Sunday, September 1, 2013

Soft Ball

I'm a big fan of Sixty Minutes; I generally find their choice of stories interesting and their coverage unobjectionable or better. It's always different, though, when a news organization covers a topic of which you yourself have personal experience, knowledge, and (dare I say?) insight, so of course I'm much more critical of their education segments than of any others, even though they probably interest me the most.

Tonight they re-ran a piece on Khan Academy, the on-line, non-profit educational website that was created by a guy who was just trying to tutor his cousin in algebra. When his YouTube videos took off, he quit his job as a hedge fund analyst to focus full time on this endeavor. Salman Khan's efforts were noticed by no less a power player than Bill Gates, and so a movement was born.

Flip teaching, backwards classroom, reverse instruction, flipping the classroom, and reverse teaching are all terms for the method of instruction where students access the content (or lecture portion of a class) at home and then come to the instructor for support or coaching as they practice (traditionally the homework part of a course).

As a teacher, I am not threatened by this approach in the least. On some level, it makes a lot of sense. I am skeptical, however, of the great gains proponents claim when they champion such programs. As it is right now? All their data is based on students who were motivated to access such online support; it's not rocket science to teach people who want to learn.

That speaks to the largely ignored challenge of American public education today-- it's not so much that our teachers or schools are unqualified (although admittedly, some are)-- no, our system is failing because for so many reasons there are a lot of kids who are not ready and willing to learn what we have to teach them.


  1. Bingo! You said the magic word "ready." The problem with the system today is that it continues to force same-age children to learn everything together at the same time, whether they are ready or not. This is completely counterintuitive to the nature of theories of individual human development. But no, children must be scaled and normed and percentiled and databased by the masters of the system!

    You might be interested in reading the book, "Better Late Than Early" by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. They argue that we can always get better results teaching children skills late in readiness than before. They reveal that the variables which kids under the age of 10 really need in order to healthily learn and grow in body and mind, have all but disappeared from the elementary school formula today.

    Incidentally, (or witchery again) we had a teen visitor just last last night who is enrolled in an online high school (American Online School). I felt quite enlightened and fascinated by her perspective of this new learning method. But as you would have predicted, she's a very very bright, well-traveled, and articulate kid who has what it takes to self-direct her own studies.

    Really enjoying your posts--seems like there's a mild telepathy going one here with your thoughts and mine these days, eh?

  2. Oh, and let's not forget that young children's "readiness" is further dulled and delayed by the lightbulbs and wires we over-expose them to daily. Remember the "Information Superhighway?" We got behind the wheel intoxicated and then allowed the children to do the driving without any licenses.