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An example of great cheer leading, but it's not teaching

 

The kids seem to be entertained during this video, but I would not call this teaching.

Unfortunately, this is the only video uploaded by this teacher, which is a shame. If someone uploads one video to share what they consider their best work, and then gets slammed for it, it would make them very reluctant to share their practice with other teachers. How can we find a middle ground between attacking what is poor pedagogy, and supporting the ability of teachers to share what they do in a non-threatening environment?

Update: I finally managed to watch this whole video and I noticed another problem. In the entire 7 minutes and 17 seconds of this video, there is only about 30 seconds of anything I would consider to be of instructional value. The only time the kids could be considered to be learning something from their curriculum is when they are reciting the doubles. That's only 7% of this video.

About David

David is a Formative Assessment Specialist for Mathematics at New Visions for Public Schools in NYC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, Bangkok, and Vancouver before moving back to the United States. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.

Comments

I thought that looked pretty fun and the kids certainly know their doubles. Looking forward to you guys picking apart another successful teacher.

David Wees's picture

I get your critique, I do. Obviously this woman is working very hard.

I wonder though, would you teach chemistry by having kids yell out the names of the elements on the periodic table and chanting them in unison? Would that be "doing chemistry"?

You've posted about the Constructivist Learning lab on your blog, so surely you recognize that this teaching is not compatible with the Constructivist learning model? Does knowing your doubles equate to understanding what they mean, or why they are useful?

What does the kid say at the very end of the video? It almost sounds like "I'm a dog." That would be pretty perceptive of him/her.

I don't teach chemistry to first graders. I actually watch in wonder of the ways K-3 teachers turn slobbering gobs of goo into curious learners. To be sure, much of that happens via the development of the human but it also comes from caring teachers who know how to create organization from the chaos that are first graders. I was being only a little snarky in my comment. I really want to know your negative comments because I would probably be very awkward and even low-functioning as a teacher in the middle of these little learners. I come at this kind of "look into the classroom" as a learner and it honestly looks to me like this is an experienced and successful teacher. If you have better ideas, I am eager to learn them, too.

David Wees's picture

The basic problem here is that the kids aren't being given actual opportunities to think for themselves. This lady is a master at getting the kids to follow instructions, but it takes more than following instructions to be a successful person, even at 6 years old.

I have a nearly 5 year old son, and during his last birthday party, he had about a dozen of his 4 and 5 year old friends over. I created an activity through which the kids learned a little bit about rockets, and got to experience being "inside" a rocket for a brief amount of time. Basically, it was a cardboard box with a bunch of wires and lights attached to it, a window cut out of it, and a monitor displaying a rocket blasting off (from the perspective of someone inside the rocket), along with some "special effects" (shaking the box) at appropriate times.

The key thing is, if you do learning activities which the kids enjoy, all of this extra stuff added onto it is pretty unnecessary (for most kids). You can learn about doubles in much more interesting (to the kids) ways which also contribute to a greater understanding of a what a double is.

I think labeling this as either successful or unsuccessful teaching is the wrong approach. Clearly, this teacher is managing her class well and has her students enthusiastic about school.

However, *if* this is the main/only way that the students are learning their doubles, then there is a lot of room for improvement. After all, why is it important to teach doubles? At this age, I don't think the point is simply to be able to regurgitate the facts. I would think it would be more important to understand that 1 + 1 = 2 because, if you have one apple and another apple, you have two apples.

She is clearly experienced, but all the "you say ____" stuff is a bit uncomfortable to watch. Learning a song is first about memorization, learning number facts is about memorization at first as well. Songs are a terrific way to learn these facts. I would like to assume that this is just a demonstration of "classroom management" not really teaching. Hopefully she's just showing how call and response songs can focus attention (even if she doesn't really do any teaching once she has their attention in the video.)

This video would have been a lot better if it showed kids learning and singing 10 different, memorable, creative songs instead of a lot of filler with one short and not too memorable song toward the end.

I think it's best to chalk this one up to unfortunate editing and hope that thinking (and more efficient use of time) fill the rest of the day for these students.

...learning number facts is about memorization at first...

In my experience, the successful learning of basic arithmetic doesn't require (and is probably better off without) much intentional memorization of anything.

This story is very relevant to the idea that certain "number facts" must be memorized:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14804477

I had a very hard time watching this.

Keeping a class "under control" makes sense, but controlling them is quite another. This teacher is acting like a marionette, pulling the strings on her little toys. Certainly she has no malice or perverse intention, but in deed, it's quite the same. Is the 5th rule "keep your dear teacher happy?"

This is a 10 minute video in which the content seems to be doubles of 1-5 and stepping to syllables of a few words. Overwhelmingly the content in play is "the rules of the class and following directions." Call and response dominates the mental demands here. Surely we could get a better 10 minutes on doubling and syllable counting.

Most conspicuously, it seems all of the learning and work has been done leading up to this 10 minute video. We come to the scene and watch "classity-class" perform "the rules of the class." They end up reciting a doubling song several times that they already know!

