Friday, May 10, 2013

Rethinking Elementary Schools!

I usually enjoy reading the articles and features on the NCTM website but the recent 'Summing Up' feature written by the current NCTM president is alarming to say the least.  Here is my response;

As a long time member of NCTM I find the NCTM Summing Up, May 8 by NCTM President Linda Gojak extremely depressing and hope sincerely that this is not a direction in which she plans to lead NCTM. The two most distressing parts of her “solution” to rethinking the elementary school are #3 and #4 .

In #3 Gojak argues for homogeneous grouping in the elementary school classroom effectively negating IDEA and everything good that comes from having students of diverse abilities working together. Ability grouping in the elementary school will effectively consign some children to the lowest ability classes from kindergarten onwards since it is a well known fact that it is difficult to move upwards through ability levels and remove the stigma of being in the “lowest” class wheremany of the ELL students and most of the children with disabilities  inevitably end up. I started teaching in 1972 in the UK, three years before PL94-142 and remember what it was like to see classes of young children with disabilities all herded together. Ms Gojak’s strategy of ability groupings would bring back the stigma attached to the students in these classes as well as remove the wonderful benefits arising from all children with all sorts of diverse needs working together and understanding each other. As the parent of a child with D.S. I find this to be cruel and unusual punishment.

In #4 she suggests that ”tradition and costs” have been the argument against subject area specialists. In reality and in my experience, this has never entered into the argument. Teacher specialization in the elementary school has been argued against on the basis of pedagogy. I might be accused of being a “child of the 70s” but we still teach integrated units and still help children learn to write by using science and social studies. We still help children to see the value of mathematics by applying it to other subjects through integrated projects. This is far less likely to happen with specialized teachers in the elementarys school.

The depth of pedagogical content knowledge that Ms Gojak seems to think is too much is something that all teachers need even those teaching in a homogenously grouped middle school classroom.  Teachers who understand what comes before and what follows, in a certain grade level, are more able to help students explore misconceptions and extend mathematical ideas for those who need the challenge. It sounds very much like Ms Gojak is suggesting that teachers need only know and understand a thin band of pedagogical content knowledge required of a specific grade level. Perhaps she believes that children have minds  like  “vessels to be filled with facts and figures” rather than minds to be grown, developed and nurtured.

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