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Teach the kids you have: there is no substitute for getting to know every student.

I OFTEN TEACH IN "TROUBLED" schools and work with at-risk kids. I do so because the indomitable in·dom·i·ta·ble  
Incapable of being overcome, subdued, or vanquished; unconquerable.

[Late Latin indomit
 spirit and untapped potential of the children inspire me. Children reinforce my core belief in kid power and teach me a great deal about tolerance, resiliency and the human spirit.

Some teachers ask me, "What do you think of our kids?" The implication is that their children are damaged in some way. When kids create a body of work demonstrating their latent ingenuity and habits of mind, educators are quick to explain away such success. At times I'm accused of being a magic teacher. Occasionally educators notice that a particular topic interested students, or adequate time was provided, or a safe environment for risk-taking was created, or sufficient materials were available, or the work was relevant, challenging or fun. Some or all of these variables may have contributed to learning, but the institutional response is to invoke theories for excusing sclerotic sclerotic /scle·rot·ic/ (skle-rot´ik)
1. hard or hardening; affected with sclerosis.

2. scleral.

1. Affected or marked by sclerosis.
 teaching practices. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, theories are employed to explain why student learning is aberrational.

Great educators are well versed in learning theories and have a huge bag of pedagogical ped·a·gog·ic   also ped·a·gog·i·cal
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of pedagogy.

2. Characterized by pedantic formality: a haughty, pedagogic manner.
 tricks at their fingertips "Fingertips" is a 1963 number-one hit single recorded live by "Little" Stevie Wonder for Motown's Tamla label. Wonder's first hit single, "Fingertips" was the first live, non-studio recording to reach number-one on the Billboard Pop Singles chart in the United States. . Theory provides an invaluable context for understanding and articulating one's practice. However, way too many educational theories are used as diagnostic dead-ends that do little to improve the young people in our charge. Too often, such theories are used to excuse why students can't learn.

Multiple Ways In, One Way Out

When traditionally unsuccessful students experience success, some educators offer explanations like, "She must be a visual learner" or "He must be more kinesthetic kin·es·the·sia  
The sense that detects bodily position, weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints.

[Greek k
." This refers to Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory, which demonstrated that everyone learns differently.

Educators commonly apply Gardner's theory in one of two ways, both of which are wrong. They determine a student's dominant intelligence or learning style and then teach everything in that way to build upon a student's strength, or they teach nothing that way to develop other intelligences. Too often, the emphasis is on what the teacher does to the student as opposed to how to create the conditions for learning. Singing to a musical learner or drawing pictures for a visual learner confuse teaching with learning and shift agency away from the student. I often sense that schools tolerate various nontraditional learning styles but harbor suspicion that they are inferior to the classic "sit-down-and-shut-up" method.

Is a student defined by one learning style? Does that style apply to every task at any time of day and across all disciplines? Is "morning person" a learning style?

The problem with classifying students isn't the form of diagnosis; it is the idea that humans need to be classified at all. Do we really help children by taking them out of their old boxes and sorting them into new ones?

Our obsession with finding mechanistic explanations for human behavior is time consuming. We can spend time on diagnosis with little left for actually collaborating with students in meaningful learning adventures. Classrooms are not sterile laboratories where a change in one variable reliably predicts an outcome. Good teaching and learning are far more fluid, serendipitous ser·en·dip·i·ty  
n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·ties
1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.

2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.

3. An instance of making such a discovery.
 and personal.

Differentiated Instruction Differentiated instruction (sometimes referred to as differentiated learning) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning. It involves teachers using a variety of instructional strategies that address diverse student learning needs.  

Districts spend a fortune hiring consultants to train teachers in differentiated instruction. However, it is dishonest and dangerous to acknowledge the obvious and then invent schemes through which kids are taught the very same skills and content in various ways. Teaching 10-year-olds to divide fractions is torturous and useless even if you sing, dance, chat or bake cookies while doing so. Such differentiated instruction too often focuses on what the teacher does, leaves the curricular content unchallenged, and forces kids to your destination, regardless of their path. That troublesome scenario represents the best case. Too often, failure to achieve an objective in the allotted al·lot  
tr.v. al·lot·ted, al·lot·ting, al·lots
1. To parcel out; distribute or apportion: allotting land to homesteaders; allot blame.

 time leads to lower grades or other punitive sanctions.

A teacher who reads, engages in professional activities outside of class, and knows each student will help them progress forward. Students grow when the adults around them dare to know them and cherish their individual gifts. When schools embrace theories dividing people into different piles, interest is maintained by inventing new categories. New intelligences are discovered. You can spend your career keeping up with the latest intervention strategy or excuse for failure. Alternatively, you can teach the kids you have.

Hear Gary Stager speak at the following conferences:

January 25-27, 2008 Educon 2.0 Philadelphia, Pa.

February 22-24, 2088 National Association of Secondary School Principals The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is a United States educational advocacy organization consisting of secondary school principals. To promote excellence among middle school and high school students, NASSP founded and still sponsors the National Honor  San Antonio, Texas “San Antonio” redirects here. For other uses, see San Antonio (disambiguation).
San Antonio is the second most populous city in Texas, the third most populous metropolitan area in Texas, and is the seventh most populous city in the United States. As of the 2006 U.S.

March 5, 2008 Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning Conference Grand Rapids Grand Rapids, city (1990 pop. 189,126), seat of Kent co., SW central Mich., on the Grand River; inc. 1850. The second largest city in the state, it is a distribution, wholesale, and industrial center for an area that yields fruit, dairy products, farm produce, , Mich.

March 6-8, 2008 Computer-Using Educators Conference Palm Springs, Calif.

March 9-12, 2008 COSN K-12 School Networking Conference Crystal City, Va.

March 20, 2008 Math, Science and Technology Conference Clarkson University Clarkson participates in student exchange programs with many schools in Europe and Australia. One example is the University of Leicester in the UK where students who are studying engineering come to Clarkson for a year as part of one of the exchange programs. , Potsdam, N.Y.

March 24-27, 2008 Texas Distance Learning Association Conference Galveston, Texas
"Galveston" redirects here. For the town in the U.S. state of Indiana, see Galveston, Indiana.
Galveston is a city and the seat of Galveston County located along the Gulf Coast region in the U.S.

May 3, 2008 18th Annual CHILD Conference for the Institute for School Innovation West Palm Beach, Fla.

June 29, 2008 Constructivist con·struc·tiv·ism  
A movement in modern art originating in Moscow in 1920 and characterized by the use of industrial materials such as glass, sheet metal, and plastic to create nonrepresentational, often geometric objects.
 Consortium Celebration San Antonio, Texas

June 30-July 2, 2008 National Educational Computing Conference San Antonio, Texas

Gary S. Stager,, is senior editor of DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION and editor of The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate (www.
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Title Annotation:SPEAKING OUT
Author:Stager, Gary
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2008
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