Monthly Archives: October 2009

Pros and Cons of Block Scheduling

As time goes by education reform tends to get better and better and teachers, parents, and administrators are willing to take another look at things to better the education system for our students. While all of the new ideas like modular education, looping and block scheduling are great and may work for some schools it is important to take a look at the pros and cons of each before venturing into them. This post will discuss block scheduling.

Block scheduling or modular scheduling is meant to provide a longer time span for students in each subject. Traditional school days are usually broken into six subjects that are each given 50 minutes. Block schedules can be broken up into man different formats. One school went from a traditional day to having two days a week of traditional days and three days where the students went to four subjects for 80 minutes each. Others may use what is considered a 4X4 schedule. This is where each semester the student only has four classes. So a normal year long class is only one semester long and a semester class is only one quarter long.
Pros of block scheduling:
  • Teachers and students spend more time together each day and therefore the relationship can improve and the teacher can really understand and meet the needs of the student.
  • Longer class periods are ideal for labs and cooperative learning activities.
  • The students may retain more information because they are receiving less new information daily. They can really take the time to grasp the concept presented.
  • Overall students have less homework because they have time to do it in class.
  • With more time teachers can help students with different learning styles and special needs.
  • The longer a teacher teaches in this style the less planning it takes and the more learning can be done.
Cons of block scheduling:
  • The schedule can feel choppy and lack continuity.
  • When a day is missed in a block schedule is the equivalent of two or more days on a traditional system. This means more make up work and a student can easily get way behind.
  • For teachers on the 4X4 schedule they can feel like they don’t have enough time to fit in all of the curriculum if a normal semester course has to be done in a quarter.
  • 4X4 teachers find it difficult to cover all the information in an AP course for students.
This method of scheduling is so new that there really are not studies to prove one way or the other as far as if this works for students and teachers. As with most things it has both positives and negatives.

Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous

Grouping different students together for learning has been a teaching method used for years. Here we will discuss the difference between homogeneous grouping and heterogeneous grouping in the learning environment.

What is a homogeneous classroom? This would be a classroom where students are all at the same or similar ability level. For example, if you had a whole classroom of gifted students this would be a homogeneous classroom.
What is a heterogeneous classroom? This is the opposite of homogeneous groupings. Heterogeneous classrooms consists of students of the same grade or age but the students are distributed in a way that allows variety.
While it has been argued that there may be issues of division in the homogeneous groupings because it takes one group away from others it has to be pointed out that students should be able to learn more when they are ready for it. Only a teacher who is with the student for hours each week can assess whether or not a student could benefit from these groupings. It should also be pointed out that some students who are on grade level feel more comfortable in classes where their peers are at a somewhat equal level. This enables the student to feel like they can risk answering a question wrong when asked for their answer in a classroom setting, etc.

Pros and Cons of Looping

What is looping?

Looping is when students stay with the same teacher for two to four years. For example, students start 1st grade with Mrs. G. When the students move on to 2nd grade Mrs. G. goes with them. This continues on for up to four years. The foundation of this concept is to give the teacher and student more time together to foster that interpersonal relationship. The teacher is able to really zone in on what the needs of the student are and how to better help them with their education.
What are the pros of looping?
  • Statistics show that there were fewer absences and less disciplinary action necessary when students had been in the looping process.
  • Students have less anxiety in a new school year because they are familiar with the teacher, the teacher’s expectations and the other students in the class. This takes the fear out of the first day of school.
  • Learning can be more personalized because the teacher has has more time to get familiar with the student and to work with them.
  • The individuals in each class tend to get more support.
  • There is a great continuity from one year to the next or subject to subject because the student and teacher are familiar with each the pattern and learning styles.
  • Gives the student a chance to have stronger relationships with the teacher as well as other students.
  • Studies show that students are more willing to take risks and “think outside the box” when they have done looping.
  • Less review at the beginning of the year which means about one more month of actual instruction in new material.
  • Teachers know better how to design the following year’s curriculum based on their knowledge of the student, their needs and their learning styles.
  • Special needs students get more time with the teacher.
Cons of looping:
  • There could be a bad match between student and teacher.
  • New students may have a hard time feeling like they “fit in”.
  • Students may get too familiar with each other and that could inhibit the learning process.

Substitute Teacher Requirements

There is an ever increasing need for substitute teachers. According to the Institute of Substitute Teachers at the University of Utah 10% of all teachers, nationwide, are absent each day. This means that there is a need for over 310,000 substitutes daily across the United States. While the average substitute makes $65 per day and pays for their own lunch this is not motivation to do a really great job. However, substitutes are so necessary.

