Myths some teachers (apparently) believe

Ok, that’s an alarmist title, because it’s only a few teachers, but these are some of the ones teaching my kids, and it’s mind-numbing.  These are either things I heard myself at Back to School Night, or through my kids.  And they’re just crazy!

So, what am I talking about?  Let me elaborate:

So, one says that the way to learn science is to learn the formulas.  Um, no.  If you learn the formulas doesn’t mean you actually can solve problems. You need to solve problems with them!  And, frankly, I don’t care if you memorize the formulas, if you look it up it’s just fine. But this is leading to a focus on rote memorization, not meaningful learning.

The same teacher also says that learning is individual, that students shouldn’t spend their time copying off the one person who does the work.  What a horrible belief in kids!  Yes, they might do it, but there are plenty of ways to structure the process so that learners have to contribute. And there are substantial cognitive benefits from learners working together.

This teacher did tout the success of her students on tests.   Standard, abstract, rote problems unlike kids will actually face. Yes, the system is currently structured to reward that outcome, but it’s not what I want, nor what we should value.  The fact that she believes standard test results means much of anything isn’t really helpful.

A second teacher seems to believe examples aren’t useful.  This teacher is presenting the concepts in class, and then assign practice at home. What’s missing are meaningful examples of applying the concepts to problems. Um, examples help.  The kids aren’t seeing the concepts mapped to concepts, nor the underlying thinking that makes examples useful!  And can we say ‘flipped classroom’?

To compound the problem, the kids are supposed to have access to the corrected assignments, but the answers are being posted after 9PM at nite or later, when there’s a quiz the next day!  This isn’t sufficient feedback to support comprehension and performance!  Apparently this teacher isn’t convinced of the value of timely feedback.

Finally, I found out one of my kids was working this weekend on a coloring project.  The teacher apparently is laboring under a delusion that in coloring in some diagram or map, the learner will internalize the spatial relationships and map those to the underlying conceptual relationships.  But it’s a pretty low chance, and we have far better exercises to achieve that goal.  My suspicion, of course, is that this is to have pretty room when parents visit, but if so, I think the teacher bloody well ought to buy decorations, and not keep my child from enjoying the weekend to make the teacher’s room pretty.

I really wish teachers had to read, understand, and apply cognitive apprenticeship. It, to me, is essentially the best model for guiding teaching.  What I’m seeing is violating all sorts of basic learning principles.

Ok, let’s be fair, this is 3 out of 10 or so teachers, but they’re my kids, and it’s too many for any other kids, too.  And I did contact the principal via email with all but the last, and he was kind enough to call me, but the end result is that nothing is going to change because there’s nothing really that can be done.  There are teachers who care, and some who are doing great jobs, it’s just that for such a critical job of preparing the future, we really should be doing better. So, am I overreacting?

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