Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogging Frenzy

I have to admit, I am taking a small part of satisfaction at the blogging frenzy that I had a small part in starting off.

Dennis asked me if I knew of any teachers who had implemented DI.

It must of started him wondering, because he decided to ask his readers about it.

As I indicated earlier, it is hard to find anyone who is more critical of American education than KDerosa, and much of his criticism is centered around his belief that we are using the wrong teaching methods, especially at the elementary level. I would love to hear from any elementary school teachers who know more about Direct Instruction than I do. I'd especially like to hear from teachers who have used Direct Instruction after using other methods. I would also love to hear from teachers or administrators who know why so few elementary schools use this method. It is a mystery to me why I've heard so much about Direct Instruction from parents, like KDerosa and Rory, and so little about it from teachers.
After that it snowballed. Joanne wonders about the same thing as Dennis.

RedKudu notes that the education system is biased against DI. (I just discovered RedKudu, but it is an excellent blog).

This is how I was taught I should be suspicious of direct instruction styles, and why I believe many teachers may not be aware of what direct instruction is, especially if they're getting the same information I did. The teacher-centered classroom, I was told, is also sometimes called "direct instruction." Did the presenter have a grudge or some bias? Probably. Was the info misused, or misinterpreted at the meeting I attended? Possibly. But the school latched onto it, we were told to latch onto it, and two schools later, three grades higher, we're still being told this is the way to go even as grades slump, kids drop out, and the minimum skills expectations are lowered every year to make up for the achievement gap.
Liz over at I Speak of Dreams also wonders about DI.

Meanwhile, in the comments of Dennis and Joanne's original posts, debates take place, questions are asked, and everyone comes out a little bit smarter.

Some highlights from the Trenches:

The Guru KEdRosa says: "Here's my theory. The powers that be in education and schools of education are in ignore mode when it comes to DI. At first they tried criticising it and that didn't work so well because it has a large research base with thousands of students showing that it does work better than what the ed schools were peddling. So now they're resigned to just pretending it doesn't exist."

Amen Brother!

ElementaryHistoryTeacher notes that teachers secretly use "di" without permission.

Dennis starts to get pissed off: "After having done the work to earn a Masters a few years ago, and never hearing about Direct Instruction once during that process, while having some other stuff thrown at me that was pure crap, this makes me a little angry."

Ms. BlueBird notes the obvious: "So, if I'm to understand this correctly, for DI to work the class must be at the same level. Yet at the same time, ability grouping is frowned upon big time."

Ms Teacher from California Live Wire, finally acknowledges she is ultimately responsible for everything, and updates her readers on her experiences with DI.

Like a typical teacher she bemoans that it takes away from her creativity, but acknowledges:
So, overall I've been impressed with the growth I've seen in most of my students. Like I said before, some of them used to hate to read and now, they enjoy it. They understand what they are reading and are able to apply it. Much of my criticism has nothing to do with the program itself; rather it has to do with my District's reluctance to do what they promised to do.
Mean while over at Joannes:

Winston Smith says that his students are begging for explicit instruction.

Anna sums up the argument nicely.
I have used Reading Mastery, Engelman’s DI program for teaching reading. At first I did not like it because I did not enjoy teaching from a script. I became a convert when I saw how effectively it taught students how to read. I think sometimes we forget that things which are boring for teachers are exciting for little kids. It would have been more fun for me to work with storybooks and whole language, no question, but I had to remember that the lesson aim wasn’t to entertain me as a teacher — it was to teach students how to read.
Anna... if you read this... start blogging.

Larry Strauss thinks teachers should see themselves as artists. (Funny me. I thought teachers wanted to be considered professionals.)

Dave is all up on Larry Strauss and spouts the usual gobbly gook, and then manages to do the Vulcan mind meld on DI and Discovery Learning.
If DI includes all of rhese components and allows children to explore at times and tackle unstructured open-ended questions for which there is no clear blueprint for solution, then I applaud DI and I guess I’ve been using it all along. If ‘Discovery Learning’ includes all of these components, then I guess I’ve been using it all along and I applaud that too.
Larry seems to get a bit mixed up about what DI really is, but luckily Ken sets him straight.

Larry thanks Ken and asks some questions. Kens answers them.

Coincidentally, this blogosphere conversation happens at the same time as Zig Englemann releases the 5th chapter of his book on Project Follow Through. Zig describes how despite evidence to the contrary, the education establishment does everything in its power to maintain the status quo and repress DI. See D-EdReckoning for a review and summary.

Crossposted at my KTM II.


ms-teacher said...

I'm just curious. Do you think creativity is a bad thing? I have a colleague who last week hosted an Egyptian museum with her 6th graders. They made mummies, sarcophaguses, pyramids, funeral masks and other wonderful items. Imo, I think that this experience was just as valuable as any I've done in my Direct Instruction classes. This wasn't done in isolation, rather it was done as part of their learning about ancient Egypt. Parents were invited to attend the museum, the students acted as curators, and all were very excited about the work they had done.

