21 July 2009

Education Reform Part II

The Plan

Increased Motivation of the Whole Child to Learn in Accelerated Stages through a Functional Approach to Behaviorism

The stages of development outlined by Piaget can be accelerated by systematic introduction of advanced concepts in any child who is motivated to learn. Jerome Bruner held that the key to teaching a child these advanced concepts was to integrate them on a level to which the child could relate in subjects for which the child has interest (Pulliam p.70). In order to achieve this, the whole child must be understood, as noted by Gestalt psychologists. The child's needs defined by Maslow include security and self esteem progressing to self-actualization (p. 73). Nothing could contribute more to these needs than allowing the child clear choices within basic constraints so that he may have the sense of accomplishment which comes from setting his own goals and having full responsibility to achieve them with the full support of a caring teacher who recognizes his abilities and helps him set achievable goals through a plan they have developed together. This approach is very functional. It requires the teacher and student together to engage in an activity, discover a problem, gather data, form a hypothesis, and test their understanding (p.66).

As the behaviorist John B. Watson noted, we do not have the right to project our thoughts and feelings onto a child as educators (p.67). Breaking from that philosophy however, we know that we can ask a student about her feelings or reasoning. The functional approach above can help teachers better understand and affect the behavior of their students by increasing the child's awareness of self in context with larger concerns in concentric fields of awareness (classroom, to school, to community, to nation, etc.) through maturing stages of development.

Self-Directed Work

We will increase student's motivation to learn when we understand from their own mouth what motivates them. In order to accommodate varying motivation in a large body of students, material must be presented in a variety of ways, and the child must be allowed to choose the method by which she learns.

For example, a young elementary student is required to learn a certain set of math facts. He is given a choice to use a computer program. He may do an art project where a certain number of objects are drawn and organized to represent those facts. He may partner with another student in repeating a physical activity such as jumping rope where their combined effort represents the facts (i.e. his two jumps plus her two jumps equals five). He could perform an experiment with manipulatives to reveal the underlying number patterns of the facts. Repetition of any number of those, or like, activities would provide behavioral reinforcement and ensure that the information was assimilated by the child on a variety of functioning levels. That effectiveness is increased when the child is given a choice to express his preferred methods and has a sense of personal control and responsibility for his education.

This method emphasizes self-directed work in station, group, and paired activities. This allows the teacher time with individual students for assessment and guidance. Supervision of learning activities can be done by a team of teachers and/or parent volunteers among young students. Supervision should be decreasingly necessary as students mature and take responsibility for their chosen educational pursuits.

Once fundamental skills are mastered (language, basic math, scientific method) as determined by teacher assessment (within broad national guidelines), the student should have the opportunity to chose her topics of study and work through them at a semi-independent pace, being grouped with other students having the same interests. This student independence will blur the lines of grade by age. Therefore adaptations of classroom structure will have to be evaluated an made.

Government Intervention

Students with behavioral or learning difficulties may need more supervision, but are likely to respond favorably to alternative methods of learning (kinetic, dimensional, and active) when given the option. However, it may be necessary to make special accommodations for the students who do not respond. Because each situation varies, teachers and school leaders must be given full freedom to adjust to those needs and work creatively to solve their own problems. Should they be unable to find adequate solutions, it becomes teaching community's responsibility (including parents as part of that community) to seek resources outside the school for necessary funding, staff, or program ideas. Ideas created for such specific situations should not be extrapolated to apply to broader situations as a matter of public policy. A resource of a public sharing network of educators can help teachers and school officials find solutions already discovered by educators with similar circumstances. There is no need for national legislation and policy for small scale situations, except to make information available for all concerned parties.

Students, educators, parents, and community members within an educationally challenged community have the right and responsibility to recognize the problems within their own community. Should the above method not produce the results they desire, they can request government or legislative help where their specific needs are addressed. Again legislation for the benefit of that community must not be adopted as a matter of course for the national community, only distributed via sharing networks to other regions which are free to adopt similar measures specifically tailored to regional concerns.

This approach will avoid the downfalls of widely criticized standardized testing which Christine Sleeter evaluated thus: ""If the knowledge and skills taught in the curriculum and the assessments used to determine whether students have acquired them are not transformed, tests and accountability efforts will often reinforce and perpetuate the racial, ethnic, and class stratification within U.S. society" (p. 188).

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