Thursday, 5 January 2012


Have you been to any of those planning meetings for the new school bond? Well, I have. The firm the Helena School District hired for $250,000.00 is an architectural firm- but as pointed out on this blog earlier they aren't going to be doing any architectural drawings for the $250,000.00, they are going to plan the future of education in Helena. In fact, they are not even versed in educational issues, thus they had to hire BRAIN SPACES, a firm that apparently are "Education Experts". BRAIN SPACES sent a spokeswoman to the planning meeting ( maybe it's her business and she's the whole firm- I'm not sure about that)- in any case this is the extent of her "expertise". She made an amazingly biased and I think ill informed comment about classroom structure. She said no one ever had their most powerful learning experience sitting in the third seat of the fifth row. In other words, she is biased against classrooms organized in traditional rows. I asked her about her teaching experience, and apparently she has never even taught in an elementary classroom, just some middle school and college teaching. And this is the person leading the way to what our school district will look like in the future.

I asked her for her email and we had a little discussion about classroom structure. First I think we must challenge her premise that the most important education is the "powerful" learning experience that you can remember. The most important things you learned in school such as reading, writing and math happened over many years of day by day learning most of which you can not remember. If it were not for hard disciplined work most of which was not necessarily exciting, you would be illiterate.

Secondly I would like to challenge the premise that education should always be exciting and entertaining. Once in a while it is. When you've achieved a goal for example, or learned enough to discover something exciting. But many times, like any work, or all the work you will do in your life, it takes focus and discipline. It is not entertainment, it is work. As for the premise that teaching children learning discipline is the old factory model I would like to challenge this as well. We don't know what the future will be (especially 75 years from now!) but if it includes working from home on computers the ability to focus and stay on task will become even more relevant. As anyone who works at home knows, it is very hard to get to work and stay there when people are coming in and out, the phone is ringing, and you could just sleep in because no one is watching over you. School prepares children to set goals and do tasks that will reward them in the far future. They learn the discipline to do things that they may not always want to do. This is not a "factory" model , this is life.

 Thirdly I would like to most definitely challenge her bias toward rows. I taught for many years with students of all ability levels. I tried groups and pods. I found they didn't work. How would you like to sit all day with someone right at your elbow? I found students do better work when they have their own space and can focus. There is less talking and more working when students have their own space. For projects desks can easily be turned or moved. This is particularly important for students with ADHD. Students may not have to be on drugs to control impulsive behaviors and lack of focus if the teaching environment was structured to help them stay organized and focused.

Finally I would like to challenge the bias that exciting learning does not happen in rows. One of my most successful programs was a grammar program that used all the senses. It had a visual overhead as well as student papers. It had songs and rhymes and required oral responses as well as written ones. It engaged all students and was even effective at the end of the day when we were all tired. My struggling students loved it best. They participated, had fun and felt successful.

In my experience struggling students get lost in unstructured project environments. They don't need a "guide by the side" they need a teacher who structures a learning experience for them where they can find success and get extra help when they need it. There are many different ways to teach and many different teachers with successful teaching strategies. I'm sorry to see people call themselves "experts" and then dismiss out of hand years and years of successful teaching and learning experiences. After all, this country was built long before all the new liberal education ideas hit the workshop circuit.

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