There have been claims that so many days of the certified teacher being absent is to blame for lower test scores. It is most likely very hard to know this for sure but it makes sense. Only one state requires that substitutes be certified.
Some people really love the profession of substitute teaching because of the flexibility. Seasoned substitutes may come up with some tricks that they use or things that they bring to class that they know will keep the interest of or motivate students. Also, substitutes that have been teaching for a while know that it helps to follow the lesson plans, stop any class disruptions as fast as possible, be consistent and friendly, be fair and when possible really get to know the kids on a first name basis if you are a frequent teacher.
Some things not to do when substituting in a class room are:
  • Don’t yell at the students
  • Don’t ever threaten or scream
  • Don’t ignore those that break the rules
  • Don’t insult the students
  • Don’t just sit at the desk, get up and move about the room
  • Don’t touch a student in anger
  • Don’t be negative
  • Don’t talk about your personal life
  • Don’t talk about the students outside of the school setting

Speed Reading

Speed reading is a method of reading that takes some training on the part of the reader. For the most part you could sum this method up by saying that the reader has to avoid falling into sub-vocalization of the words. This is to say that mentally you don’t sound out every word phonetically, you strictly worry about the meaning, not the letters and sounds.

The term “speed reading” was born because of Evelyn Wood in the 1950’s. Evelyn Wood was a teacher who was very inquisitive as to why some of her students were very fast readers while others were slower. She happened to be doing something where her hand slid across a page and she noticed how her eyes wanted to follow. This is how the “Wood Method” was brought about. Evelyn Wood used her hand as a guide or pacer.
There are pros and cons to speed reading. While you may get through reading something faster and possibly cover more information there is a concern that reading comprehension in speed reading is not as high.
Another method of speed reading is “skimming”. We have all probably done this from time to time. You glance through paragraphs just looking for keywords or to just get a glimpse of the gist of the information.
There are several commercial speed reading programs or curriculum on the market today. There is not data to be found as to whether or not one method is better than another. It would be wise to do your own research and figure out what program may work best with your learning style and better fit the needs you have as far as what you are trying to accomplish with speed reading. Different methods or programs may have different areas of focus.

Palm Beach County Florida Curriculum Changes

Last week at a Palm Beach County Florida an astounding number of parents arrived at the longest school board meeting in history. This meeting was over six hours long due to the fact that the majority of parents are concerned about recent changes that have come about in the curriculum of their children.

One major change is to have assessments that their students will have that are worked into the curriculum every two or three weeks instead of quarterly or by the semester. Another concern is that the school board wants to “compartmentalize” the elementary schools. This would mean that the students would go from one room to another just like older students in a junior high school or high school setting. These changes have already been put into effect in every school. There was no regard given to the schools scores or any other criteria or need for change.
One parent started a Facebook page entitled “Testing is Not Teaching”. The response has been overwhelming and change in the school district has started to take place as front pages of newspapers cover the story.
This bring to mind a few questions:
  1. Do parents know what will work for the children better than school administrators?
  2. Are we helping schools evolve? And if we are evolving is it in a direction aimed for success and the needs of the future?
  3. What can we do for those students that simply don’t test well but may have all the knowledge needed for practical application?
  4. Can we really say that education is “one size fits all”?
  5. Should gifted children have to do the same assessments as all other students?
The discussion that this brings about could go on endlessly because it is a nationwide concern. We are all worried about things like the No Child Left Behind Act and what it really means for our children. Some think that the schools doing the worst need the federal funding the most so what happens when we take away federal funding? What happens to our students?
Another note is that this is a great example of the power that parents do have to stand up and be heard. Parents need to play a more active role. There needs to be mutual respect among educators and parents. It would be good if they could just agree on wanting what was best for each child and to know that somewhere in their ideas there is a middle ground where the student benefits most and without fail a place where there is a peaceful environment would be better for any child rather than arguing and bickering about exams. This is not to say that the issues do not need to be addressed but we could all take a lesson from the Palm Beach County parents. From my findings, they have acted with true concern, they have been patient and they have tried to be respectful but assertive.

Quest to Learn

Quest to Learn has partnered with The Institute of Play to create a school for grades 6 through 12. This year the school opened it’s doors to at least 81 sixth graders. The basis for the school is cutting edge. They believe that games are a great platform for learning. It is the concept of learning by doing. The students literally take on identities in virtual worlds to become any number of things. These could include historians, mathematicians, explorers, scientists, developers, or any great thinkers. They take on these roles and learn to function in them which fosters critical thinking.

This does not mean that the students will sit around playing commercial video games all day long. The games are designed to meet all educational standards if not surpass them. These games are designed to give the student time, space and purpose to figure out complex problems. They are given the tools to succeed in the games but they have to work at it and take feedback from their social group as well as meet complex situations head on.
Some may argue that the “role playing” aspect of this is an iffy topic. But as the school states in it’s 10 Core Practices that we all take on the role of student, teacher, developer, gamer, writer, designer and producer. The great thing is that these kids will be taught that these roles in school are directly linked to their roles in life. For those wondering about the “role playing” aspect rest assured that these kids will not be taking on identities that leave them anonymous and unaccountable for what they do whether it is virtual or not.
The research backing this school is astounding. They have studies to show that most kids between 8 and 18 spend more than eight hours per day interacting with some sort of digital media. This is an astounding amount of time. If kids are learning in high school how to put these skills into something marketable that is just a bonus. Starting in 8th grade Quest to Learn will also have kids in college preparation and internships.
This school is located in New York and is publicly funded.

