At-Risk Students by Bill Page
Dramatic, compelling, sobering accounts of the frustration,discomfiture, and defensive ploys of students at risk, through the eyes and from the heart of a teacher who views failure from the students' perspective. Their notorious misbehavior, ranging from incompetence and disrespect to clowning, apathy, and defiance is a cover up for embarrassment and failure. Through vignettes and essays, the author places the reader firmly in the stuedents' moccasins and presents a reality check for teachers coping with disruptive, disobedient kids.
Kids Are Never Not Learning
Every kid can learn is not accurate. It should read, every kid does learn. What they learn is what they experience. If they live on a farm, they learn about farms; if they live in the ghetto, they learn about ghettos.
I've noticed that kids who come from Catholic homes are usually Catholics and those from Baptist homes are usually Baptists.
Don’t worry about what kids are learning; worry about what they are doing. Don’t worry that kids aren't listening to you; worry that they are observing you.
The current catch phrase, "Every child can learn!" is misleading.
It should say, "Every child does learn." Learning is a natural, effortless, continuous, ongoing phenomenon occupying every waking moment, every day in the life of every human being from before s/he is born until s/he dies and perhaps beyond. Kids learn what they live, what they are experiencing. And they are living and experiencing every moment of their lives. Since their lives and experiences are so uniquely different from one another, kids come to school with enormous variations in their learning, emotions, knowledge, attitudes, interests, and abilities.
What Is the School's Role?
Based solely on school's schedules and class policies, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that between birth and eighteen years of age, a student will spend only nine percent of his/her life in school.' The other ninety-one percent is spent somewhere else. It is the "somewhere else" that should be our concern. For some kids the "somewhere else" takes place in a community and culture rich with resources, offering experiences that coincide with in-school learning. While for others, their daily experiences are the same ones repeated over and over, amidst fewer resources that are unlikely to relate to school learning goals.
Since out-of-school experiences obviously contribute to the variety of learning gaps among kids of differing background, cultural, class, and ethnic experiences, the key issue, the only real issue, is what the school's role, accountability and mission actually are in its limited share of a kid's learning. The kid's nine percent represents a hundred percent of the school's involvement and contribution.
School's Responsibility Is to Mediate Learning
School is the one common experience every kid has. Not all kids have a home, a religion or even living parents, but every kid goes to school, where there is a high degree of commonality and societal control of associations and experiences. The responsibility of schools, and therefore teachers, is to initiate, provide, and contribute to desirable experiences for students. More importantly, school's responsibility is to mediate, reconcile, and enhance the differing experiences and resultant learning of each child.
Whatever his professional preparation, a teacher is first of all a person. He offers himself—his own unique experiences, personality, values, emotions, and beliefs as experiences available to his students. Recognizing the individuality of each kid and understanding the personal, unique experience base, a teacher must begin by accepting the complexity, diversity, and uniqueness of the kid's experiences, while presenting and building new ones together. The education offered in school should be one of providing, creating, uniting, integrating, harmonizing, enhancing, and mediating each kid's experiences in relation to those that society values and for which, through education, schools declare and accept responsibility.
Maxims of Experiential Learning
Following are the maxims of experiential learning likely to be occurring in any given kid's life, in any given classroom, at any given moment. This list cannot be exhaustive, nor the items distinct.Everyone in a kid's life is his/her "teacher." Everyone with whom the kid has a relationship influences the kid precisely to the extent of the quality, involvement, or interaction in that relationship. Siblings, other family members, friends, relatives, visitors, neighbors, playmates, and classmates are teachers throughout his or her life.
Everything in a kid's life experiences is his/her "teachers."Television programs, computers, and computer games rank high among a kid's "teachers." Church, nursery school, sports, home, apartment, playground, Wal-Mart, pets, community center, the mall, radio, CDs, magazines, formal and informal organizations teach kids undesirable, misleading and erroneous information as well as enlightening information.
- Books, stories, videos, movies, MTV, entertainers, advertisements, and vicarious experiences are important teachers in a kid's learning. Associations with, participation in, and observation of other people's lives are a kid's constant teachers. Vicarious experiences such as witnessing another kid's reaction, seeing him/her being hurt, or watching a dramatic scene in a movie, or the nightly news can be significant learning experiences and make lasting impressions.
- Kids' worst classroom teacher, best classroom teacher, and those in between all "taught" them—something. Teachers have taught different lessons including erroneous lessons, but each has also taught lasting, quality lessons. Kids are always learning. They learn to be negative, positive and neutral about their ability, their learning, themselves, others, curriculum, school and "school stuff." They are constantly developing attitudes, drawing conclusions, building knowledge, and making inferences.
