Monday, October 12, 2009

The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Thinkers!

Don't read my blog if you're a teacher or a student or have ever been either.

President Bush said, "Rarely is the question asked: is our kids learning?"

Today in class we worked on a worksheet about the Declaration of Independence. It requires reading a page of information about the background of the Declaration, then correcting some deliberate errors on the worksheet. I've used this same sheet for about seven years now. I know that it gives the information that I want and has the kids think about it a bit. It doesn't ask for any creative new information, but it does go one step beyond information regurgitation.

It's also an assignment that I know pretty well. I know which questions they are going to ask. I know which questions are the most difficult. I know exactly how to point them in the right direction. But I refuse to do the work for them. I'll point to the correct paragraph if they need it, but I won't give them the answer.

I also know that this is an assignment that I can give on a day when I have a few other things to do. Back in the days of teaching English, I could workshop writing with students. I can grade notebooks or quizzes, all while being available to help. I've had to give more attention to some students with certain needs, but for the most part, it was an independent assignment. Most students would finish within a period with just a few that had to take it home to finish.

This year, it was different. These kids couldn't handle it. I was requiring them to think, and they couldn't. Barely half of the kids finished in each class. And to be honest, a bunch of those cheated. Their totally wrong answers were exactly the same. I never had more than a few minutes (until 7th period, my mostly GATE class) to do anything else.

Before I continue, I'm not complaining that I had to help students. I'm complaining because so many of them are helpless.

So I've thought about this all day, trying to come up with a reason why.

I want to blame it on their previous teachers for not helping them, but doing the work for them. I want to blame them for teaching too much through nothing bur regurgitation worksheets. I want to blame them for not challenging these students to think. While I know this IS true in some cases, I know that it isn't generally true. So I can't blame them.

I want to blame the students for being so lazy. They've learned to ask for help without trying first. They can't concentrate through reading a full page. They have learned to fake reading by just reading the words aloud instead of paying attention to what the words mean. They read too quickly to catch all of the meanings. They read too slowly to put the ideas together. They have never seen or experienced any benefit of thinking. While much of that is true in specific cases, I just can't believe that it's true of the entire group. So I can't blame them.

I want to blame their English teacher, but he's teaching them the alphabet right now. So I can't blame him.

Whose fault it is? Standardized testing. These kids have now been through the majority of their schooling being taught to the test. The test requires no actual thinking skills.

So is our kids learning? No. Thanks a lot for NCLB. You've created a nation of drooling vegetables.


asf said...

God, that English teacher guy looks devastatingly handsome. I'm teaching them more than just the alphabet-- by now, they should know how to write a proper paragraph, too.

Later this month?

We move on to common 8th grade issues such as the there/their/they're trio, the which/witch dilemna, the whose/who's problem and the two/too/to conundrum.

From there, we move on to work on proper transition sentences and the art of persuasive writing.

This year is going to be awesome.

Kaboom32 said...

But some of them are still having problems with the alphabet.