Saxon Math Review

Saxon math is a much studied and critiqued math curriculum. The research that has gone into this program is astounding. Saxon is based on the “instruction, practice, assessment” approach to teaching. This company was founded in 1981 and now includes the math, phonics and spelling programs. Each subject is built on the same principles of instruction, practice and assessment.

John Saxon, the founder of Saxon math, was an Algebra teacher. Saxon noticed that his students at a junior high in Oklahoma were not retaining concepts well so he started writing math problems for them. By 1979 Saxon Algebra was published in two texts. He just kept writing and molding the math concepts to different ages and in 1981 he had 20 teachers test the curriculum. This took in about 1400 students. By the end of the term the Saxon students were solving 2.6 problems for every one of the other students doing another math curriculum.
Saxon math is a well known program and most teachers, parents and students will tell you that this program gets the results that are desired. This may be because of the structure of the curriculum and the fact that it takes a general concept and then takes it apart into smaller concepts so there is a good foundation and understanding of math.
Saxon math is available for Kindergarten through the 12th grades. There are homeschool programs as well as programs for public schools and private schools.

Active Learning

Active learning is a broad term but basically it places the responsibility of learning on the actual student or learner. This became a common education theory and learning style in the 1980’s and 1990’s. There were arguments made about whether or not this learning included “practice” (promoting cognitive learning). Some said that it was crucial for students to actively engage in practice of the curriculum being taught in order to fully understand. Others ask if you can’t learn without practicing.

Bonwell and Eison were the original founders of the active learning concept. They claim that learning is done best when done in pairs. They believe that things like role playing, debating and other forms of cooperative learning are vital. There are those that think that these learning styles are best used after new information is given to a student and not as a way to introduce a new concept.
Active learning can consist of the following:
  1. Class discussion – Instructors can guide this forum of learning. The great thing about this type of activity is that with today’s technology you can do this online or in a classroom environment.
  2. Think-pair-share – Students are presented with information and then given time to think about the new information. Later they are paired or put in a group discussion where they can share thoughts and ideas. When this it done the instructor can listen in and see if the students have assimilated the information correctly. If not, the instructor can clear up any misconceptions.
  3. Short written exercise – This can be as little as a paper that takes just a minute to write. This is a great way for teachers to gather whether or not each individual has gotten the correct concept or grasped the knowledge.
Proponents of active learning have concerns about “practicing” when learning. The idea of problem solving has a negative side to it that can make things hard on learners.

Learning By Teaching

At first glance you may think that learning by teaching is as simple as having a student teach another student. However, it is much more complex and here we will briefly discuss what learning by teaching entails.

For hundreds of years people have known that we learn when we teach. This is not a new concept. For the regular teacher of a class this may be a hard thing to let students do as the teacher may feel as though they have had to give up some control. Actually the opposite is true. The regular teacher has to be so in tune with the curriculum being offered that no matter who is presenting it the regular teacher stands ready to intervene and finish the thought, concept or activity that goes with the lesson. It isn’t like teachers ask students to do the teaching so that they can have the afternoon off.
The other misconception that may arise is that learning by teaching is the same as tutoring. This is not true. Learning by teaching is actually giving over a lesson of new material to the student and having the student do immense preparation at work so that they can then present the course work to the class on a high level of interaction and discussion. The information should be new so that the teaching student is actually learning something in depth. If the information were old it would be like any one teaching someone else to brush their teeth, none of us would learn something new from this, we would just be modeling a behavior or task. These are very different situations.
There is a model of learning by teaching called LdL by Martin. This began in the 1980’s with foreign language. This is a great medium for this type of teaching as are individual music lessons. Martin’s method is different from that information above in that he did not believe that new information be presented but that the students be broken up into small groups to discuss and do activities having to do with the lesson.
In these little group you could say that the actual teacher is taking an inventory of what the student’s actually know about a concept. They expect everyone else in the group to be absolutely silent while each student takes a term talking about what they know. Unless there are interruptions to clear up the teacher has to stand back and just let the group be. This can be very hard because a teacher may want to interject but that is not what the group is for. The teacher basically becomes a facilitator for group learning.
After a concept is discussed in this manner then a new concept is introduced by the student that is teaching. After the concept is presented the student that is teaching provides time and activities to help the other students memorize the necessary material. Then they are to give the students ample work to do at home. Martin believes that the homework is a necessary component in reinforcing what was learned.
No matter the method used in learning by teaching it is just common sense that we all have opportunities to prepare material and activities and then to present such things to our peers. This is priceless experience for students. Then the student has not just thoroughly learned a new lesson but they have preparation skills, public speaking experience, and other great experiences that are just as key as the lesson material itself. It is also good for all students to accept the fact that a peer can impart new information or ideas. It is just a way of showing respect to others.