It's only a ten minute video, but that time was taken to put these call and response and other artificial structures in place shows how central they will be to the years work with these students. And so it seems quite fair to assess this teaching style based on these few minutes.

My largest concern here is the sheer inauthenticity of this experience for anyone involved. The teacher plays some role that exists almost nowhere in society other than classrooms. The students are asked to sing songs and perform routines designed for class only. None of it resembles humanity to me.

That is what I find most perverse - a room full of human beings acting like robots.

David Wees's picture

I can see one place where this skill might be useful: learning how to synchronize dance or swim.

I wouldn't assume this is an accurate sample of what class is typically like. As Paul Solomon mentions, it appears to be all be stuff they already knew. This is less of students learning, and more of students performing. Perhaps it was made especially for the video, like how a teacher might prepare a lesson especially for an observation/evaluation. I'm not saying this as a defense or criticism against the teacher, but just to say we might not want to assume the teacher's "style" as a whole by using just this clip. I am curious what it does look like when she is actually trying to get her students to learn something. Maybe it looks the same (say and repeat), just broken down into smaller chunks hahah. But I'll withhold my assumptions for now.

A great deal of work has been done to get this kind of lock-step performance. Watch again and count the number of call and response pairs they must have memorized. The behavior management techniques we're seeing are the result of investment of class time. It is clear to me that these techniques are central to the way class will be run. No 10 minute video is worth all of that work.

David Wees's picture

I agree Paul. This kind of performance isn't possible without an enormous amount of practice. Perhaps not all of these cues are shared at the same time, but certainly each of those verbal cues took much practice, which clearly takes away from instructional time.

I watched the video and had a very different response to David's. These children are practising memorization skills by:
. repetition
. multi-modal practice (speaking/chanting, doing, watching)
. cognitive pattern making (1+1 is not just a symbol on paper but is adding 1 object to another)
. teaching each other (peer support)

I do faculty development at the university level and operate on the assumption that learning combines memorizing, higher order thinking and performing required tasks automatically. This teacher may not be teaching her students to think in this example but she is a master of making memorization fun, something very few teachers achieve. Her over-exuberant/controlling style is appropriate for the age group she is working with.

Yes, perverse is the appropriate word here, Paul. I have no further comments because I'm speechless that this video exemplifies any kind of classroom teaching. Even the Communist teachers in Vietnam weren't this cruel to us.

Your post makes me very sad. Whether or not you consider this "teaching" or even "weird" how do you know that her children are not learning? And, why did you chose to so publicly disparage her (for instance, did you find out that half of her kids failed the end of course test for 1st grade?). Or, have you used this method of teaching without success? Teachers are under enough scrutiny from the media, politicians, administrators and even parents. Yes, the repetition of the rules and even the chanting gets old to watch and listen to for me. However, the kids in her class seem engaged. And, what she is doing takes a lot of energy, and so much work. Her students are moving, chanting, singing. They are using many different learning styles, they are actively learning. Kids from the inner city often come in without a good night's sleep or even a good breakfast. It is so difficult for these young students to learn. They struggle to stay awake and alert at their desks during the day. If you really are curious about what affect this is having on students in the classroom, please check out this post http://jennybateacher.wordpress.com/category/power-teaching/.

Recently Education Week came out with an article on math anxiety in 1st and 2nd grade students from timed math lessons. They extoll the value of math fluency and criticize timed tests, but then offer zero solutions or alternative ideas. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/07/03/36boaler.h31.html?tkn=MMZFb... The children in this video are chanting and singing the doubles with doing hand motions that physically show they are adding two groups of numbers. It is not an abstract idea they have had to memorize and regurgitate on a timed test. These children look happy and very far away from math anxiety. This may not be the exact answer, but it is closer than timed tests.

This video clip is only 7 minutes of their day. But I ask you and other teachers out there, please do not judge teachers until you have been in their shoes. There are many different styles and just because it is not your style, please do not be so quick to judge. Instead of saying, "that's not teaching", let's point out what is good in the lesson so that we can all learn from it and grow better and stronger. Let's support each other.

David Wees's picture

There are lots of educational styles out there, some of which are good, some of which are bad, and some are somewhere in between. 19 US states still allow corporal punishment in schools. Does this mean that I should try out corporal punishment and see if it works with my students? No form of pedagogy should be beyond critique; it is one of the only ways in which we can improve teaching.

You are right that this clip is only 7 minutes of one day, and I am not trying to disparage the rest of what this teacher does, but this performance takes practice, it takes time to build up this kind of repetition in students. This is almost certainly not an isolated incident in this classroom.

Will these habits these students are developing lead to higher order thinking skills? What opportunity to think for themselves do these students demonstrate? I worked in a school with children with similar problems from outside the classroom, and I can assure you that I was able to deeply engage many of these children without using this type of pedagogy (I also failed to engage many of my students, so what I was doing wasn't perfect either, and I regret many of the choices I made as a starting teacher).

Also, to be clear, I have not said that these children are not learning, just that out of this 7 minutes and 17 seconds, they spent 30 seconds practicing anything related to their curricular goals, and the rest of the time practicing other skills (how to follow instructions).

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