George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teaching and Learning is So Complex I needed to hit Pause.

Teaching and Learning is So Complex I needed to hit Pause.

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Now Playing>> Pause. "I just find it sad that about 40% of kids in third grade can't read at grade level. So-- it must be hard for you guys (generic usage)trying to teach writing (or anything else) when a child has problems using reading as an input mechanism. My research suggests that these kids need to be addressed in kindergarten if remediation is to be successful. I know that this sounds like kind of a downer; but, coffee is where it needs to be discussed." This is a quote from Warren's post on my One Hot Chocolate discussion. I thought this complex issue warranted its own discussion. What do you think teachers? Why, why, why?

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Cynthia Westover's picture
Cynthia Westover
Coordinator of Language Arts preK -12 (includes gifted, ELL, special needs)

Thank you Gaeten! I work in Ohio. Our state always seems to be a "test state" for anything that has come down from the initiatives I mentioned in my post. I'm not sure how mainstream my thinking is, but, I firmly believe that we are taking an extraordinarily complex subject and boiling it down to a one dimensional measure. Thank YOU for starting the discussion.

Janis Seminara's picture
Janis Seminara
Writer, Writing tutor

I agree with you Gaetan, and I too have created many writing workshops for children (as well as adults). I think you really nailed it; interest. Let them choose the material they love, even if it is a comic book. My son loved reading magazines and newspapers. This answers to, once again Multiple Intelligences. I had a very good friend in retail who used the phrase, "know your customers"! Know your students, observe, converse, play with them then offer reading material that will sing to them! AND, write with them.....Gaetan, I would love to hear more about your work.

Janis Seminara's picture
Janis Seminara
Writer, Writing tutor


Interests, this is key! I had a friend in retail who used this phrase, "Know your customers!" On an educational level, "Know your students"; observe, converse, play with them, learn who they are and what they might want to read. Look at it this way, if the structure is foreign and too complicated take another route and bring them in with a subject they love. My son did not like to read books as a child, but he loved to read magazines and newspapers. This speaks to Multiple Intelligences, and Sir Ken Robinson's 'elements'. Also, writing...have them write, and learn words that way. Gaetan I would love to hear more about your work.

Jackie Jones's picture

The original post is sad, but what's worse is that the same students who can't read in 3rd grade end up in college STILL being unable to read, write with correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and cannot do simple computation. Everyone passes them along, and we do, too, to some extent. This will be the ruin of this country's future. Chinese students can read and write in their own language AND in ours.
-jackie jones

Steve Hornstein's picture

Jackie you are right on the money here. Our system is essentially a one size fits all model. Until we start treating kids as individuals, instead of assuming they all need the same things at the same time we will failing the needs of many of our children. And of course, schools don't have the resources we need to appropriately meet the needs of all children.

Unfortunately, schools are now the scapegoats for our society's failure to meet it's responsibilities to it's citizens. We do not insure adequate housing, food, or health care (although this one is coming)for far too many of our children. Our schools are underfunded and our rate of childhood poverty is among the highest in the industrialized world. As a nation we need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the welfare of our nation and out children. Until we do, our children and out society will continue to suffer.

Cynthia Westover's picture
Cynthia Westover
Coordinator of Language Arts preK -12 (includes gifted, ELL, special needs)


I agree. College certainly is too late to fix educational issues for students. Students who are struggling need access to programs that are fully funded and for which educators have had special training. I agree with Steve that schools are the scapegoats for the ills of society.

The thing about comparing educational systems of different countries is that you also must compare the countries themselves. I agree about China (and many countries) placing a value on literacy in more than the home language. However, there are other issues in place in those other countries.
Consider these points about China for example (reference and source

1. 60% of class time in primary curriculum is dedicated to Math and Chinese and they are the ONLY two subjects on final exams (compare this with what students have to know and be able to do in American schools).
2. The law (in China) guarantees students to a NINE year education (in the U.S. it 13 years when K is included - for special needs students it is rightfully longer).
3. In 1984 1.6 million students took college entrance exams for only 430,000 available spots in mainland China's 900 colleges/universities (college entrance is not so competitive in the US...students have a much better chance at higher education)

Certainly, it is important that the U.S. remain cognizant of the successes of other countries in the way of education. We need to replicate what is successful! However, we also need to recognize the types of support that education/educators receive in other countries and replicate that as well.

cheryl Best's picture
cheryl Best
Fifth Grade Teacher from Bunker Hill,IL

I know it sounds simple but ... notice how art,music and physical education as well as recess has been taken out of the school day. Notice how having the teacher read a story has been replaced with so called "reading incentive programs ie A.R.... We are not reading better. We all are experiencing a decline. I think we all need time to "play.explore, and create"! There just isn't enough time for those things which create a highlevel thinking human. Simple as it sounds, even in China the children are allowed and encouraged to "play".

Mel C's picture

The above post about taking away music, PE, and outside time being taken away has a huge effect on our students. Someone seems to forget that PK-5 students are still kids! Studies have shown everyone that children learn from play? It would appear that the activities that promote this wouldn't be taken away! Kids can have an overload just as adults. If we keep them in the class doing academic work the entire time at school then send them home with homework, I personally believe that they will get tired of school before hitting middle school. I feel that if they get burned out this early then the kids aren't going to want to read which is going to create a bigger problem in the future.

Another thing being, I taught EIP 3rd grade for six years before moving up to fifth grade. I thought that is was awful for students to come to my 3rd grade class and not be able to read on grade level. THEN, when I moved up to fifth it was even more devastating to see it. I teach in a state where third and fifth grade students have to pass their end of year statewide test in reading. If they aren't reading at grade level in these years then it is automatically setting the kids up for failure. How do they expect students to pass a test when they get to these grades-maybe not knowing their sight words or able to read fluently? For me, the kids should have already been retained and given intervention help instead of passing them on. Even though state guidelines say that if they fail the test then the student will be retained. However, usually this isn't the case. The kids are passed on! How is this going to help the student because if the students can't read and aren't on grade level then it is causing the dominoes effect! This meaning if the student can't read then they can't read the word problems and figure out the computation/answer to give. Early intervention is a must in cases like these! I just am really frustrated right now because I had fifth grades coming to me on a first and second grade level and not being able to do any of the other subjects because they go back to reading! Reading is the foundation to all of subjects - focus needs to be on reading.
It appears that old-school teaching in my area worked better than all of the new ideas being tried out today! I teach in a very poor community where reading isn't at the top of the list. I send some homework home and the parents will send a note back saying that the reading assignment couldn't be done because they didn't understand the passage. Several notes that I received last year said, "The answer to #2 had three possible answers in the story so we couldn't figure it out," and some even said, "I don't know how to read English and my child had problems reading it alone." So, reading isn't happening at home with the parents. I feel that in cases as such that mybe a literacy program for parents would be benefical. The teachers could help the parents come up with activities and reading for themselves. But, by looking at this situations, is there a cure for the reading problem that faces our student and how do we solve it?

Eloise Carter's picture

I agree that early intervention needs to take place in Kindergarten. So it only goes to prove how important the implementation of support services are when they enter elementary school. The students come from various socio-economic backrounds and preschool experiences. Kindergarten is not mandated in NYS so due to test score excellence, kindergarten takes the cuts for support services. Help

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