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View Diary: A response to Tom Vilsack (148 comments)

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  •  stucture of schools feed into this (none)
    I left the classroom and went into administration simply because teaching writing the way I wanted was becoming unbearable... I had so many students that it was impossible to keep up with the grading of papers.  Students need lots of practice in writing in order to have growth... and for me that meant 2 or 3 papers a nine weeks out of my high schoolers.  Once I had kids that was just an impossibility... I had to lower my standards or get out of the classroom....

    Now I think as an administrator that the solution lies in getting class sizes and the number of sections teachers teach down to a reasonable number, AND getting teachers in content areas (history, science, etc.) to get serious about reading and writing as tools for learning in their classes as well.  Writing can't be taught ONLY in English classes, but usually it is.

    The Republican Party: Redefining Oppression for the 21st Century

    by daveriegel on Sat Oct 08, 2005 at 07:35:44 AM PDT

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    •  The size of schools is just mind blowing to me (none)
      I don't understand the model of 3000 high school kids and who thought that numbers in the thousands of highly hormonal developing minds could get the kind of guidance they need at that age.  How can one principal for instance keep up with 3,000 kids?  Then the class size thing especially with kids is very important as well.  Writing - what can I say?  It is so important.  With the advent of the internet, one would think that our society would be placing a huge amount of emphasis on it and everyone keeps talking about multiple choice tests.  I guess they are good for the polls on dKos, but they don't do much to prepare you to get a diary on the recommend list.
      •  Sure (none)
        I agree, but let's face it, some knowledge is important and yet doesn't need to be the subject of an essay.  For gathering information multiple choice tests are fine.  For analyzing, not so much.

        I have mixed feelings about large HS's.  They have great advantages... when you have 3000 kids you can offer a course on etymology, for example, and find enough geeky kids who want to take it.  And it's a great experience for those who do.  You can offer 6 languages instead of just Spanish.  In smaller schools, you may not have enough demand for a course to justify it.  So there can be a lot more opportunity in a big school.

        But you are exactly right that it is easier for some kids to get lost in the system that way.  

        The Republican Party: Redefining Oppression for the 21st Century

        by daveriegel on Sat Oct 08, 2005 at 07:53:32 AM PDT

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        •  I am at a disadvantage (none)
          because I went to small private schools through high school and then went to a small college - 2,500 people and that seemed large to me.  Spent a summer at UC Berkeley and that was a small city... and too much really - even for a city kid like me.  
          •  I went to.. (none)
            Ohio State (50K on campus) and Michigan State (45K on campus)!

            Polar opposites.

            I really loved a big school but I always wondered if I missed out by not having a more familiar relationship with my profs and fellow students.

            The Republican Party: Redefining Oppression for the 21st Century

            by daveriegel on Sat Oct 08, 2005 at 08:13:38 AM PDT

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        •  You really hit on the contradiction here (none)
          As you noted earlier larger class size or more specifically higher numbers of dialy student contacts mean more papers to grade and less time to know your students and their individual needs well. Small school size allows for deeper relationships between students and the adults in the school community but comes at the cost of the school being comprehensive. I would argue that waht we know about learning would suggest that having students really know a number of adults, seeing those adults as fellow members of learning community, is a far more powerful experience in the long run than having access to six languages in high school. If students "learn to use their minds well" in secondary school there is lifetime ahead to explore a wide variety of intellectual pursuits.

          Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant stand forth! - Thomas Paine

          by Lcohen on Sat Oct 08, 2005 at 08:30:20 AM PDT

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          •  "schooling" vs. "learning" (none)
            No "schooling" is ever comprehensive.  There's always something more to be discovered...that's the joy of "learning".  

            I went to a large high school (2000 students) which still wasn't large enough to offer a course that would satisfy my curiosity about Brasilian Portuguese.  So, years later when I was on my own and still curious, I studied the language for two years -- one year of non-credit continuing ed classes and one year of private study.  I had a ball doing it, and now have an additional skill that I use almost daily.  

            The endpoint of "schooling" ought to be teaching people to love the learning process, and take responsibility for continuing to learn on their own, throughout life.  

            •  absolutely (none)
              Learning how to learn should be the #1 priority.

              Anyone here familiar with Problem-Based Learning? It's based around a "what do you know" v. "what you'd like to find out" and then letting students research answers for themselves.

              Take a medical case, for example. You interview a woman in her 40s who's experiencing pain in her right leg. What would you need to learn in order to diagnose her? What other questions do you have for her?

              There is medical school that teaches their doctors in just this manner. Totally planned and managed problems constructed so that students indeed learn everything they'll "need to know." Each case is designed so that students will have to explore various issues, concepts, etc. throughout their education. Let's see...yep, it's Southern Illinois University. I participated in a workshop where we used this method to try and solve a particular medical case in one day. It was pretty eye-opening.

