The Kids Can't Think

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by KinderCowgirl, Dec 11, 2010.

  1. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    Dec 11, 2010

    So we had a faculty meeting this week and were told one of the big complaints of the upper grades is the kids aren't being taught to "think". I just think it's really ironic that this system, based purely on multiple choice questions-both to evaluate teachers and students, is just now realizing this. I see it happening in a lot of classrooms-the focus on test prep, kids reading passages every day instead of actual books, doing worksheet after worksheet, nothing to teach them how to be creative.

    The teachers were complaining that it was one more thing now on their plate that they had to incorporate into their lesson plans. :rolleyes: To me, it's not either or, you can do both. And the more critical thinking activities you do, the better they will do in the long run on those all-important standardized tests. I applaud our admin for encouraing that way of thinking, that way of teaching. I just thought it was amusing. Having to be told to actually teach kids to think.
     
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  3. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    Our school system is the same! So much focus on the testing and pacing guides. The students are not being asked to think or even to become independent!

    I am glad that your administration noticed this! I can't wait for mine to notice as well.
     
  4. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Dec 11, 2010

    Lets see. We....

    -Take away the hands on activities
    -Take away recess
    -Take away developmentally appropriate play
    -Pile on developmentally inappropriate topics
    -Force the kids into developmentally inappropriate "desk" activities
    -Pound multiple choice "assessments" at them beginning in pre-k
    -Remove any chance at all for them to actually learn how to think.

    ....Then we wonder why they can't think? Yeah. The only surprise I feel right now is the fact that the admins are surprised.
     
  5. Keber

    Keber Rookie

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    That's the challenge we have as teachers, right? We want to integrate the necessary information, cover the required materials and still present it in an appealing, creative, investigatory fashion.

    With all the tests students need to take, I'm glad that you (KinderCowgirl) hold the opinion you can teach both. Sometimes it is hard to keep sight of the true goal of teaching while holding the requirements in mind as well.
     
  6. webmistress

    webmistress Devotee

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    Dec 11, 2010

    :yeahthat:

    And the sole blame always seem to come back to the teachers' shoulders. It would be great if admins, since they are powerful, would let their frustrations be known to the ones actually making the mandates. That could really help the cause that so many teachers are fighting for.

    Some teachers are simply following the directions and being told exactly what to do. I can't blame them.

    I have too many ideas and a brain that doesn't cut off unfortunately, so I absolutely have to bring those thoughts into my lessons or I go crazy. However, from my experience, if the principal wants you to teach straight from the tests then that's what you have to do. I almost got in trouble for being "creative" and getting the kids to think like an inventor because it wasn't tested. (Even though we were studying inventors)

    Lots of other ideas that got the kids excited to be in school had to go as well.

    It's just really hard to figure out what those in power want and thus, how to survive in this field.

    Some teachers prefer to play it safe and will sit back and follow the district's mandates exactly as written.
     
  7. Keber

    Keber Rookie

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    Would you mind sharing about how you almost got in trouble? I have an inquisitive mind; and I, too, would like to prevent myself from going over the line. Also, how did you find your balance of being creative (bringing your thoughts into the lesson) while still teaching for the test?
     
  8. webmistress

    webmistress Devotee

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    Hi Keber,

    We use Reading Street. I taught 5th grade (briefly) and for this week we read about different inventors such as Benjamin Franklin (one of my favorites). We also had to have a lot of writing grades, so I gave the kids a homework assignment to the effect of, "Write 3 paragraphs about something you would like to invent. Tell why and explain how it would improve our lives or society"...etc...Or, 'Write about what you think is the best invention to date and why...'

    The kids were so excited they nearly jumped out of their seats and said they can't wait to go home and do the assignment. (Inner-city rough school with 'very difficult' kids).

    I said we would share maybe 4 writings, and that way they can work on their oral presentation skills, listening skills, eye contact etc.

