Posted in Miscellaneous

Tracking: A Three Handed Issue?

propicTracking.  My first graders use that word to mean following me with their eyes to help them pay attention.  A lot of grownups in the educational world use it to mean putting kids on different educational avenues based on their ability and learning pace.  Wikipedia defines tracking as, “separating pupils by academic ability into groups for all subjects or certain classes and curriculum within a school. Students attend academic classes only with students whose overall academic achievement is the same as their own.” Interesting concept, no?  I’ve thought about it considerably and the jury’s still out.

On one hanScreen Shot 2013-03-27 at 10.43.45 PMd, grouping kids into classes based more on the child’s learning pace is much more logical than assuming that the greatest commonality between children is their birth year. For example, some precocious first graders may read at a higher level than is typical while some fourth graders may be at the same level despite their advanced age.  And that’s not a bad thing.  Having a class of children who are more intellectually similar in their learning style and pace allows the teacher to more effectively access the group and individual simultaneously and thereby facilitate deeper learning for all.  And under such a system, the kids who are still getting the hang of things won’t feel the discouraging pressure of trying to think the same way their more mature peers do.  Each group can have genuine and meaningful success in its own sphere.

On the other hand, stratifying and labeling people in any context is the premise for many a dystopic cautionary tale. (Think Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.) Pigeonholing kids into “smart/fast” and “slow/dumb” classes could have a lasting and negative impact on their development.  Being told you’re a little genius can give you a big head and a superiority complex. Being underestimated and talked down to can make you settle for less than your potential or stunt your intellectual expansion.  Also, grouping children with those who think the same way they do limits their opportunities for interacting with different levels, thought processes, and perspectives.  The fatal flaw of the ability grouping system is its potential for arbitrary decisions based on a limited understanding of intelligence. Such decisions could result in children being misplaced in the system and getting lost developmentally.

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 10.40.22 PMOn a hypothetical third hand, we have a cooperative model in which the more mentally agile children assist the teacher in guiding the others to discovery.  This model doesn’t have much to do with tracking in that it doesn’t stratify children according to ability.  But it recognizes and utilizes the gradient of intellectual development by expecting the more savvy children to coach and encourage their peers. On the other side of this model, the more ponderous bunch gets a chance to learn from a variety of teachers (including their classmates) and thereby solidify information. My mentor uses the term “fast finisher” to refer to the children in his classes who do just that—finish the task quickly.  He then employs these “fast finishers” to be mini-teachers and help their classmates who haven’t finished yet.  The kids who finish first have grasped the concept effectively and are then eager to share their knowledge with their classmates.  Teaching helps them retain the learning, and the teachees often absorb material better from peers than teachers.  Perhaps with this integrated system, the fast track students won’t get as far ahead as they could on their own, but that idea begs the question of priorities.  Do we want our students to come out of elementary school full-fledged smart alecks or decent human beings who can cooperate with their peers? Will tracking even significantly impact that outcome?  Is it helpful or harmful or even just neutral in children’s intellectual development? Thoughts, anyone?

Posted in Miscellaneous


ImageAs time goes by, our students have more and more access to technology. So, it makes sense that classrooms across the nation are incorporating more technology into learning.

There is some debate as to how much technology use is too much in the classroom. Personally, I do think that there is great value to hands-on learning in the classroom without technology but I also think incorporating technology in teaching can create a more efficient and effective lesson.

One technology I have become very familiar with is the Promethean board. This allows videos to be used within a slideshow that helps children to learn. I also love this technology because the students can use the special pen (pen for the Pro board) to write on the board during various activities. I also have experience in a classroom where the students are at computers for 15 minutes a day working on reading comprehension in an interactive and fun manner. I think this use of technology is very beneficial for the child not just because they are working on reading comprehension but also because they are learning computer skills that are becoming more vital for success as the years go by.

I do really support technology in the classroom but I also think it should be mixed in with more traditional teaching to add variability to the class schedule. I think that both of these teaching styles/strategies are very beneficial in their own way but students reach optimal learning when both are integrated throughout the school year.

Posted in Miscellaneous

TED Talks on Education

newpic-1Ever since watching my first one in my high school math class, I have grown to love TED talks and their intriguing ideas. TED talks are videos of “leading thinkers and doers” who say whatever they want the world to know in just 18 minutes or less. I find them fascinating and particularly love those that discuss education. I have chosen a few of my favorite TED talks on education to introduce briefly. If you would like to watch them, follow the links below.

  • Sir Ken Robinson “Schools Kill Creativity”: This is the most watched TED talk, currently having over 15 million views according to the TED talks website. Robinson talks about how the way our schools are set up can kill creativity just when the world needs it most. I have seen this video many times and still find it fascinating.

  • Diana Laufenberg “How to Learn? From Mistakes”: In this talk, Laufenberg discusses the importance of experiential learning, student voice, and embracing failure to empower our schools to provide vital learning when we already have access to all the information.

  • Charles Leadbeater “Education Innovation in the Slums”: Leadbetter talks about students in developing countries being “pulled” to schools instead of “pushed.” He talks about making schools more meaningful and applicable so students are drawn to learning instead of forced to process information.

  • Emily Pilloton “Teaching Design for Change”: Pilloton talks about using a unique design system to rescue a failing rural school system in North Carolina. I enjoyed seeing how she aims to make learning more applicable and exciting to the students there so they would be more “connected.”

If you’re interested in learning more about TED talks, click here.

If you would like more ideas on TED talks about education try some of these links:

“8 Great TED Talks About the Future of Education and Teaching”

“10 of the Best TED Talks on Improving Education”

TED Talks “How we Learn” channel


Posted in Miscellaneous


ImageI took the Classroom Management course last semester and thought I learned so much that I would have no problem managing a class. Fast forward to this semester where I am in a classroom on a regular basis and classroom management is not as easy as I once anticipated. I think part of this is that in Classroom Management I learned many different ways to manage a classroom. I learned strategies in the high, medium, and low control arenas which I absolutely loved learning because it really felt like applicable information… and it really is. However, I have learned these past couple of weeks that you have to find what works for the individual kids in your classroom.

Children are motivated differently and as a teacher you have to find the one way to motivate most of your children and then find other strategies that may work for the rest of the students. One strategy we talked a lot about in Classroom Management was using some sort of points system where the children earn points either individually or as a class for good behavior and/or good work. I think a base system like this will work in almost any classroom because kids are always motivated by any sort of prize, even if as a teacher, you don’t see the prize as a big deal. For example, if the class gets to 50 points in a month (or whatever the allotted points and time frame is) then they get to eat lunch with the teacher in the classroom or they get to listen to a story by the teacher.

In addition to the points system, I have learned positive reinforcement works wonders. When I have pointed out one student doing something great I almost always have at least a few more students remember what they are supposed to be doing or how they are expected to be acting and change their behavior.

Some children just need a private conversation so they realize that you see them and how they are behaving poorly and you don’t appreciate it. This was difficult at the beginning because I didn’t want the kids to think I was being mean, but I learned quickly that they understand you are the teacher and they don’t take offense very easily.

Overall, I think kids can really benefit from management but as teachers we need to remember that each student is different and needs to be managed differently. However, I have found in my classroom experience that these strategies generally work great!