Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Why some students lag behind? - Part 2

I started writing the comment below for my previous article's comment section. Halfway through, I decided it was a blog in itself. It is mostly a response to Brook and Societyvs with whom I have a friendly disagreement (I felt I was being descriptive in my last post, they felt I was being offensive). :) Go back and read the article and its comments here.

Heh, I feel a little like Tom Cruise arguing with Demi Moore and Kevin Pollack in “A Few Good Men”.

“It doesn’t matter what I believe… it only matters what I can prove!”

I feel like Brook and Societyvs are arguing from how things should be, whereas I am arguing (I believe) from where they are.

Though I agree with all of your points regarding the value of one's culture Society, I think my students were already way behind before that factor came into play.

At the end of the day, we are talking about scores – what I can prove. My sixth grade students (in general… or in a blanket sense) function on a comprehension level with typical 2nd and 3rd graders. Why is this?

I know there are reasons many of my students do not get the support from home that a typical suburban student would. In some cases it is drugs or gangs, for others the parent(s) are working multiple low paying jobs just to keep house and home together. Some just don’t know any differently. It isn't right and it isn't fair. However, whatever the reason for the results, it does not change the results. My students get further behind each year.

An author once said, the only way to write a book is A.I.C. – Ass in Chair.

There is really only ONE way the average person will become educated and that is TIME. There is no way around it; you HAVE to put in the time.

It is like anything else, if one football team only plays on game day whereas another is practicing regularly between each game – it is no shock who wins. If one student never picks up their guitar outside of class while another practices nightly, it is no surprise that the latter individual plays better.

Simply put, most of my students hardly touch anything academic outside the classroom. Most of what occurs academically in the classroom occurs by my sheer force of will. This has gone on with them since Kindergarten. Now in sixth grade they find themselves in the unfortunate stage where everything at their grade level is much too difficult but everything at their ability level seems infantile to them.

Most of my students will have started kindergarten with about 10 percent of the comprehended vocabulary of their suburban counterparts. It would require an enormous amount of work and focus just to catch up, but most of my students only put in a fraction of the time put in by kids their age in the suburbs. Over the years that fractional effort has exponential consequences.

If my students do not make serious academic changes … they WILL stay behind. My point in all of this is that there is no program, no teaching method, no teacher or school that can replace TIME. It is a factor in this academic equation that cannot be ignored. Less time put into study and practice WILL equal less proficiency. No explanations or reasons or compassion or good intentions will change this. The classroom cannot fix what it cannot control.

However, I think the public and many within academia want the schools to come up with a way to bring these kids up to grade level… but without it in any way requiring the student or their families having to DO anything. I say this can’t be done… education has a cost. Pay that cost of "time" starting in Kindergarten and it will be bearable… maybe even easy. Wait until 6th grade and it will be very uncomfortable. Ignore it until High School? By then, few can make that “payment” of time.

Every year I get a handful of students who start paying. I had a girl last year who began my class at a 2nd grade level. Sometime in November, the light bulb went on for her and she decided to commit her time. She began paying attention in class and reading nightly at home. We got a volunteer who would listen to her read aloud 25 minutes a day. She worked hard. By June, she had jumped nearly two grade levels. I explained to her that if she kept it up over summer she could be hitting a 5th grade reading level by the time she started school in the Fall and that she had every reason to expect that she could be caught up by the end of that school year. I would love to say that it was my inspired teaching that made the difference, but it was really just her commitment to put in the time.

One of my ESL professors (who is Hispanic) shared her story. Her father had jumped the border and was working as a migrant crop picker. She was in 7th grade and did nothing in school but get in fights and cause trouble.

"Fine" he told her, "You do not want an education, then you come work the fields with me!" He had her share his 1o-12 hour days in the fields. Within a week she was begging him to let her go back to school. "No" he said, "You have decided to be here... so be here."

After a month of her sweat and toil, he told her she could go back to school, but if there was one fight or one bad grade there would be no more chances.

He made her pay the price when she lacked the foresight and will to do it herself.

Time... the child and/or the parent have to pay it. Without it, there will be little growth. A school cannot change that.


Redlefty said...

Just to throw a little more anecdotal data Andrew's way, my neighborhood (SW Houston) is predominantly Hispanic. And way, way behind the rest of the city in education.

The scores are abysmal, and that's for the students who actually avoid dropping out. I've had many interactions with the students over the past few years, and while of course there are always exceptions, most of them have no interest in their own education.

SocietyVs said...

Good points - hard work is involved in successes in academics - or - book learning.

That's the real disconnent you know - the fact most of this is book learning and these students don't see the reality of it's uses in a real world scenario. Time is part of the issue - but so is relevance.

Andrew said...

Society - I agree. I also struggle with our emphasis on the book aspect of intelligence. There are many valid intelligences that are not academic. Academic intelligence is relatively cheaper to teach and it is elitist, so I think we tend to emphasize it in academic circles.

I would love to see our schools have some courses that address multiple intelligences. I think I could get a more solid couple hours of academics if I had an artsy student who knew he was going to be free to learn in an area of strength in the afternoon.

This, however, would be expensive. :)

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