Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: Highly Effective Questioning

On the lookout for good Socratic education books, I stumbled upon Highly Effective Questioning: How and Why to Ask Questions in the K-16 Classroom by G. Ivan Hannel. It's a short textbook, less than 200 pages, and I flew through it.

Hannel absolutely confirmed my thoughts about last week's lesson to my peers, so I'm glad to say that I was on the right track!

I also noticed that it conflicted directly with a few things I'm being taught at the university, particularly where tests are concerned. In public schools, we teach students test-taking skills to better prepare them for assessments. If assessments weren't necessary, as implied in Highly Effective Questioning, we wouldn't teach test-taking strategies but learning strategies.

At any rate, what follows is my notes from reading. It was a wonderful read, and I found myself writing and quoting a lot! Thus, I think I'll put them under a cut.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Teaching Reading

I got into a conversation with my husband today about teaching children to read. A lot of alternative schools don't--Waldorf, Regio Emilia, Montessori for the most part. They don't sit down with the students and have reading lessons. More, they teach the love of reading and allow the children to pick it up on their own or come to the adult to ask for help "when they are ready."

For some reason, I was thinking about this and asked my husband for his thoughts.

He did not approve.

"It has taken us thousands of years to get where we are today," was his response, in essence. "It took us thousands of years to develop oral language, thousands more to be able to write it down, and now, finally, we are at the point where we can teach it immediately. The basics of letters and numbers are taught for an entire year (kindergarten) because they are such an important basis upon which the entirety of our education system exists. If we neglect to teach reading properly, children must forever afterwards read through cargo culting."

Cargo cult - a term used for the act of applying something that is not entirely understood.

I guess that means we'll personally be teaching out own children the rules of reading and spelling. It's just that English, being a pidgin language, has so many of them, and so many exceptions. It's a nice fantasy to say that explaining all the rules and exceptions would just confuse children, and that they'll pick everything up just fine on their own.

But what about how the differences in reading between Montessori-, Waldorf-, and Regio Emilia-educated children and children from a public school background disappear by graduation? This is what I've heard, but I suppose I don't have any research to back it up.

Little did I know that all of this spawned in the back of my mind from the 30 hours I've had with the third grade class I'm student teaching this year. Their classroom teacher maintains that they are exceptionally "low" and is scrambling to prepare them for state assessments in the spring. We both know that many of them will not pass, and I'm worried about the kind of stigma that must come with that. Not passing a test that everyone says is so important, being classified as "low," and coming to think of yourself as dumb or inadequate. These are sweet kids, and I don't want that for them. I guess in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, "If these children weren't in a public school, they wouldn't have to go through this. It wouldn't be such a big deal that they don't have any number sense because they'll pick it up when they're ready. By the time they graduate, all the difference between them and other students will have disappeared."

Now that I know where all my thoughts stemmed from, I can focus on that. I suppose I need to figure out a way to keep my third graders this year to keep from feeling the pressure the state assessments are going to put on them.