Sunday, April 19, 2015

Complete Lack of Motivation

4th grade can be a tough year.   4th grade has a high probability that learning styles will clash with teaching styles and the demands for the curriculum and this can lead to a train wreck.  Which is exactly what is happening.

We are lucky to have an awesome teacher.  The class is full of bright, motivated students who share lots of books with each other, and share lots of really hard strategic thinking video games.   What more could I ask for?

The downside is a big list:
  • Common core standards require the teacher to teach and the kids to know a lot of rote material.
  • The 4th grade teaching method, especially for math, is this:  a) here is the material which I will explain, b) here are some examples, c) here is a math worksheet of 30 problems where you have to regurgitate like a robot the same thing I just showed you over and over and over.
  • The kids are expected to know a bunch of useless concepts, e.g., the names of parts of the sentences, which are on the common core test, because the teacher is evaluated based on the outcome, and so is the school.
A bright, enthusiastic student is highly motivated by digging in to new, complex material.  It's a puzzle and a challenge.  It's a mountain to climb.  A gifted student has an added benefit of a bunch of learned skills to help them navigate new problems.  (If you are new to my site, then let me tell you that ever kid should have this skill set and I've been writing about it extensively over the last few years.)

Showing kids examples or "teaching" them a subject destroys the fun.  Furthermore, kids have different learning styles, and I suspect this is a reflection of their cognitive skills.  Some kids, and adults, learn well by paying attention and listening.  Some kids learn by doing.  Some kids are so Learn By Doing oriented that they really can't learn by listening.  I'm one of the latter.

Has a teacher ever commented on your child's grades by pointing out that your child could do much better if he would just pay attention, keep careful notes, and try harder?

The teacher already has a hard enough job, so I don't say much.   What I would like to say is "Stop teaching.  Just give him the book.  And not the current one.  Give him a harder book.  Even better, just give them problems with no book."  The kids can read, they can figure things out, they can pick up new skills if they are only given a chance.  It's more fun and more motivating.  Sitting their passively taking notes is torture.  Even better than a book would just be a bunch of problems;  here's the book if you need to look things up.  This is how kids are taught in the UK and China, and researchers think that this is the reason they are 2 years ahead of the US in school.

When I was in 4th grade, I routinely got D's and F's on tests on reading tests.  At home, I was reading a 850 page book from my parent's book shelf in one hand (Herman Wouk's Africa) and in the other hand, I had a dictionary.  There were lots of parent teacher conferences about how bad I was doing and finally the teacher put me in the advanced reading group and gave me more advanced material.  It didn't help my math grade which stayed at a C before I got to high school.  Algebra peaked my interest, and 4 years later I got a ribbon at regional Calculus competition against a roomful of geeks.  I was 5th, and the 4 kids ahead of me all completed calculus the year before.   A C in 4th grade didn't preclude me from studying 4 years of math in graduate school and finding a love of math.  I'm not really bitter about my grades at age 10 because I didn't care and my parents didn't know what to do.  I'm really bitter about my son's having to go through it.

I'm hearing similar stories from many parents of 4th grade boys in Chicago, mainly with boys who are unmotivated.

Is there a better way?  Stay tuned for part 2.  

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