- Kids learn from the company they keep. Early in a kid's life, she usually has as "company" a family she did not choose. She grows among relatives, friends, and neighbors, but further along the way, she selects, from among available choices, those with whom she associates or identifies. As teenagers, kids can develop close lifelong friendships that will impact their lives. They learn to talk, walk, dress, think, perceive, and adorn themselver, like their chosen friends, selected role models, and people with whom theV identify.
- What kids learn is primarily a matter of socialization and community. Kids' associations influence their leisure time, interests, hobble-s. choices, recreation, and activities. Whether we collect cards, play cards. L-x send cards; even food preferences are mostly a matter of our environment. ~ulrure and many, varied subcultures of which we become a part.
- Everything kids experience is learned. They learn to spell our confusing, complicated words incorrectly as well as correctly. Kids learn to study or to avoid study; they learn to do homework or not to do homework. Kids learn bad manners, habits, and hygiene as well as good manners, habits, and hygiene. A kid walks slump-shouldered because that is what s/he learned, not because s/he failed to learn to walk with his/her shoulders pulled back.
- Emotions, feelings, attitudes, and senses are the triggers for learning. Whether kids love or hate, care deeply or not at all, see learning as worthwhile or useless will determine his/her attention to, interest in and pursuit of learning. Kids will learn in proportion to the intensity of their feelings; if they feel strongly about the subject or the teacher, they learn. If they don't care, they don't learn what is intended, whatever else they might learn.
- Learning is constructed as a personal, individual experience. Learning is constructed on prior knowledge, unique perceptions, and individual experiences. We can't just transfer information into kids' heads. They must filter new facts and learning through their existing knowledge and experience to derive personal meaning and understanding from any new knowledge.
- If a kid is struggling and confused, s/he cannot be learning (except perhaps what it is like to struggle and be confused.) The brain can process and retain only those things that are meaningful, that make sense. It cannot receive or deal with nonsense. Struggling is a manifestation of the lack of meaning, lack of prerequisite knowledge or lack of understanding. He needs help with meaning, prerequisites, or understanding rather than harder work, more effort, pressure, or struggle.
- Coercion, anxiety, and intimidation hinder the learning process. Threats usually activate survival behaviors and defense mechanisms, but they impede the learning process. Under threat, the brain focuses on survival, not on learning. We need to eliminate or at least reduce coercion to enhance and encourage learning.
- There is no such thing as a kid "not paying attention." The brain is
constantly paying attention to something. In the classroom, kids' brains select from among competing stimuli, whether it be from other kids, outside noises, or other environmental factors. At best, forcing a kid to pay attention usually gets him to "act" as though he is paying attention. Lack of attention to the lesson is feedback to the teacher about the lesson, not the kid's inatention.
- The brain is constantly receiving and discarding information. The brain is more like a sieve than a sponge, with most information passing right through. If relevant information makes a "connection" as it enters the brain, it goes into the working or short-term memory. If the information is kept only to pass a test, it will be forgotten after the test, unless it is further shifted into long-term memory. This shift requires meaningful association with existing long-term memory already in the brain. The more kids learn, the more they can and will learn.
- Learning and memory require understanding and comprehension. Questioning, discussing, interacting, organizing, explaining, applying, debating, interacting, and discovering can enhance memory. Using progressive levels of thinking such as is discussed in Bloom's Taxonomy is an ideal way to help students learn and remember. Memory requires relevance, organization, and association.
- Everything a kid learns is in a context that is also learned as a part of the whole. Learning and learning conditions cannot be separated. The context in which learning occurs is an integral part of the learning experience. A kid cannot learn something without there being circumstances in which learning takes place, nor can there be conditions of learning without something to be learned. The "why, what, when, where, who, and how" of learning are always part of the learning process. The "why" of learning or reason for learning precedes the others.
- Language is a resource that limits or expands learning. Lack of familiarity with the native language, limited vocabulary, restricted conversation, lack of comprehension in written language, and lack of familiarity with colloquialisms, localisms, slang, and usage significantly limit a kid'sexperiences. Conversely, language rich with variety, large vocabulary, varied conversations, and divergent topics can expand learning experiences. These even increase thinking and reasoning ability, not to mention social status, acceptance, and willingness to participate.
