Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bilingual Education, Part III--Progressive Education

From 10/2/02:

The reading for tonight's class was about methods of teaching English learners (EL's). The chapter had the following subdivisions: Passive Learning; Active, Inquire-Based Learning; Cooperative Learning; Accelerated Learning; Critical Pedagogy; and Weaving It All Together. The author took everything bad from progressive education and put it in this chapter, and every once in awhile would say, "And this works for English Learners, too." I was frustrated while reading it and made several points in class.

Here are a few brilliant excerpts, with commentary:

"Essential to this approach is the view of the learner as responsible for discovering, constructing, and creating something new, and the view of the teacher as a resource and facilitator."

"Research examining language-minority student performance in bilingual, ESL, and grade-level classes taught through collaborative discovery learning using meaningful, cognitively complex, interdisciplinary content has found that active learning accelerates language-minority students' academic growth, leading to eventual high academic performance comparable to or exceeding that of native English speakers." In the army I learned that the more adjectives you needed when naming a type of training (high quality, realistic, dynamic training) the more likely it
is that you're blowing smoke. Oh, and part of this cognitively complex, interdisciplinary technique was making posters.

"The more linguistically and culturally diverse the children, the more closely teachers must relate academic content to a child's own environment and experience." Why? What does linguistic or cultural diversity have to do with this?

"The more diverse the children, the more integrated the curriculum should be. That is, multiple content areas...." Why?

"The more diverse the children, the greater the need for active rather than passive endeavors, particularly informal social activities such as group projects...."

How's your stomach? Here's more:

"Students participating in a two-way bilingual program derive even greater benefits from the use of cooperative learning." They may get conversational/social language from each other, but probably not the academic language they need to succeed in school. If they did, there'd be no such thing as "playground English".

"The perspective, still dominant in many U.S. classrooms, that we need to teach basic skills before students can move into more cognitively complex work is no longer supported by most current research." When some challenged me on the "current research" comment, I replied that the author is wrong and welcomed them to show me such research. In the meantime, I'd show them California's content standards!

And here's my favorite. "How, then, can teachers prepare cognitively complex lessons that are multidimensional? We do it through celebrating life in all its complexity...." I'm blowing up the party balloons as we speak.

I brought in an email from a friend of mine who learned Czech at the Defense Language Institute, telling me how he was taught in one of the country's (world's?) most capable language schools. Not a lick of group learning to be had, it was all direct instruction. Fluent enough to monitor and translate military radio broadcasts (imagine the jargon!) in 18 months.

I discussed how calculators don't allow in-depth understanding; on the contrary, they allow only superficial understanding. Knowing multiplication tables to automaticity breeds understanding of division, reduction of fractions, estimation, etc. Knowing how trig functions are developed breeds understanding, whereas pushing the "sin" or "cos" button on a calculator does not.

I suggested that we just hand the car keys over to students at 16 since they've been around cars all their lives anyway and have plenty of prior knowledge to activate. They can teach each other cooperatively! I played up Jerry Rice's records in the NFL--and noted that his teammates say Jerry is the hardest worker on the team at practice. Don't teach music; give the kid a trombone and let him discover and release his creativity.

A few seemed to get the picture. You could see them mulling over the inconsistencies.

You know what the others were saying and thinking--all emotion, no logic.

We have a long way to go in our teacher preparation programs.


Phyllis S said...

I think you're younger than me, but not by much. Amazing, isn't it, that we learned any damn thing at all in our 'direct instruction', non-cooperative learning environments? Actually, it was cooperative, come to think of it. We cooperated by sitting our butts in our seats and doing the work the teacher assigned.

Darren said...

That's right, Phyllis. We cooperated with the teachers!

Some day I'll write a blog entry about Mrs. Barton, my third grade teacher. Amazing teacher. Superteacher.

If I don't do so before too long, please remind me.