      •  Size of school (none)
        really is less important than the pedagogical philosophy that undergirds the school.  I went to an extremely large high school (graduating class of 1200+ and there were five grade levels in the school, but it was 35+ years ago.  The education I received in the classrooms of 30+ kids (even in grade school, we were baby boomers so all of our classes were large)was far better and far more connected to learning rather than performance, than the education my son is now receiving in his public school classroom of 14 kids. The teachers have far less time for teaching today (with only 14 kids) than they did in my day (with 30).

        That's because the amount of "teaching" that the teachers now do is far more routinized and requires far more paperwork and adherence to rules, which leaves far less time for assessing student needs and teaching to the learning styles. Teaching to the tests, when the tests are standardized means the teaching becomes standardized as well.

        In a democratic society some are guilty, but all are responsible. -Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

        by a gilas girl on Sat Oct 08, 2005 at 08:21:11 AM PDT

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      •  some comments on school size (none)
        It is not necessarily the overall size of the school, if a mechanism is provided where students can feel as if someone knows them.  I teach in a 4 grade hs with just under 3,000 students.   Each student must be enrolled in an academy program which provides some academic focus and some continuity enabling them to be known.  I woulld also like advisory home rooms with an adult who does NOT teach them but can serve as a resource for the students in that advisory.  Our scheduling situation, and our being something of  amgnet with kdis travelling by bus who do not arrive until just before school starts makes something like that impossible to implement.  We kind of make up for it by having as many activities as possible -  most who sponsor activities are not paid for their time, but provide a place for kids with a common interest to get together.  Thus two temporary buildings down from me is  a math teacher who is writing his dissertation on philosophy who once a week has about 20 kids in for a philosophy club.  I have served in the past (despite my Jewish last name) as the adivsor for the Muslim Students Association.  

        The advantage of our size is our ability to offer not only so many varied activities, but a much broader range of academic offerings.   We are down to 6 foreign languages as our German teachers have moved on (we still have Latin, Russian, Italian, French, Japanese and Spanish as well as American Sign Language), I have been able to teach a section on Comparative Religion, we can offer courses in genetics, or in African or African-American History, and so on.

        We are also able to sustain a broad range of athletic activities, with a fairly high rate of student participation.  We have 4 orchestral ensembles, 5 bands, 5 choirs   --  in other words, our size is part of what makes us successful in meeting the needs and interests of students.

        On the other hand, our class sizes ARE too large.   And since we teach 6 periods a day, the total load on teachers (which I think is the key statistic) is excessive.  My current 155 or so is the lowest I  have had in 7 years in this building.  

        There are some things that are simply not ecomonically feasible to do in smaller schools.  So long as there are means for students to feel known within the school, size per se is not the real issue.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Sat Oct 08, 2005 at 09:25:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  let me respond a bit (none)
        t is not necessarily the overall size of the school, if a mechanism is provided where students can feel as if someone knows them.  I teach in a 4 grade hs with just under 3,000 students.   Each student must be enrolled in an academy program which provides some academic focus and some continuity enabling them to be known.  I woulld also like advisory home rooms with an adult who does NOT teach them but can serve as a resource for the students in that advisory.  Our scheduling situation, and our being something of  amgnet with kdis travelling by bus who do not arrive until just before school starts makes something like that impossible to implement.  We kind of make up for it by having as many activities as possible -  most who sponsor activities are not paid for their time, but provide a place for kids with a common interest to get together.  Thus two temporary buildings down from me is  a math teacher who is writing his dissertation on philosophy who once a week has about 20 kids in for a philosophy club.  I have served in the past (despite my Jewish last name) as the adivsor for the Muslim Students Association.  

        The advantage of our size is our ability to offer not only so many varied activities, but a much broader range of academic offerings.   We are down to 6 foreign languages as our German teachers have moved on (we still have Latin, Russian, Italian, French, Japanese and Spanish as well as American Sign Language), I have been able to teach a section on Comparative Religion, we can offer courses in genetics, or in African or African-American History, and so on.

        We are also able to sustain a broad range of athletic activities, with a fairly high rate of student participation.  We have 4 orchestral ensembles, 5 bands, 5 choirs   --  in other words, our size is part of what makes us successful in meeting the needs and interests of students.

        On the other hand, our class sizes ARE too large.   And since we teach 6 periods a day, the total load on teachers (which I think is the key statistic) is excessive.  My current 155 or so is the lowest I  have had in 7 years in this building.  

        There are some things that are simply not ecomonically feasible to do in smaller schools.  So long as there are means for students to feel known within the school, size per se is not the real issue.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Sat Oct 08, 2005 at 09:40:03 AM PDT

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