Friday, July 13, 2012

Why should secondary educators pay attention to rereading and other literacy skills?

At the core of early literacy is the idea that literacy is repeatedly played with, revisited, it can be offered in many forms, and there are few misinterpretations. I believe that more secondary educators could return to the creative practices of literacy in order to promote higher order thinking as well as less failure instead of the systems we have long relied upon.
At my school I was assigned a study hall with the purpose of implementing a Response To Intervention (RTI) system to prevent high rates of failure.  I was required to check student's grades, online daily, weekly, biweekly, depending on the teacher input. Grade search enabled me to look for individual assignments that had been missed or scored low.  In my sixteen years at Lamoille Union and at schools prior to my experience here, I have never had a study hall in which everyone studies.  A certain amount of time is spent doing nothing but it is frustrating when students defiantly insist on accomplishing nothing, in courses that they are failing for the entire 88 minutes.  Many students are refusing or are incapable of completing homework at home as well.  Implementation of a school wide policy insisting upon acceptance and completion of late work was meant to engage students in incremental progress against their failing grade.  RTI brought new issues to the surface. Students who had completed assignments poorly were unable to change these grades and were not able to improve their grade; they were unable to use their 88 minute study hall for work I could assign.  
Another issue for lack of effort was that issue of lost opportunity.  Teachers argue the following:
·         Students who did the work on time well should be rewarded for their effort. 
·         It is unfair to be allowed to receive complete credit for work after it was reviewed in class.
·         Credit awarded for late work validates laziness, being late or use of someone else's answers.
·         If teachers had to grade late work as well as work done on time, it would be too much for them to grade.
·         Grading assignments for a second time would take too much for teachers to grade.
·         Students should meet with that teacher and an appointed time to get the help they need.
·         If they had been paying attention the first time they would have gotten it.
·         Students need to learn the work when it is assigned.  The class has moved on to other skills.
·         These students don't do homework, class time is given for completion, and either they know it or they don't.

Once a student carried a number of failed assignments it was impossible to pass.  It meant that students could do nothing and therefore accomplished nothing in the last four weeks before a quarterly grade was recorded.

My observations infer that students have difficulty motivating for a class that they would continuously fail. The minute changes that they could make in their learning were not enough to count for progress.   Children of all ages need to repeated experiences with the structures of thinking, reading and comprehension before their stability with the new knowledge emerges.  In reference to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZDP) (Vygotsky & Kozulin, 2011) students do not learn at a set moment or age. They fall on a spectrum with active learning at varietal rates in classrooms that provide exposure to knowledge, practice and conversation and independent meaningful engagement. They also need to practice their conversations in home environments without intimidation by complexity of an assignment. Parental involvement needs validation.  It is very important never to give children (or anyone) the impression that there is only one correct response to a complex issue.  Doing so defeats the child’s sense of wonder, and raises the stakes of what is acceptable to an impossibly high level (Witte-Townsend, & DiGiulio, 2004)
In a collection of essays concerning language and culture I came across numerous case studies on the failure rates of elementary age students (Delpit, 2003). Students were disengaged acting in physical and verbal defiance of learning. Teachers avoiding preventative measures were, unknowingly, contributing to the students’ actions.  By allowing students to choose failure they unintentionally perpetuate stereotypes, promote bias against socio economic, ethnic and religious factions of our nation.  Socially and politically marginalized people are held in disdain by those who hold power,disdain leads to diminished expectations (p.134). Unintended prejudices are responsible for failing students with incredible capabilities.   Only 8% of minority students are enrolled in gifted and talented programs (Epelbaum, 2007).  English Second Language students (ESL) are often highly skilled in multiple intelligences and unable to share their talents. ESL students can be highly literate but unable to communicate their intelligence in English alone.  Thus no student should be evaluated using one single test or other measure. (Oboler, E.S. & Gupta, A., 2010).  They need to learn to promote their other intelligences.
My school registers less than 2% of racial or ethnic populations other than white but our diversity is socio economic.  Ernie Smith’s autobiographical experience of being mislabeled remedial because of his reliance on Ebonics instead of standardized English resonated with me (as cited in Delpit, Ebonics a Case Study).  Smith, a renowned linguist was redirected to vocational fields because he was considered low skill. He knew that his knowledge was destined for academia but had the language to request this.  While education supports well rounded studies and mastery of common standards there is much to be said about giving students the skills to make knowledgeable choices in their education.  As young people become less fearful of being manipulated or disrespected, they can become engaged in the study of their own language competence. (Baker cited in Delpit, p.59) Students reluctant to take risks outside their comfort zone are afraid of failure. By presenting them with the idea that education is a game of levels, students can be assured that they home culture, their identity will not diminish. When students fail, especially on standardized tests, incorporating multiple intelligences in their overall education leads to metacognitive strengths, less student frustration and developed coping strategies. (Epelbaum)
Student failures student repeat opportunities for learning equates to noncompliance and discrimination (National laws & regulations related to Special Education, updated 2010). Temple Grandin is both a popular culture figure and highly respected professor in her field. She is a spokesperson and authority on Autism because she is autistic.  She has compiled her research with authorities on brain research to understand how she learns.  Metaphorically, her brain is a Google search engine, her thinking is associative, not sequential or linear (Grandin, 2007). Autistic learners do not benefit from well rounded studies; they need fixation, constant engagement in related activities, mentors or apprenticeships.  Grandin’s research simply put, students need investment in their future, and they can reach high levels of knowledge if given the choice.   They need consistent assessment for redirection and they need repeated experiences for their success.
A classroom that demands success does not assume one path for all students.  A single teacher cannot be the only person holding the responsibility for what is learned and how it is learned.  Academic achievement is reliant upon intellectual growth and the ability to produce knowledge (Ladson Billings).  Competency derives from collaborative data assessment and analysis, experts, practitioners and people with shared experience can be reliable resources or mentors for a student’s development.  This is why gaming has intrinsic value to educators.  Games are an investment in intelligence, allowing for stimulating collaborations, inquiry, and more than one right solution to a puzzle. Students can practice, strategize, move or stay at endless levels of difficulty.  My daughter will not play a board game or online game that identifies her as a winner or a loser.  She will engage in puzzle solving for extended periods of time, excitedly sharing her findings with anyone listening.  My experience with high school classroom simulations based on economic theories can give every student a role to play, bringing historic scenarios into question and allowing students to formulate more than one solution to ongoing issues.  Gaming is teaching in the best sense, the creative possibilities are endless.

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