    Next day comes and the kids remind me that it's time to share their assignments. They couldn't wait. Head teacher walks by, sees this horrible thing going on (a student sharing his invention writing and all other students sitting quietly listening), calls me in the hallway and tells me that I could get in trouble for this and if the P sees this, I will be in trouble. She said there is no time for this (took about 10 minutes), it is not tested and thus I can't spend any time on it.

    As you can see, it wasn't even anything drastic that I did. I didn't see that one coming. I was pretty hurt and embarrassed, and honestly I have never felt the same about teaching since that day. Something inside of me died.

    To answer your last question, I became more and more ill by the day so I had to resign before the year ended, so I haven't found that balance. I'm still brand new and I have no clue how to balance creativity with excessive test prep.

    However, I just talked with an 18 year veteran today, who has the same struggles I had. She said she struggles with her own conscience and trying to do what the district demands when she knows what they demand is not right for the kids. She said she prays on it, but she still struggles. I'm always amazed to hear master accomplished teachers have the same struggles as brand new teachers.

    I also liked to teach through informal discussions at times, and through this I discovered the kids had a deep passion for black history. They asked me if they could do a project and other activities on blacks in history. (Not for Black History month, but just to do it period. Of course I would have tied this into state standards)

    They were actually taking the interest and initiative for their own education and this is one of the reasons why I entered teaching...to get kids, especially those from low-income, disadvantaged backgrounds, to fall in love with learning. After the inventor experience, I just couldn't do anything though since it's not specifically tested.
     
  9. Youngteacher226

    Youngteacher226 Enthusiast

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    Dec 11, 2010

    :clap:
     
  10. MorahMe

    MorahMe Habitué

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    Dec 12, 2010

    Not that you had any control over what you were told, but it's interesting to note that the National Core Standards actually require us to spend time sharing writing and gaining feedback from peers. Good for you for trying! I'm sorry you got knocked down though.

    I find our educational system sadder every day.
     
  11. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    Dec 12, 2010

    Thank you for your responses. It is a balance and maybe it would be different if I was a 1st year teacher. I take a lot of flack for still including things like art in early childhood :rolleyes: and our Kinders actually just took standardized tests last week (fill in the bubbles and everything). Since it's the only test they take (really supposed to be used as a baseline/for GT identification) the teachers were told they would be held accountable for those scores. They've had the kids for less than 3 months! Jobs are on the line with test scores; so sometimes I can understand why people have that frame of thinking.

    When we do activities strictly for critical thinking/fostering critical thinking purposes I can't even find objectives in our district curriculum to post, I have to have them write about it and post writing objectives. I think even curriculum writers get hung up on what is measurable with benchmark testing-as opposed to skills that will help them in the long run. Kids really do have to be intentionally taught to think.
     
  12. teachgrade5

    teachgrade5 Comrade

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    Dec 12, 2010

    I agree with critical thinking skills. This last week we started a unit on electricity. I gave each student a light bulb, bulb holder, battery, battery holder, and two wires. I simply said make your bulb light up. The kids looked at me like I was crazy. One student said, "You want us to make the bulb light?" I simply said yes. I have to say that was the best lesson all year. The kids had a blast. I walked around the classroom as they discussed with their groups how to make the bulbs light. You should have heard the discussions. As soon as one student got it, they all wanted to get out of their seats and see what they had done. It was great. We spend so much time telling them what they should be thinking instead of allowing them a chance to explore and figure it out for themselves.
     
  13. webmistress

    webmistress Devotee

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    Dec 12, 2010

    Thanks Youngteacher and Morah!
     
  14. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    Dec 12, 2010

    I always try to include at least 1 or 2 critical thinking questions on HW assignments and weekly quizzes. Sometimes this goes well, sometimes not (students BOMBED most of the word problems on the last quiz).

    I had a different type of assignment scheduled for Friday, only to learn about half of one class was going to be gone on a field trip. So I began looking through the various enrichment books in the classroom and found a couple of great lessons.

    A typical question was "A fraction has numerator that is 6 less than the denominator and is equivalent to 3/4."

