Apr 18, 2022Liked by Rebecca Birch

I agree with you entirely when it comes to writing. I will often hear colleagues I respect and esteemed presenters point out that forms like the 5 paragraph essay, for example, or other "antiquated" formats are artificial and constraining. Or that students should come up with their thesis and then do the research, instead of researching the subject before drawing conclusions, so as to validate their own lived experience. Well, yes, of course the 5 paragraph essay is artificial and constraining. That's called scaffolding. That's why most people learn to ride a tricycle or a bicycle with training wheels before they can jump on a mountain bike and hit the trails.

As a history teacher I often encounter students stating things without any evidence except their own feelings. Now, I am known for my class discussions and try very hard to allow all students to feel heard, but that is different from treating their uninformed feelings on Imperialism or the Industrial Revolution or Nazi Germany or Globalization as equal to that of primary sources and scholars who have devoted years of research to the subject. I am sometimes astounded when I am told to have students answer questions about history that I do not feel qualified to answer because I only have two Master's degrees and would need a Ph.D. - or at least several months of in-depth research - myself. Yet a 15 year old on the basis of two or three class meetings and maybe a short reading or two is being told that they are qualified to answer fantastically complex analysis questions, not in the dissertation or journal article that would be required, but in a paragraph or a short essay or an infographic.

It is not demeaning to say to someone, "You are not yet an expert writer or an expert on 20th Century geopolitics, but I believe you can be someday, so in this class I am going to help you build the skills that you will continue to build through the rest of your academic career, whether it ends when you graduate high school in two years or college in six or go on to be a world renowned author or scholar in any field."

There are many versions of this quote attributed to many famous people (usually men), but one version I like is attributed to Picasso: “Know the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” Picasso was apparently an excellent draftsman who could draw realistically as well as anyone ever could. Nothing wrong with telling a kid you believe they can write like Picasso painted, but, like Picasso at 15 or 16, they need to master the basics first. Otherwise, they'll never advance.

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Apr 18, 2022·edited Apr 18, 2022

Hi Rebecca

I love your writing and despite being a language teacher and having an M TESOL I am not a very articulate person, but I'd like to have a red hot go at commenting on your awesome article (and sorry if I've misinterpreted some of your ideas..)

I think you make an important point that systemic teaching of literacy is not always going to be engaging, or effective as a student centred approach. I may have misread, but I believe one point is that teachers could allow themselves to hold a fallacy that the 'off the beaten trail approach' to literacy worked for them due to their engaging teaching practice, and disregard/be unable to see the fact that they are working with students who have a high literacy background. Is that correct?

I noticed at the start of the article that you mentioned the unfortunate gap between 'trad/prog', and I feel like your further writing makes some solid points as to the merit or a traditional approach (and as a second language teacher whose other teaching area is English, I fully agree with you). I want to suggest there are more holistic (?) reasons to want a more progressive approach that raises engagement.

I wonder if progressive education has merit (and a grounding?) in a more 'macro' sense, where we see that over 90% of kindergarteners engage in and are excited to go to school, yet this number decreases to around 20-30% in high schools (statistics from an Australian college of educators evening I attended). In our individual silos as secondary teachers, we can all see the most effective method for acquisition of our subject knowledge. Yet in the big picture, I think that students feel lost in translation, or perhaps overloaded, that the big picture of school doesn't make sense to them, which makes teachers try to 'innovate' and work outside the box and leads to 'progressive' approaches.

Two caveats/considerations I can see:

- The reasons for doing this in a low SES vs a privileged school would be different, and I'd assume so would the outcome and perceived efficacy..

- 'Literacy' as a concept is a cornerstone of education, and directly questioning the pedagogy we know works, seems a bit foolish to me. It's very interesting to read your work from the perspective of a second language teacher, as we also know that high input and direct instruction are the keys to language acquisition, and yet we often 'innovate' to games and edtech - because without slowing the journey down and being 'fun' we may not have our elective classes!

Excuse the long reply and thank you for always making me think, Rebecca. Likewise please feel free to let me know if I haven't articulated something well or if you have a different perspective (not that I expect it, you've already written this awesome article).


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Jun 12, 2022Liked by Rebecca Birch

Love it, total nit, imo separating the final paragraph into two would be even more powerful, with the final paragraph starting "A student with highly educated"... in part because skimmers check the last para.

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