Rethinking Learning
conversations about the future of teaching and learning
Barbara Bray
be creative, innovate, take risks, unlearn to learn
Oakland, CA

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Importance of Critical Thinking Skills
By Barbara Bray    October 14, 2007 -- 08:37 AM

I just read "Changing the way we think about learning" article in the SF Chronicle by Linda Hammond-Darling.

One of the central lessons of No Child Left Behind is that if school sanctions are tied to test scores, the testing tail can wag the schooling dog. And a key problem for the United States is that most of our tests aren't measuring the kinds of 21st century skills we need students to acquire and that are at the core of curriculum and assessment in high-achieving countries.

While a debate rages about whether our tests should be created at the national or state level, this argument is focused on the wrong issue.

I really appreciate this article by Hammond-Darling and hope that the right people are reading it. The issue not mentioned is how the No Child Left Behind bill has impacted a whole generation of students and parents. Consider that now most K-5 families only know teaching to the test. That most teachers teach to the test. Higher Ed prepares teachers to teach prescriptive scripts via textbooks that are based on what is taught on the tests, how to manage students to answer tests. This article explains the importance of performance assessment like those used in other countries.

How soon can reauthorization of NCLB encourage us to incorporate critical thinking skills to help our children become more globally competitive?

Reauthorization of NCLB

The Committe on Education and Labor with Representatives George Miller, and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, Chairman and Senior Republican of the Committee releases the Miller-McKeon NCLB Discussion Draft.

Background information on NCLB from Hoover Institution

In the early 90's, there was an emphasis in poor urban schools to bring in LMS (Learning Management Systems) labs with interactive drill and kill educational games. Many of these labs were administered by assistants and you could walk in seeing very young poor children with headsets interacting with the computer and not each other. In the beginning, the enthusiasm of the students was apparent and their scores rose. Then several months into these activities, scores leveled and decreased. I watched the students at this time in Oakland, just hit any button, answer any question. It was fun in the beginning but it didn't matter to them anymore.

This is starting to happen with the tests. It doesn't matter to the students. Memorizing facts is more like a game to them but now the game is getting old.

My concern is that many of our veteran teachers who are constructivists and know how to encourage critical thinking have been beaten down. Many good teachers have left the profession. I talked to several K-3 parents in a pretty good school in Oakland and they only know teaching to the test, using prescriptive scripts. The teachers used to have class sets of prize winning books and now use one book from the adopted textbook that includes summaries of stories kind of like a Readers Digest version. This is bigger than just reauthorizing a bill and expecting teachers to change overnight.

Many of our poor children come from families that do not read or own books. We need to get books back into these families. Schools cannot change the family. What if schools are more like a community hub where families, businesses, and other organizations can pull together to save their children?

Categories: "Nclb" "George Miller" "Change" "Community" "Future"

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By small Cheryl Vitali      October 17, 2007 -- 07:19 AM
This is a real problem in our schools today. The only way I have managed to stay in the profession is to constantly juggle myself into the type of teaching position where I have more freedom over my decision making and teaching.  I do not think I wiould be able to stay in the classroom and have such systematic rigor stuffed down my throat. I see the teachers I work with still manage to keep some of what I have seen in the past, but it gets harder and harder for them. They are not encouraging young people to get into the teaching profession.  It makes me wonder about the new teachers who do, are they willing to be more complacent in what they expect? 

I do not see all the principles of NCLB as futile, I just think the measures of what they are expecting are unrealistic and not reflective of real life skills.  I like the philosophy of the late Marie Clay, whose research developed Reading Recovery and dared to ask, ponder, and get educators to think is it possible that 15% of our youth do not have to struggle with literacy. Can that be reduced to half of one percent?  Her revolutionary vision is possible and does happen, funny though, only recently has it received the acolades that it deserves and it was not part of NCLB. For one thing, it does not fit into any neat prescriptive, scribed, packaged and produced product. Thus no one in corporate America will profit greatly from implementation. It does require intense dedication and teachers constantly willing to grow and willing to work with each child to help them discover the power and fluency of literary with no one given pathway to the task.  And it really works. Each year I start with children that I think I am supposed to have at what level in 12-20 weeks?  And I see them blossom.  Now that makes a lot of sense. What would be possible in the classroom if more Reading Recovery teacherrs were supported nationwide and by the time children reached 2nd grade they truly had the literacy skills they need to transfer into multiple directions?  That would be closing the achievement gap and make the principles of high standards accessible to all.

But wait, how can we measure this?  Well believe it or not it can be, it still isn't just a test that really proves it over time as well as many measures, formal and informal that shows how much they are achieving.  Too bad this isn't what is being authorized. 

Hopefully the legilature will consider supporting more of this type of outstanding education and totally revamp, revise, and dare we hope to kick out NCLB?  I sort of doubt the last will happen, I just hope the first two do.

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