would need to go to the bathroom!”

At this large music festival in Morocco, I wonder what all these people are doing about finding a restroom–are they all “waiting all day, until they get home?”

My North African husband drinks very little water (he tells me he drinks about half a glass once a week).  He does drink Coke, juices, coffee, and milk, but not much (by the standard of drinking one-and-a-half liters of liquid a day–and doctors recommend at least a liter of that be water, or four glasses a day–in America, we are told to drink eight glasses of water a day).

All of the above is similar to a problem I once experienced with a Greek lady in America, where my best friend was Greek.  My friend’s grandmother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and I offered to take the grandmother out for an afternoon in order to give his mother a break from her care-taking duties.  During the afternoon we went to a movie, and had been gone from home for about three hours.  In the middle of the movie, the grandmother got up and walked out.  I assumed she must need the restroom (she was losing her ability to communicate in English), so I took her there.  But she did NOT need it.

Later, when we got home, my friend’s mother said that in her entire life, she had NEVER seen her mother use a public restroom, that in fact, her mother (who came from Greece at the age of 18) could “hold it all day.”  Being born in America herself, she said she could not figure out how her mother could do that.  (Like North Africans, she probably was purposely not drinking any water.)

Women’s public restroom in American movie theater

So now that I live in North Africa, I wonder if this could be a Mediterranean-wide idea.  Is it that WOMEN shouldn’t use a restroom in a public place, or is it that NO ONE should use a restroom in a public place?  Is this why schools seem to think many restroom stalls aren’t necessary for children?

In most schools here, students go to school for four hours, then go home for lunch, and then come back for an additional four hours.  However, at the schools in the countryside, students are often walking 6-7 kilometers to school (4 miles) each direction, and certainly would not be walking “home” for lunch.  What are they supposed to do?

At our international school we kept foreign hours from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, but it was still a half-hour drive for most people to-and-from school.  Believe me, it took a lot of time (when we should have been teaching) to get all the girls through the restroom when there was only one working toilet.

I hope I will have some feedback on this issue from men and women in North Africa and the Mediterranean areas, as well as from anyone experiencing any similar problems in their schools or otherwise!

–Lynne Diligent

Why Tracking Needs to Be Brought Back in Math Classes

April 6, 2012

In this shocking short video, originally written about on Brian Rude’s Blog, an adult woman in her 20s doesn’t have a clue how to go about figuring out an answer to the following question.  “If we are in a car traveling at 80 mph, how long will it take us to go 80 miles?”

Having taught elementary and middle-school math for twenty years, I can categorically state that this is NOT just a question of the girl “not having paid attention in math class” as some of the commenters on YouTube stated.  This is a THINKING problem which needs to be addressed, either through private tutoring (with the right tutor) or through an elementary or middle-school math class taught at a level to deal with this problem (taught by a teacher who understands these thinking difficulties).

Over many years, I have discovered that TEACHING MATH IS LIKE TEACHING DRAWING SKILLS. Now, let me explain.

We all know of people who seem to have a natural ability as artists.  Those without this natural, seemingly inborn, ability stand continually in awe of those who have it.  We wonder how these natural artists are able to take pencil to paper and draw something that actually approximates reality, while we, ourselves, are stuck drawing stick figures, even as adults.  This happened to me.  Then, in my 20s I had an opportunity to take a short, six-session drawing course from a fantastic instructor who understood that drawing is a SKILL which CAN BE TAUGHT.  In TWO HOURS, I went from drawing stick figures to drawing quite realistic portraits, and so did my other classmates.

How is this possible?  I remember the feeling exactly.  What happened was the teacher was able to show all of us a DIFFERENT WAY OF SEEING.  Our art teacher was able to TRICK our left brain hemispheres into turning off, and our right brain hemispheres into taking over, using clever and skillful exercises.  It is actually a different physical feeling.  She then showed us how to call up this state at will, and continued showing us precise drawing techniques used to improve perspective, and the like.  Now I can draw quite adequately whenever necessary.

As someone who suffered severe math disability as a child–but overcame as an adult– (not in calculating, but in understanding any sort of real-world problem), I can immediately recognize the problem of the girl in this video.  She is trying to draw upon her real-world experience, but cannot recognize what is right in front of her.

Just as in drawing, there are people who seem to have a natural, inborn ability with understanding math.  But I doubt that more than a third of people fall into this category.

I would say the average person acquires usable math ability through regular math classes;  however,  at least a quarter of normal-intelligence students are NOT able to acquire it through normal math classes. Most times these students get through school and end up not able to use ordinary arithmetic that would help them in their daily lives.  Shouldn’t THIS be the foremost goal of math education?   These students need a DIFFERENT KIND of help; they need help in SEEING MATH PROBLEMS IN A DIFFERENT WAY.

