Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Johnny can't do math, II: the principal responds

Her response is mostly an enthusiastic reflection on an article on Constructivism that Johnny’s mother sent her; a few parts of her letter, however, pertain to Johnny:

Community is one of the benefits that we have to offer gifted students such as Johnny.
We aren’t looking for students to come to a group consensus of how to determine the area of a triangle, but we are looking for students to realize, through participation in a group, that there may be more than one way to describe the understanding of that area. In Johnny’s case, for example, I think he will always grasp geometry more quickly in both theory and visual representation than many of his classmates. What we have to offer him is active listening to how other kids might see that same information. It doesn’t change what a triangle is, but it can help Johnny to eventually be more persuasive to his audience when he is presenting at conferences as a graduate student and an adult.
Participating in the collective intellectual endeavor has value for Johnny, though. It reminds me of his comments about a tiger’s motivation, where he never challenged the essential premise that tigers cannot speak. We love that combination in Johnny of heightened understanding and childlike fantasy, and we really appreciate that you have nurtured that at home. His performance as the tiger definitely took advantage of a collective endeavor to convey a tale.
In other words, beyond stating that the “active listening” offered by Johnny’s classroom can improve his presentations at conferences when he's a graduate student and an adult, the principal did not address any of Johnny's mother's questions regarding what Johnny will learn in math class this year.


1crosbycat said...

Maybe what is most amazing is that a school administrator (1) responds to parent concerns and (2) responds in writing.

Barry Garelick said...

"There may be more than one way to understand..."

More than one way to do things, or to understand things, or to say things, has become part of the Holy Grail of the educationists. A friend of mine who is a mathematician comments on this phenomenon:

"These educators obsess over the simplest good ideas -- to the point that they become bad ideas. Someone observed that you can get some great teaching opportunities by proving the same thing 8 different ways, or by showing several solutions to a problem using different techniques or by simultaneously doing something with algebra and diagrams. And I wholeheartedly agree, and do all of the above when I think it is useful. But these guys come along and say 'WHOA! Blow my mind! Maybe EVERYTHING should be taught that way, multiple strategies, multiple representations, it's the revolutionary new insight that will change the world for the better.' "

AmyP said...

"What we have to offer him is active listening to how other kids might see that same information."

And how are we monitoring and assessing this in a classroom with half a dozen groups? Is he going to have ongoing feedback and pointers from his teacher, explaining to him how to explain stuff to his peers in ways they'll understand? Maybe give him a teacher's version of the textbook?

Heck, send this kid to do a degree in elementary math education. He's going to need it to get through 5th grade.

Anonymous said...

This response is classic boilerplate constructivist gobbledygook. A non-answer answer. This is what is keeping Kumon in business.

Auntie Ann said...

I think the school would be very happy if "active listening" were interpreted as: "shut up!"

kcab said...

Oh man. Auntie Ann, I just saw your comments on the earlier post. Reading about this sort of obstruction makes my blood boil, I think because I lived it as a kid, lived it awhile as a parent, and am worried that we'll be in that spot again this year (cross-country move = new school to convince).

What does Johnny think and feel about math & math class? I have also been able to get somewhere with school personnel by letting them know the constraints on learning and/or approach being used is starting to make my kid dislike the subject.

Sigh. My mathy kid did feel good about being able to explain concepts to classmates who were struggling. He felt ecstatic about explaining concepts and solution methods to the kids in his advanced math class. He hasn't had to deal with the same sort of ignorance/ridicule though (eg. the pi story).

Anonymous said...

Does anybody have any idea what an active listening strategy is?

Anonymous said...

This is my kid. In researching this, the thing that amazed me the most was that there is so little information about the effectiveness of constructive techniques with mixed ability groupings available, yet so many teachers and administrators are convinced that this is the holy grail of math education. There is no reasonably sized prospective randomized trial that I could find, only anecdotal information about the preferences of teachers and students in classrooms that use these practices, yet this methodology is pervasive in the schools and has been gaining popularity for years. None one seems aware at all of the risks of bullying or the effects of these practices on high achieving kids. Our school recently hired a math consultant, who spent considerable time and effort reviewing the school's entire math program and recommended these classroom practices. Based on what? There seems to be no answer to that. There must be some deep-rooted psychological impulse on the part of educators about the role of teachers or the student-teacher relationship that attaches itself to this philosophy. Part of the reason I have been sending these letters to the school is to get the administration thinking, instead of marching to the latest educational trend. It seems that the latest educational trends always involve screwing around with math education, possibly because it is the subject that elementary educators understand the least. We really need some better educational materials available to parents and math reformers so that we can at least have a conversation with educators about math. The jargon is so thick and so ideologically based that it hard to have a substantive discussion. A jargon lexicon would be very helpful, as would a data base of the latest research, both from education journals and from journals of cognitive psychology. Katharine, how about another book?

Anonymous said...

From an articletoday on Schoolbook, (an education news website from WYNC)about a program where high school students read aloud to each other:

"“People in high ability groups carry this inflated sense of smartness,” she explained. But when the high achievers have to help those students who aren’t as comfortable in school, she said, they often realize those students have other strengths. “That usually outshines what people who are bookish bring to the table. The playing field is totally evened.”
It's all about evening the playing field.

Anonymous said...

I read this article on Schoolbook and it is typical constructivism. Multi-ability groupings designed to bringing the bottom tier up while bringing the best students down in order to level the playing field, equalize educational results and improves self esteem for poorly performing students. The result is that fewer and fewer will achieve highly enough to succeed in higher education. Lowering the achievement of the top third means fewer kids prepared for college. Education can't just be about the lowest tier of students.

Deirdre Mundy said...

In fifth grade they had the high ability students read aloud to the kids at the bottom of the class and then 'team up' to take tests and write papers on Dear Mr. Henshaw.

As a 10 year old I learned that:
1. Some kids are too dumb to get Beverly Cleary, even when read allowed.
2. You can't let those kids jeopardize your chance for an 'A'
3. Therefore it's better to do all the work yourself and put their name on it too so that you can survive the project.
4. The teacher really, really liked working on her nails. Which she got to do ALOT, since this 'project' allowed her to dissolve reading groups and basically act as a babysitter.

Luckily, for Math the same teacher was willing to leave me in the corner with an Apple IIe... I got really good at Oregon Trail.

Johnny needs to get to leave and go to the library for Math and work at his own rate. 'Group work' helps no one.

FedUpMom said...

"Community is one of the benefits we have to offer gifted kids such as Johnny ..."

Being the token smart kid in the group is not a useful experience of community. If Johnny could be with other gifted kids, that would be a better community experience for him, and much closer to the grad school experience the principal mentions.