Oct 28, 2009

the achievement gap

I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of how to close the achievement gap lately… it's a hot topic both in my graduate work, and in my school district and I’m thinking that a TPRS classroom is a wonderful solution.

First, we do not expect students to come to us with certain pre-set study skills. They do not need to know the typical classroom game to succeed.

Second, we expect each student to come to us as he or she is, and it is incumbant upon us to get to know them. When we personalize the classroom, we are breaking down some of these stereotypical role models that have been forced upon us as a society.

When we allow our students to have input into the discussions, class is relevant to them. I cannot begin to explain how much I have learned this year alone about different artists. Lil Wayne is the cutest thing many of my students have ever seen. The fact that I do not care for him is of no importance in a TPRS classroom, my students do and so we talk about him.

In a TPRS classroom we don’t have all the preformulated activities in which we ask students to discuss and write about the physical appearance of all the white students with different colored hair and eyes.

Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to convey culture and language. Stories are universal - every culture tells stories. We are able to step outside of the boundaries of school and step into something familiar.

And, I think, TPRS is an excellent way to sneak in some of the skills our students have missed along the way. Critical thinking skills? Sure, let’s talk about what is going to happen, or why did this event happen, what could have happened instead, how did the other person feel, etc. Reading comprehension? Sure, let’s go so slowly that everybody knows exactly what we are doing. Here’s how we read. Pleasure reading? Well, if we are doing SSR or kindergarten day, then our students are exposed to reading for the sake of reading. No exams, no notes, just reading. And on a simpler level than what they are expected to do in other classes. Here we have pictures, and props, and we circle until everybody understands everything. Here we don’t allow for failure.

Does it solve every problem? I sure wish that teaching through TPRS could solve all the world’s problems. Sadly, problems and tensions still exist. But how much more compounded would those problems be if we asked students to sit still for 86 minutes at a time and open their books and complete activities 4, 6, 11 and 17 in their workbooks without ever asking them who they were or how they were and never caring if they failed? If we just assumed they were failing because they are too lazy to study?

1 comment:

  1. At-risk students tend to be a "hothouse flower" group in terms of educational success. This is reflected typically in the data of black students and also free lunch students.

    They are the hardest to teach--the first to fail and the hardest to reach, educationally. Rich white and Asian kids learn because they are wealthy and from a background that values education. If they begin failing, the parents will teach them themselves or will hire tutors.

    There's nothing special about teaching methods that let low-SES kids REALLY succeed (and I'm not talking here about changing methods of evaluation so that a wishy-washy fake grade can replace actual success). It's just called good teaching. Period. There's nothing special about the black mind or the poor mind or whatever. It's just that some kids have parents who don't care if they fail--or even all but demand that they fail!--while others have parents who will do anything to assure success.

    Take a look at what adopting TERC mathematics does to the standardized scores of black students. It's constructivist and modern, promising to remove all advantages gained by white kids by avoiding standard algorithms and teaching methods. Instead, though its poor teaching, it sabotages the learning of all but the very most advantaged students by replacing fake standards for real learning benchmarks.


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