    I found another one that taught them to "separate" mixed numbers to make them easier to multiply in their head. In other words, take 24 1/2 x 10 and "separate it" into 24 x 10 + 1/2 x 10. The mixed number assignment was easy. The fractions were a little more challenging, but it made them start looking for mathematical patterns that would give them the solution.

    I'm a new teacher and still naive', I suppose, but I keep thinking that -if I TEACH them to think critically - they WILL do well on the standardized tests because they will be more prepared for questions that ask for a solution that isn't obvious.
     
  15. Keber

    Keber Rookie

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    Dec 13, 2010

    Thank you so much for your heartfelt response, Webmistress.

    I agree that what you did really wasn't that extreme. It matches up with some school's standards of critical thinking, too.

    This made me think of how important it is to have the teaching philosophy of the school and the teacher match up. It also made me think of how important it is for us to back up our teaching with the school's standards.

    I wonder if your school will eventually have the same epiphany as KinderCowgirl's school had.
     
  16. Keber

    Keber Rookie

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    Dec 13, 2010

    I, too, think that preparing students to think flexibly will allow them to approach new situations easier without getting flustered. What a great idea to have it be a constant part of your class.
     
  17. thirdgradebuzz

    thirdgradebuzz Comrade

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    Dec 13, 2010

    My sister is enrolled in an M.B.A. program right now. Her professor also teacher undergraduate economics and math classes. He said that each year, the freshman students are less and less able to think-- his example: he makes the students figure out how much they would pay for a car if they purchased it with a payment plan. They can't do it. After they solve that problem together, he changes it to a house and mortgage payment. They still can't do it. He claims they don't have the thinking skills to know what to multiply together to solve the problem unless they are given a formula.

    I think this is an implication of state testing, where students are taught test-taking skills as opposed to critical thinking. Unfortunately what teachers don't realize is that if you teach a child to THINK, the test-taking skills come by themselves.
     
  18. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Dec 13, 2010

    I used both of those examples when I did simple interest in my 7th grade math class a few years ago.

    Admitedly, it wasn't compound interest-- they hadn't heard of "e" yet. But every kid I taught that year could do it using simple interest.
     
  19. thirdgradebuzz

    thirdgradebuzz Comrade

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    Alice- I agree wholeheartedly that students can and will learn how to solve problems like that if they have good teachers that challenge them to think critically.
     
  20. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Dec 13, 2010

    It's all the focus on standardized testing. Period. We can still cover standards and teach kids to think, but too many schools and admins push test prep. It's sad and sick.
     
  21. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    Dec 14, 2010

    EXACTLY..........because IDIOTS are making policy and curriculum and not real educators............"the Chinese are beating us so we have to teach them more at an earlier age right now". Did anyone ever stop to think that America invents the stuff and then the people over there mass produce it. Now ask why. We can forget the R&D if we keep churning out little test takers instead of thinkers,
     
  22. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Dec 15, 2010

    Let's start with that there *IS* a point in what you're saying -- there's a certain amount of "not rocking the boat" that's common in many Asian societies.

    As far as not teaching them to think, though...

    Honestly, tell me which of those sets of problems involves more critical thinking and creativity. The reason the Chinese (along with other Asians) are beating us on tests is not because they teach by rote. It's not because Asians are inherently more attuned to math than Westerners (they aren't). Part of it is simply that they work harder at it. Part of it is likely because of constraints we have (they're not really an immigrant nation, and we are -- though if that's really the problem you would expect an immigrant-heavy state like NJ to lag behind states with lots of native-raised USAians). But a substantial part of it is also how and what they teach. Maybe that's what you meant about curriculum, though, so perhaps we're more in agreement than I might suppose.
     
  23. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    Dec 15, 2010

    3Sons~I think it also is because in Asian countries parents put more of a focus on the importance of education...that, and they have tracks where not every student has to take the academic track like here.

    mm~I think you are 100% right!
     

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