Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A few thoughts on TJEd

I wrote down the Top Ten ideas I took from TJEd. I still have much to say, including some thoughts on the questions I posted, and my essay, but thought I would put these on first. Also--many of you (okay, Kami and Julia) expressed an interest in what my Dad had to say on the subject, so I will be posting about that later on as well. Sometimes when an "authority" which, face it, Dad is on education, says something it makes your own previously clear thoughts all muddled. I would rather we muddled each other's thoughts first, and then let Dad muddle us further.

“Lay down true principles and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender.” Thomas Jefferson

1. Education cannot be fixed because people cannot agree on its purpose (Dad and TJEd)

2. Students will determine their own educational attainment.

3. Teachers motivate and guide.

4. Liberals see school as a place to promote a social agenda; conservatives as job training.

5. At one point in the book, DeMille says that America doesn’t have an aristocracy. How ridiculous. Has DeMille ever cruised around the Mediterranean with the Kennedy’s? I doubt it. Does he brunch with the Rockefellers? Highly doubtful. The aristocracy is so rich and so far removed from our lives that we don’t even think about them. But they are very much a part of the social, political, and economic fabric of this nation.

6. One of my favorite points DeMille makes is that teachers should only accept QUALITY work. I know I rant about this all the time, but, I am ranting about it again, here.

I assigned five essays to my 11th graders for one semester. Almost every class day was spent in its entirety on working on those five essays. I worked extensively with the students one-on-one, and I never assigned anything else. Therefore—if they used their time in class, they had no homework. Ever.

Does that really sound that hard? No. So explain to me why I had so many parents complain about how “hard” I was, and how “excessive in my demands.” Why? Because I expected the essays to be perfect (for an 11th grader). The students wrote their best draft, and then I graded it. If a student was unhappy with the grade, he kept working on it until he earned the grade he wanted and stopped turning it back in and stopped meeting with me about it.

Parents were used to teachers expecting quantity work—but they got very angry when I expected quality work. As a side note—not all parents complained, and I had several parents request me because of my reputation—but many others were upset.

I do not understand how we can expect our students to learn to work and achieve and excel if no demands are placed on them. At some point a child has to learn that “anything worth doing is worth doing well” and we are NOT teaching that at school. Mostly because teachers with 40 students don’t assign things that require time-intensive grading in the first place, and then they don’t have time because of ludicrous government imposed time schedules (for tests) to allow students to resubmit work. Improving on our original efforts engenders the most growth.

Hmm-I waxed longwinded again—sorry. This is a very big issue with me. Students will never learn to write well if nobody holds them to a standard. On the flip side—I have rarely met a student who does not rise to the level of expectation set by the teacher.

What exactly does that mean for Miriam? Does that mean that I have told her she is “always disobedient” so many times that she believes it and doesn’t try anymore? Hmm. I must ponder that a little more.

7. “Virtually uninterrupted reading.” My favorite part of TJEd, the part that struck such a chord, is the idea that reading teaches more effectively than anything else. As a life-long, passionate readaholic, I definitely attribute my success in school to what I learned reading and writing.

I wish I had more teachers who pushed me to read more challenging books—although the hours I spent with dragons and magic were certainly enjoyable-I would be a better writer and reader if I had been pushed beyond my limits more often.

8. “Read, write, discuss. Keep it simple.” I am sold on that philosophy of teaching. As a “retired” teacher—I can attest that my students progressed the farthest and had the most enthusiasm when they had to motivate themselves and when the curriculum was cut to the bare bones. The more they wrote, the better their writing, and the more empowered they felt. You should have SEEN their faces when they got an A on a paper (it was very difficult to get an A on a paper, although I usually only gave A’s and B’s and F’s for term grades because when the students took control of their own education, they tended to work harder and blame me less for their end grade). I had students—big highschoolers—tell me that they had VERY PROUDLY taped their essays to fridges, bedroom doors, themselves, to show the world that they could get an A from Mrs. Young. It was awesome. Only real work creates real pride and belief in an ability to achieve. But--those were the semesters when we read, wrote, discussed, without falling back on all the cutesy curriculum devices.

I know it works because my students scored higher than the district average when the year before our school was 10 percentage points behind the district. Our school didn’t score higher than the district but all my classes scored higher than the school average, and all my eleventh grade classes (writing intensive) scored above the district average.

Yes, I’m proud of that—but it just proves that an emphasis on reading and writing and discussing, an expectation of quality, and turning over the responsibility to the student really does pay huge dividends.

9. Writing as learning! Very important. Writing requires clarity of thinking. I like the idea of daily writing, and daily essay writing in a “commonplace book.” Definitely something Miriam and I are going to do.

10. Set up your writing standards together and let students have a huge say in what they learn and do. I think DeMille made another strong point here. Obviously, some browbeating will take place, but the more ownership the child has, the better.

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