- The only measure of a kid's learning is his/her use or display of it. Learning is whatever is retained from his/her lessons, teaching or experiences. While there are many ways to measure or assess the learning kids have done in school, one simple way to determine key aspects of their learning is to ask them how they feel about their education—something like an "exit poll" interview. If kids think school is irrelevant and boring; if they think history is memorizing dates; if they don't vote, read books or newspapers; if they think they are not good at math; if they think the good parts of school were the extra-curricular activities, if they think they are not smart and if they hate to write and they can't spell—that's what their schooling taught them. That is what they learned in school.
- School is the way it is because those in charge through the years have made it that way and those now in charge are the only ones who can change it. Unfortunately, those in charge of education have a vested interest in not changing schools. For them, schooling was at least successful enough that they graduated from college. They have difficulty comprehending what school was like for the dropouts and force-outs, for the psychological dropouts, for those who merely tolerate the classes, and for those who remember little more than friends and social aspects of their schooling. Most of all, most teachers cannot visualize what learning kids were missing or failing to experience while they were forced passively or reluctantly to "play the school game."
- Schooling, as we have all experienced it, is obsolete. The educational bureaucracy has never been able to keep up with a changing society. Now, with individual access to information, improved technology, and increased mobility, anyone can learn anything that school teaches, anytime she chooses, efficiently and effectively, without the bureaucracy. People, including students, have become empowered through television (especially
videotape) computers and the Internet. Improvements and options are in,-reasme exponentially and continuously for each person.
- Even a hasty perusal of demographics shows the need for change in direction as well as change in education. If society had not become so violent; if family values had not eroded; if society could tolerate non-productive, illiterate, citizens; if we could provide a welfare society; we could continue our current educational processes by improving or upgrading the system. But the system can't be "fixed"; it must be changed.
- Society has the right to decide what society shall be, (given laws of nature, human nature, some inalienable rights, and a bill of rights). Society must create new ways of thinking, of existing, and of acting. Emphasis must be on learning, not on teaching; on the learner, not on the teacher; and on better ways of providing and mediating experiences, not on better schooling.
- Kids develop identities. They adopt the behaviors, symbols, labels and characteristics—from subtle to ostentatious—that identify "who he is." While he has multiple identities with labels such as "goody-goody," "rebel," "tough guy," "jock," "nerd," ... "teacher's pet," or "egghead," it is the primary or over-riding identity such as a stereotypical "cowboy" that tends to direct the preponderance of his or her experiences—hat, boots, belt buckle, adornments, rodeos, Skoal, pick-up truck, slang, twang, music, mannerisms, interests, and so on.
- The Pygmalion principal can skew the experiences that shape kids' lives. In George Bernard Shaw's, "Pygmalion," he states, "A lady is a lady, not because of how she acts, but because of how she's treated." Once a kid is labeled "bad," "dumb," "nerd," or "slob," she is on her way to having it become official, and without significant intervention, permanent.
- "A Child's life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark." (Chinese Proverb) Kids are never not learning. They learn what they experience and they are always experiencing something. Adults have little direct or intentional control over most experiences. They simply happen in the course of living their lives. In the first five years, kids learn more
than they are likely to learn in any other period of time. They master an entire language, they build a 10,000-word vocabulary, and they learn about most everything in their lives.
With their entry into school, it is as though they can't be trusted to continue learning. Now they must be required to learn, motivated to learn, forced into preplanned experiences. Why couldn't the second five years of life be like the first five years? The answer is because we feel the need to manage or control their learning according to our desires, plans, and schedules.
Let's Begin with a Few Questions
Why not begin with the questions, "What do we want our kids to be? What do we want them to be like? What do we want them to value, appreciate, and know? What rules and limits do we think they need?" After answering these questions, we need only ask, "What experiences can we offer that will enable kids to go right on learning as they always have?"
Here's a question to answer right now: "Why is it that human nature and children's early learning are so contrary to school's learning policies and teaching procedures?"
Printed with permission from Educational Dynamics Publishing Company.
At-Risk Students Feeling Their Pain, Understanding Their Defensive Ploys by Bill Page
| Bill Page, a farm boy who graduated from a one-room school, attended a rural high school, flunked out of college, and was drafted into the Korean War. Later, with maturity, military experience and the G.I. Bill, he received his teaching credentials. He became a specialist, teaching middle-school "troublemakers." Bill went on to originate and direct a successful USOE research program for six years. Then for 26 years he taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students with his proven premise, "Failure is the choice and fault of schools--not students.