I think creativity does have a role in helping students to learn, but not at the expense of their learning. I hope that you would agree.

Parentalcation said...

Hi Ms Teacher,

I do not think creativity is a bad thing. I think instilling creativity is an essential part of education. I also think that teachers should have the freedom to be creative with supplementing their lessons.

I compare it to other professions (I truly believe that teachers are professionals). Police officers may be creative when solving cases, but 99% of their profession is based on established procedures.

Doctors may be creative/innovative when coming up with new uses for drugs, but the vast majority of their jobs is based on established diagnosis and treatment.

Accountants may be creative when coming up with tax strategies, but ... ok bad example.

My issue is when teachers think that they have to constantly reinvent the wheel. Every lesson has to be a creative endeaver. The purpose of schools is not to provide teachers with a venue to display their creativity. The purpose of schools (K-12) is to teach kids.

Unfortunately, creativity has become a "buzz" word in education that means "ignoring established procedures" regardless of whether those established procedures are the most effective method to impart knowledge.

Also... in your given experience: I am sure that the kids had fun making mummies, etc... but did they learn anything more about Egyptian culture, other than its "cool".

I am willing to bet that you could of taught more "facts" about Egyptian culture (history, historical context, etc...) in the time it took to make all the props.

Now I am not saying that stuff like that isn't needed to break up the monotony of school. But I took field trips, and I did projects, and I recognize them for what they were... a break from learning, a diversion.

For example I have spent hours helping my kids complete science projects and I know for a fact that if I quizzed them right now about what the scientific method is, they would mention the word hypothesis but truly have no understanding of it's underlying purpose. I am also positive that this is true of the vast majority of other students across the nation that do annual science projects.

Parentalcation said...

Update: I just asked my 6th grader on what the scientific method is and what its purpose was.

Her reply: I don't know, I don't think anyone knows.

She has straight "A"s in science for the last two years. She completed her "A+" science project two weeks ago.

ms-teacher said...

Just so you know, it was a colleague of mine who had the Egyptian museum. None of the "props" were done in class, rather it was done as a long-term homework assignment.

And, your daughter's response doesn't surprise me. In the district I teach in, Science and History has almost been entirely cut from the elementary curriculum due to high stakes testing. Even my students in the three hour REACH program (Direct Instruction curriculum) do not receive History or Science at all as 6th graders. Students in the middle tier (strategeic) receive a half a year of science and history. The only group to receive a full year of history and science are those at grade-level (benchmark) students

This was not the decision of teachers. This was the decision of our administrators.

Parentalcation said...

I understood about the Egyptian project, being your coworker and not yours.

I suspect there were quite a few parents who didn't appreciate the homework assignment to make mummies and pryamids.

My 6th graders school has not cut science and history. Her lack of understanding is caused by poor teaching... not lack of teaching.

I fully agree that administrators are accountable for what happens in their schools.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against teachers. You would probably find me one of the most involved and supportive parents you have ever had.

My issue is with the system. I am not a "replace public schools with private school vouchers" sort of guy.

I have five kids who I love. I spend and average of 3 hours a night supplementing their education and ensuring their homework has been completed.

It is obvious that most home "projects" don't teach anything. They waste time and put unrealistic demands on kids/parents.

I also think that you as a middle school teacher are a bigger victim of the system that I am. I am capable of making up for lack of mastery with my kids. You see 100's of kids who should of learned how to read and perform arithmetic in elementary school.

I am really surprised sometimes that HS and middle school teachers aren't the biggest advocates of school reform. Imagine how enjoyable it would be teaching kids if all of them were up to grade level in the basics when you received them.

Thank you for the debate.

Independent George said...

I was thinking about the artists analogy, and there might be something to it (though pehaps not in the way intended). Larry Strauss closes his comment with, "We too ought to see ourselves as artists. The great ones never worry that they are or are not in fashion." That got me thinking specifically about the French academy painters - who have indeed spent the last century out of fashion in the art world despite their undeniable talents, for hauntingly familiar reasons.

The academy painters peaked in popularity in the mid-to-late 19th century. It was not just acknowledged masters such as Bouguereau, but was true of the movement as a whole. For the first time in history, artists were routinely matching, sometimes even exceeding, the quality of masters such as Raphael or Rembrandt.

By the turn of the century, though, they had fallen out of favor amongst the elites, in favor of the avant-garde. The technical mastery and painstaking attention to detail which characterized their work suddenly became liabilities; spontaneity and 'authenticity' became the order of the day. The years of study and practice required of the academic style were derided as unnatural and mechanistic. The art schools became uniformly abstact expressionist; the whole notion of form, technique, and method were more or less abandoned.

Now, I understand that art is, by definition, a subjective enterprise, and that my own preferences for classical realism is in no way an objective analysis of the merits of one style over the other. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that the classical realism of the French academy did not simply fall out of favor, but its very values were derided and ridiculed in the exact same way that things such as DI or Singapore Math are today.