       

Speaking of myself, who overcame math anxiety problems only in adulthood, the feeling was exactly like what I described in my art class.  The shift didn’t happen in an hour (it happened over a couple of years); but once it happened, it changed my life.  Students with these problems ideally need to be taught by someone who has suffered with the same sorts of problems, and who has overcome them.  Most math instructors don’t understand the unique problems of students who aren’t thinking in the same way other students are.  The problem is a lack of CONCEPTUAL understanding.  The girl in the video understands she can run seven miles per hour.  But she clearly has no comprehension of what the term “miles per hour,” in an of itself, ACTUALLY MEANS.

Here is another example of a lack of conceptual understanding.  When I was in my first semester of college, I signed up to take Principles of Accounting and found myself completely lost conceptually, as to what debits and credits were.  When I asked the teacher, she told me, “Debit is the left side of the ledger, and credit is the right side of the ledger.”  But that did not help me conceptually understand what I was doing.  Now, years later, I have my own business, and do my own bookkeeping, and do understand.  If she had explained it like this, I would have understood:

“Accounting is like organizing–making a place for everything, and having everything in it’s place.  Each account is like a separate cupboard.  When you have an expense, you must think, ‘What kind of expense is this?  Which cupboard does it belong in?  When you put something INTO a cupboard, it’s a CREDIT.  When you take it OUT of the cupboard, it’s a DEBIT.’  “

In other words, people with math comprehension problems need things explained in a VERY CONCRETE manner.  Not every teacher is able or willing to do that when students get beyond second or third grade.  But do it, they must, if they expect their students to succeed.  After two or three years of practice with situations given in word problems explained as in my accounting example above, students will find they are able to begin to reason abstractly and understand explanations that previously went right over their head, as with the girl in the video.

This is why we need tracking to be brought back in math classes.  If the teacher gives this sort of explanation for the students who need it, the more advanced students will generally make fun of those students.  This bores the advanced students, and yet still keeps the lower-level students from being able to even hear the appropriate explanations.

To those who say tracking is unfair to lower-level students, I would pose the question, “What good is studying calculus, geometry, or even algebra, if one cannot make sense of the simplest math questions one faces every day in counting change, in measuring, in cooking, and in doing daily tasks?”  An enormous number of students are passing through school and taking advanced math classes, yet still have no idea how to do these basic tasks, and are unable to figure out how to go about discovering the answers to important questions in their daily lives.

–Lynne Diligent

Each Tutor’s Most Crucial Dilemma

March 3, 2012

“Thinking back to literature tutoring days, there’s a fine line between helping students, and doing the work for them.  Students and parents are happiest only if the tutor crosses it.  How do you handle such situations?”  a fellow tutor asked me.

This is the tutor’s most crucial dilemma, in a nutshell.

Most successful long-term tutors have also been teachers.  As teachers, we want students to benefit from doing their own work.  However, as tutors, we have to remember who we are working for, if we wish to stay employed.

Most students who choose to use a tutor are not reading the required books in school anyway.  Few students are.  These days, tutors or not, I’m finding that upwards of 90 percent of students are just watching the movie, and a few students are going to Spark Notes and reading those notes, or taking those quizzes.  (Few actually read the Spark Notes well, and even fewer bother to take their quizzes.)

As a tutor, what I’m really being paid for is to make sure my students get good grades.  Parents are willing to shell out money for this, but not so much for someone who tells students that they must read on their own and who does not coach non-reading students for their tests.  So, what is a tutor to do?

Formerly as a teacher, I prided myself on getting all of my students to LOVE reading for pleasure, and to become truly interested in whatever subject we were studying.  Presently as a tutor, I pride myself on getting my non-reading students to read SOME, and to APPRECIATE what we are reading or studying.

I use all sorts of techniques to achieve these aims.  I sometimes rewrite books that use difficult language, to tell the story in simpler language.  I read these simpler rewrites with my students, and once they understand, they are sometimes motivated to read the original.  Sometimes they are unable to read the original, but at least they read SOMETHING, and learned about the story, and are able to pass a test asking them about the story.  We discuss the story and how we feel about it as we read it (even if it is in its easier version), and the students gain an appreciation for the piece of literature.

Is this acceptable?

As a tutor, I cannot take the same attitude I would take as a teacher.  As a tutor, I am coming from the perspective that students are not reading, and are not going to read.   If I can get them to read ANYTHING (even if I have to “spoon-feed” it to them), they are reading more than they would if they were not coming to me.  If I can get them to APPRECIATE the story, they are appreciating it far more that if they were not coming to me.  If they are PASSING THE TEST, they are learning far more than if they were not coming to me.

spoon-feeding students

Should we spoon-feed pupils?

So yes, I DO cross that “line” as a tutor, but I try to do it stealthily, where I sneakily make the student work and understand more than he planned to do before he came to me!

