October 25, 2006

Unteaching class size reduction

Here's an argument proponents of class-size reducation never seem to address:
Public-school authorities often complain that classes are too large. They claim that teachers can't solve the core problems with public schools. No matter how small classes become, nothing will help if the teachers are ill-trained or their teaching methods are useless, destructive, or idiotic. For example, if English teachers use the whole-language or "balanced" reading instruction method, they can cripple students' ability to read no matter how small the classes are. If math teachers use "fuzzy" or "integrated" math, they can turn kids into math cripples. Even if classrooms had one teacher for every student, that child's ability to read or do math could still be wrecked if the teacher used these destructive reading or math-instruction methods.
Sadly, these conditions are present in many U.S. classrooms. It doesn't matter whether there's ten or fifty kids in your typical first grade whole-language heavy "balanced literacy" classroom, there's not going to be a whole lot of learning going on. Unless, the class is like my son's first grade class in which half the kids already know how to read. You could put a hundred of these kids in the classroom and be confident that all of them will be able to read by June since they already are reading.
In fact, under these conditions, smaller class sizes could give a teacher more time to damage (not intentionally) each student's reading or math abilities. So if a public school has teachers who are poorly trained or who are forced to use idiotic teaching methods by their supervisors, the ironic situation can occur where the smaller the class, the more damage the teacher can do to her students.
I'm not sure I'd go quite this far. Some kids have an amaxing ability to learn and generalize no matter how idiotic the instruction is. My son has one Wile E. Coyote smart kid inhis class who not only taught herself how to read but is probably reading on at least a third or fourth grade level already. This is the kind of kid who can suceed in a whole language classroom.
Here's an analogy on this issue of class size vs. teaching methods. Suppose a horseback-riding instructor was teaching one little girl to ride. This instructor's teaching method was to tell the bewildered girl to sit backwards on the horse, facing the horse's rump, hold onto the horse's tail, and say "giddy-yap." Does it matter that the student-teacher ratio in this horseback-riding class is one-to-one if the instructor is an idiot or uses idiotic teaching methods?
Exactly. I pity the next instructor who'll be tasked with teaching this mistaught girl . First, the girl has to unlearn all the misconceptions she's learned, then she has to be taught properly. It's much more dificult to teach someone who's been mistaught than it is to teach someone who's never been taught.


Anonymous said...

I do think that one-on-one teaching would be better, for all but a completely disinterested and demotivated teacher, as the teacher could hardly avoid failing to find out if the kid was learning or not, and has no potential distractions from the kid failing to learn.

A class of five kids though, I think bad instructional techniques could stuff up.

Anonymous said...

The point here is simple, there will be more kids misbehaving in a class of 15 using constructivist techniques than there will be in a class of 30 using direct instruction. Why? When kids are actually getting information, they are far too busy learning it to screw around.

Anonymous said...

"No matter how small classes become, nothing will help if the teachers are ill-trained or their teaching methods are useless, destructive, or idiotic."

This was exactly my point about the ed school moonbat stranglehold.

Anonymous said...

You automatically assume that activities which help students make meaning out of what they learn is bad. Yes - forcefeeding the times tables down a childs mental throat and they may be able to parrot back those same skills. However, unless they have a reason to learn it ("because I said so" teaches our students nothing more than to be good followers) and a context in which to place the skill, then when it comes time to apply it they will look blankly at the problem.

Traditional lecture DOES NOT teach students to think for themselves - it teaches rule followers. That's a good thing if you are the people in power - bad if you want a populace that can actually think for themselves.