Friday, June 29, 2007

A fly on the wall in the Nex-Gen debate

I came across this great blog today. I love that it gives me a quick glimpse into the musings of young educators and their real life application of the stuff schools of ed are peddling lately. If you root around the blog a bit (read the comments too) you just might be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

Where Are The Nex-Gen Math Teachers? blogger Dan shares some pretty insightful thoughts that are worth repeating here for I suspect a very different audience

I only ask on account of my impression that math, maybe more than any other secondary subject, lends itself least to this self-directed, participatory culture promoted by the next-gen crowd. ... It should go without saying that lecturing isn't necessarily an effort to make the teacher feel smarter, more powerful, to subjugate her kids, or any of the other whack motivations next-gen teachers throw around in an concerted effort to get uninvited from my birthday party.


I lecture — and by "lecture" I mean short bursts; five animated, image-heavy minutes max before I have my Algebra kids getting dirty with numbers — only because I believe it's the least frustrating way for them to learn a wide breadth of material well. Nothing more sinister than that.

But my kids come in Below Basic and Far Below Basic, unhappy and unconfident math students. The next-gen strategy, as best as I understand it, is to put them in charge of their learning, hand them the textbooks, get them on the Internet making math, get them talking to each other and, I swear, as honestly and accurately as I can predict the result of that year, it wouldn't work. I'm pretty sure it would be a disaster and I'm not willing to bet a school year on the possibility that my intuition sucks.

Perhaps I'm being narcissistic. Perhaps kids in other content areas carry the same intellectual baggage as do my FBB Algebra crowd. Doubt it, though.

We've got a lot of kids stuck in this very complicated intellectual thicket called "math" and they need really competent guides to extract them. I suspect that all this enthusiasm for kids to extract themselves is a response to a desperate shortage of good guides.

We respond. We say, "This is too difficult for us." We offer them a textbook, the Internet, classmates from other cultures, and the well-meant promise to answer any questions they have. We volunteer to split the burden of their extraction 50/50.

And I agree with them: this is a very difficult job.

I continued being a fly on the wall as I read the response by Ryan, presumably another young, hip teacher who has this to say:

Ok, here’s the thing. I hate the “next generation” bull. ... I’d think, I haven’t even mastered the BASICS, like getting them to complete work IN CLASS. Now teaching a college class (I teach the “how to succeed in college/life” course for Freshmen), I use a blog and some podcasts and people MARVEL as if I’m showing them my not-o-secret ability to move objects with my mind [ ].

But here’s what frazzles my chops, I have students FAIL my intro to college class, they FAIL. I can have all the razzle dazzle; make it hip; keep it real; meet them where they are at, and they cannot, (will not), get their homework in (I assign homework) or just read the Damn book.

So if they do not have a fundamental desire to learn, crack a book, see the necessity (and PRIVILEGE) of an education, then nothing “new” is going to help them learn. I understand you should have clear, concise teaching in the short and long term. I get it. But this “new” stuff isn’t backed up by statistical success. So even though I use podcasts and blogs, that’s due to my volition and I’m not pursuing anything “new”.

In yet another insightful observation that reminded me of a previous "muttering" of my own-- Math as a Foreign Language, a Spanish teacher added this to the discussion:

I realize that this is a math-oriented discussion. However, as a Spanish teacher, I feel you, Dan. I am all for self-directed learning, and taking ownership of the learning process. In fact, learning a second language successfully demands it. Still, this self-directed learning can only happen once the students have had enough opportunities to manipulate the vocabulary, verbs and grammatical structures through lecture, memory and recall, drill and skill, and guided practice BEFORE they can make it their own, i.e. creating with the language.

I also teach students who could be called low-performing and lacking in self-confidence, as well as students with learning disabilities. So, they need all of the structure and guidance they can get from me.

Teaching a second language is very teacher-directed for several years, at least until the students get to Level IV, and, depending on the school, not many students hang in that long, and the ones that do are the “high flyers” - the ones for whom Web 2.0 and next-gen. teaching are made.

To round out the bunch, "Marco Polo", shared this important clarification:

The next-gen strategy works well with students who’ve already mastered the basics. ‘Cept the next-gen teachers often forget to mention that bit.

As a parent I have to admit this witty banter between colleagues gives me hope. Despite the best efforts of the schools of education to push a "Nex-Gen" spin on teaching, there will always be teachers who see right through the dog and pony show and will do what it takes to educate our children. These educators will understand how to use technology to deliver content without losing sight of the content itself.

They get that it's about work ethic and effort and hey, just showing up for class is good too. They even seem to understand the value of guided instruction, good recall and a strong foundation in the basics as part of the teaching portfolio.

This new generation of teachers is in the trenches and is quickly discovering what works and what doesn't. They are mastering the fine art of balance while never forgetting that the best tools will never replace quality teaching. Tools are merely an enhancement but a good teacher is inspiration. Let's just hope our kids come across teachers like them more often than not. It could make all the difference.

Tip: Take a tour of dy/dan.

1 comment:

Dan Meyer said...

Hey thanks for stopping by and adding your input.