This same dilemma exists in helping with writing assignments, with math homework, and with everything else that a tutor does  As a tutor, I try to help lighten the students’ burden, while at the same time actually teaching the student on a one-to-one basis, in a way which would be impossible in a full classroom.  For example, I often do math homework problems on individual white board along with the student.  Then we compare answers.  If they are the same, we move ahead.  If they are different, we go back through the problems step-by-step to see where we diverged.  I feel students learn more this way.

I would like to hear about how others deal with this dilemma.  If you are a tutor, where do you draw the line?  If you are a teacher, what are your thoughts?  If you are a parent, what are your feelings?

-Lynne Diligent

WHY Parents and Teachers Need to Watch the Same Television Shows as Students Do

February 17, 2012

As a parent or teacher (even outside of America, and regardless of your religion or lifestyle), have you tried to instill proper values and behavior in your own children or students, yet watched while the following values and behavior appeared instead?  Have you wondered where this has been coming from?

  • Requesting a bulldog
  • Popularity of sushi
  • Proliferation of fake ID’s and even younger high school students attempting to use them
  • Underage drinking, even at home parties, where parents leave and let children party alone
  • Obsession with champagne
  • A sudden interest in learning Burlesque dancing
  • Requesting or attempting underage driving
  • Obsession with Ivy League colleges
  • Teenage obsession with wearing only “designer” dresses
  • Thinking it’s not normal for parents to make a “curfew” time
  • The idea that even young teenagers “go where they want, and do what they want,” and that “their parents give them the freedom to do so just like adults;”  they TELL their parents what they are doing, rather than ASK them.
  • Girls (even young girls) acting in a sexually aggressive manner toward boys (girls insisting that they both take off clothes)
  • Girls thinking that it’s normal to date older men secretly without their parents knowing about it
  • Thinking that normal parents just go to bed, and “don’t wait up for their high school children who come home late.”
  • Sassy, angry attitude toward any parents who question any of the above assumptions!
  • The idea that “success” in life equates ONLY to how much money you have, and how “glamorous” you appear to others!
  • Honesty, dependability, responsibility, and/or service to humanity are unfashionable, boring, stupid, and undesirable
  • Kindness to others is “out;” while “one-upsmanship” and rude “put-downs” at the expense of others are “in”
  • An expectation that life is supposed to be one continuous “party”

Any parent or teacher who is having trouble understanding teenage values and behavior today should IMMEDIATELY watch the three television series Beverly Hills 90210 ; Gossip Girl; and 90210 (a different show than Beverly Hills 90210).   Even watching a couple of episodes of each show will give you an idea of where this culture is coming from.  (Click on these titles for direct links to the series which should work worldwide.  Make sure to start with Season 1, Episode 1.)    These new values are coming directly from television.

Unfortunately, teenagers are now watching these shows WORLDWIDE.  Some are watching on the internet, in English (especially with the global rise in study of English, it is now accessible).  But in most countries, these shows are now dubbed in local languages, and right on the television.  Not only is American culture changing, but world culture is assuming that these TV shows represent traditional American values (which they most assuredly do NOT).

The people who made these shows recognized that they are FANTASIES of how teenagers WISH their lives were.  That’s what makes them fun to watch.  However, unfortunately, the children who grew up watching these (without any input from their parents) grew up assuming that this is what they WOULD be able to do as teenagers, and now, the upper middle classes ARE DOING it. Some of the middle class parents don’t know that their children are behaving this way.  Among more conservative families, parents should BEWARE if their child asks to spend the night with another family, because they are often going out, or even sneaking out to nightclubs.  It doesn’t help that the full age of majority in many countries is 18, rather than 21.

I live in the Middle East, and throughout our region, this is exactly how most teenagers are behaving.  The emphasis in our region is all on appearances to create the impression with others that you are rich (even if you are not).  Most of those who are rich turn their children (even girls) loose with plenty of money and the family chauffeur (usually driving an expensive, black, four-wheel-drive vehicle) for the weekend.  They certainly don’t wait up for their children to come home at night.  Most of the kids have fake ID’s and go to night clubs (which don’t even open until 11).  Their age is clear, but they just slip $20 to the doorman, who lets them in.

Father Knows Best

In the past couple of years, I’ve read a number of articles where generations following the baby boomers are now criticizing the work ethic of baby-boomers (born 1946-1960) and wondering where this work ethic came from.  It’s very clear to me now.  It came directly from TELEVISION (as well as from our parents, and from society in general).

Shows during the 1950s and 1960s (and even into the 1970s) showed children working hard, being kind, taking responsibility, and most importantly, GETTING RESPECT FROM OTHERS FOR DOING SO.  Some of these shows were Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, The Rifleman, The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie.   In contrast, teenagers who behave this way today don’t get any respect from others.  Instead, they get “USED BY OTHERS” (in the words of a teenager I tutor).  Today, it’s showing-off and acting in accordance with the list above that gets a teenager respect from other teenagers.

–Lynne Diligent