A reader of this blog and of Left Brain Child recently shared with me this exchange she had with her school principal about her son Johnny (names changed to protect identity), who is going into 5th grade and already knows most of the 5th grade math curriculum:
Principal to mother:
We want Johnny to learn more about how to function in a group of students working in mathematics, where he has a profound understanding to share. He still has more to learn about how to effectively work in a group. Having a small repertoire of active listening strategies is going to get in his way in high school and in the rest of his education, since this case-study approach is likely to prevail for a while. I figure if he can learn how to share his understanding and how to listen to other perspectives, it’s going to make the rest of his education so much easier. Right now, he prefers going off on his own and working independently. Or he makes off-putting remarks at the beginning of a group exercise in order to get away from the group process. He is truly a smart kid, and his life will be easier if that intelligence is flexible enough to recognize the social impact as well as the intellectual impact. He doesn’t yet see the value of bringing others around to his point of view.Mother to principal:
School starts in a couple of weeks and I know that the teachers are back, so I think it is time to address the things you brought up in your email. Specifically, I think we need some direction about how you see Johnny achieving the goals you have set for him below and how he will be judged in respect to these goals. Here are some questions.Emailing me separately, Johnny’s mother writes:
How will the teacher teach Johnny more about how to function in a group of students working in mathematics? How will she teach him to share his profound understanding of math? What methodologies will he be taught to carry out this sharing? What supervision will be provided while he is practicing these methodologies? What, specifically, will the teacher do to broaden his repertoire of active listening strategies? How many active listening strategies are there? What are they? How do you decide which active listening strategy is appropriate for Johnny to use in a given classroom situation and how will this be taught to Johnny?
How many different perspectives is it reasonable to accommodate in math class? For instance, if a student insists that there is no such number as pi, is that reasonable? If the group construct is that the only definition of pi is as a dessert to be eaten with ice cream, does that become the group reality that everyone must except, or is it reasonable at that point to work independently? Is accepting such a construct in order to fit in with a group and prioritize for social impact necessary to demonstrate that one's intellect is flexible? When involved in a group with such a construct, how will Johnny be expected to bring others around to his point of view? Is he allowed to use direct instruction? Will Johnny be judged based on his ability to accept the group construct and prioritize for social impact, or for his ability bring others around to his point of view? How will this be assessed? Who will do the assessing? How will the teacher teach Johnny the skills necessary to share his original insights with his peers in math class? Where does learning some math fit in to this?
In short, what is it that you actually expect Johnny to do in math class?
By the way, the thing with pi actually happened last year in math class. The kids were drawing circles when Johnny told his group about the number pi and how you could use it to calculate the circumference of a circle. One of the girls in the group laughed at him and asked if there was also a number called "cake" and a number called "cookie" and all the kids in his group had a good chortle at his expense. He was quite upset. Of course there was no teacher around. The teacher introduced the math concept about two months later. No one said anything about it to Johnny. Constructivism brings playground group-think and bullying into the classroom.Well said. I talk about this phenomenon a bit in chapter one of my book, and also in my critiques here on this blog of people who think that classroom groups can help reduce bullying.
Equally important is when will Johnny be allowed to do math. If the mother receives an answer from the principal, I'm hoping she will share it with us.