November 21, 2006

Today's Assignment: Drill and Kill

Hello, boys and girls, today is our third lesson on second grade logic. Here's Lesson One and Two.

Let's Not waste time. The quicker we get the lesson done, the longer we'll have for recess.

Lesson Three

Here's a rule: Tadpoles have a tail.

Item 1. A cat is not a tadpole. So what else do we know about a cat? Answer (highlight): Nothing.

Item 2. Sam is a tadpole. So what else do we know about Sam? Answer (highlight): He has a tail.

Item 3. Pam is not a tadpole. So what else do we know about Pam? Answer (highlight): Nothing.

Item 4. Jean is a tadpole. So what else do we know about Jean? Answer (highlight): She has a tail.

End Lesson Three

By lesson three the skill is presented as independent work. The idea is that you learned the skill by the end of lesson one or lesson two at the latest. For novice second graders this skill is likely not yet mastered, however. If we stopped here, the process of forgetting will start to work and the skill will be forgotten in short order. It is not sufficient to simply learn something. If you want to remember it, you have to overlearn it. And, the best way to overlearn something is to practice it.

Today's lesson is your first practice session. With enough practice, the skill will make it into your long term memory where is will hopefully be protected against the ravages of forgetfulness. Even if you do forget it, there will be a substantial economy in relearning it.

The problem with most educational programs is that they do not provide the student with sufficient practice for mastering the skill. Here's the schedule for the practicing of this skill in Reading Mastery III:

1. Skip a day, present lesson 4.
2. Next day, present lesson 5.
3. Skip two days, present lesson 6.
4. Skip two days, present lesson 7.
5. Skip three days, present lesson 8.
6. Skip four days, present lesson 9.
7. Skip three days, present lesson 10.
8. Skip four days, present lesson 11.
9. Skip two days, present lesson 12.
10. Skip three days, present lesson 13.
11. Skip two days, present lesson 14.

In the span of about forty lessons (two months in school), this skill is presented to the student 14 times. Each lesson consists of a different rule followed by 3 or 4 questions. Some lessons present variations of the rule, such as "all the green men are small" or "every little girl wants to grow up."

Higher performers who learn information at a faster rate and who retain information with less repetitions can be accelerated by, say, eliminating every other lesson and/or doubling up on the number of lessons taught per day.

Basically each lesson is a delayed retest of the student's ability to successfully recall the information and apply the skill to a similar environment. If the student cannot recall the skill or doesn't understand the skill well enough to apply it, he will not be able to answer the questions successfully. This is the acid test for learning--being able to apply what you've learned.

After lesson 14, the skill is subsumed into more advanced skills. These more advanced skills require student to know this skill in order to complete successfully. The skill is never taught and then left for dead. Otherwise, why bother teaching it in the first place?

Teaching in this way is considered to be drill and kill to our educators. Their idea of educating is to present an elaborate inquiry session (bonus points if manipulatives are used) designed for the student to discover the rule and its application, perhaps have the students perform a few problems applying the skill for homework, leave the skill for dead for sixty lessons, then spiral back around to the skill and teach it again (bonus points if its taught differently). Wash, rinse, repeat.

And they wonder why kids don't learn.


MassParent said...

Riffing on local, interactive testing .vs. comprehensive, centralized testing, I suspect different groups of kids can do this type of material at different rates.

If you've got curriculum aligned feedback to identify which kids need more exposure and more practice to cover the material, and which are getting bored stiff, then you can move the class forward at its pace, and then either set up small groups with remedial (or advanced, tangential, etc) work; assign extra homework; or allocate your Title 1 tutoring time; to those who need more time to cover material.

Instead of teaching to the test and waiting until the next year to find out if you succeeded, use interactive and immediate feedback to find out what kids know, rather than drilling them on what they ought to know.

I think this one of the basic reasons that choice schools and active parents have kids that achieve at a higher rate than average; they use interactive feedback. That should be done institutionally, and we should shift our technology focus to reap the low hanging fruit in this area rather than redoubling efforts with centralized data processing.

EHT said...

I enjoyed your series of lessons. I did very well. Do I get a gold star?

On the more serious side, please note that some educators see a valid need for these types of lessons. I see a real need for them especially in reading and math in the younger grades.

Your child and my child might be able to acquire skills based on lesson where they "get it on their own", but the very children who the excuses are made for are the ones who need this type of lesson delivery.

The low performing group is going to end up in remediation anyway as long as they are left to "discover", and from what I observe the same type of teaching strategies are employed during the remediation as well. Then we wonder why remediation doesn't work.

KDeRosa said...

I'm very generous with the gold stars. Kids love 'em, even big kids.

I realize that lots of educators get it, I just don't put that standard disclaimer in every time I write.

These kinds of lessons are definitely overkill for the high performers. The man thing a class full of high performers gives you is options. The option to teach inefficicently and/or sloppily.

What I do with my son, is just convert the stuff he gets into independent work or I truncate the lesson. There are some nights where he does a reading, writing, spelling, and math lesson and I say about 5 sentences of teaching. He spends the entire time "doing" the incrementally more difficult work in the current lessons. What's not to like.