Science Labs in Primary School: Structure and Routine

Process and content knowledge are in the foreground because they are what students do or produce. But, both become possible only when structure and routine are operating in the background.

One of the primary ways teachers can shape the structure of their class is by how they manage it. How you choose to reinforce positive behavior and discipline negative behavior has a substantial effect on learning. There are many ways and approaches to this, but the best fall closely in line with the approach of authoritative parenting. Warm/Strict is a popular application of this method. For more, you can read about it here, here, and here.

Some Principles of Classroom Management

Essentially this means teachers should manage the class…

  • with clear, high expectations (behavioral and academic)
  • with support students to help them achieve expectations
  • with clear, fair rules enforced with fair consequences
  • with an understanding of extenuating circumstances
  • with everything done in genuine warmth towards the students

The bookends to the above list are the most important because when paired, they make the rest possible. High expectations without genuine warmth all too often leads to more authoritarian approaches. And, to say it simply, genuine warmth towards students without high expectations is flat out impossible. This is a false warmth. If you are treating students “warmly” but not demanding students work towards a high bar, you aren’t being kind or caring for them. Instead, you are actively working to reduce their potential.

Structure Puts Principles Action

Principles are not put into actions by pasting posters on the wall or even by telling students the rules and enforcing them. They are only put into action if you model the principles and support students as they strive towards them, providing discipline when needed.

One simple way to put the first three principles in action is with facial expressions and gestures. It may sound strange, but getting a variety of expressions and gestures down will make your life as a teacher better and will make handling disruptions smoother. These small routines provide structure that gives your students the support they need to reach the high expectations we must have.

When a student is off task, catch their eyes and give them the look. When they acknowledge you, nod and move on.
When a student isn’t writing and they should be, catch their eyes and pantomime writing with one hand holding a pen and the other being paper.
Etc.

What is key here is that students understand what the signals mean. If students are guessing the purpose, it will not be effective. Introduce the signals and tell students what they mean. Take guesswork out of the equation. This allows you to redirect students quickly, directly, and subtly.
*Note: These work best for minor disruptions, you will need other tools to deal with more significant problems.

In addition, these signals make transitions easier. Something as simple as a 3, 2, 1 Stop! (slightly increased pitch on the “Stop”) accompanied with a hand countdown makes it very clear to students that they need to finish and look at you. Whatever you choose to use for transitions, be consistent and make sure students know what the signals mean.

These structures are supports. They allow students to put their efforts towards achieving academically because they provide focus. They allow students to reach that high behavior bar you set because they provide clear direction, making it easier for students to stay on task.

Structure in the Lab

We must bring these established structures and routines to the lab with our class. The strategies are versatile enough to survive the new and exciting environment. As you enter the lab, expect for your students to be excited and to need a bit more correcting and time to settle in/transition than normal.

Stick to your already established structures and routines. Your students will adjust. Labs are naturally a bit more chaotic than a normal class. This makes structure and routines all the more important. Settle your students down by using the countdown or some other method. Then give instructions (verbally and written). It will be best if you can pass out a small sheet of paper with the instructions. This gives students a reminder that stays right in front of them.

Make sure all eyes are on you as you model step one. Be explicit about your directions. Say something like, “You have 15 seconds to set up step one, Go!” Then bring attention back to you with whatever already established method you’ve chosen. Once everyone is refocused, go on to the next step, and so on.

Keep a snappy pace. This will keep faster students focused. And students who move more slowly will be able to follow along just fine because they will have your model for each step.

Transitioning into Less-Structured Activities

Follow a similar structure when you are moving from one part of the lab to another. Once the setup is done and the experiment is ready to begin, you will still want to have teacher led transitions. This reduces confusion. 

Chaos is more susceptible when students are making observations or inferences. There is only so much we can do here. I like to preface these activities by briefly reviewing whatever we have learned and having students reread their hypotheses. I find that this helps transition their minds go from setting up the lab to being ready to actually do it. Then I say, “You will have 2 minutes to make observations. You have to talk to your partners, but you must talk like you are in a library. Do you understand?” 

My students are familiar with this routine and know to respond with a whispered, “Yes, we understand.” I often have to repeat this part a second time because they respond at a normal or even excited volume. But, this makes my expectations explicit. There is no guesswork and, as a result, my students work quietly and are focused during observation time. Then I set them loose to make observations or inferences with a hand signal.

Long Term Goals

Remember, we have primary students, they are not experts in the lab. The lab is still relatively new and mysterious to them. The structure is there to help them succeed. As you do more labs, you can gradually give students more freedom. But make sure they can succeed with it. We don’t want free students that drown in freedom. We want them to swim in it. And the best way to do that is for them to internalize the high expectations, structures, and routines you choose to create.

So give your students freedom by ensuring they have the necessary process knowledge and content knowledge for the lab. Give your students freedom by providing structure and routines. When they are ready, let them swim.

Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Part 1 of this series explains why having a worldview is inevitable and that this shapes your approach to teaching
Part 2 makes the case for deeply understanding your worldview and philosophy of education

There are numerous benefits that come along for the ride when you have a well thought out worldview and philosophy of education. For the teacher, most of the benefits are between you and your students. 

Clarity and Confidence

We should be relatively confident in applying our philosophy of education. If you are not, then you should search for a more robust one you are able to trust because teaching from a place of doubt isn’t enjoyable. It will also likely lead to inconsistencies in your methods causing confusion for your students and stress for you.

When we understand our philosophy of education, we can move forward with confidence because we have looked it over and found it to be consistent with our worldview, research, and practice. When we trust our philosophy, we are much more likely to consistently apply it. This consistency helps our students understand the rules and routines, which better allows for them to focus on learning.

However, there is one aspect in particular that affects other teachers.

A Clear Discourse

Too often people simply talk past one another and in doing so they each win the argument but everybody ends up being the loser. To improve the discourse, clarify what you believe.

When we have thought out our underlying worldview, we will be able to articulate it in an understandable way. Once we have applied its implications to our teaching, we should also be able to explain our philosophy of education in an accessible manner.

When both parties have done this, there tends to be less talking past each other. Positions are made clear. More clarifying questions are asked. And, even if this only happens on one side, clarity is still gained.

One Sided Clarity

If one side relies upon fallacies or supports their philosophy with inconsistent logic, you still gain clarity by engaging them with your own philosophy. You now know where the other person stands. You have tested your approach against theirs and found theirs to be wanting. We must be humble when we are doing this though. If we lack humility we will only help them see our side as mean or whatever negative adjective they prefer to use.

In addition, we should be humble enough to see the grains of truth in approaches we consider to be wrong. We should use these grains to improve our own philosophy.

If your philosophy never changes you must think it is perfect. But why on Earth would that be a reasonable assumption?

Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education

In part 1 of this series I explained that having a worldview is inevitable and that your worldview will profoundly shape your teaching practice. However, while having one is inevitable, we are not guaranteed to have one that is well thought out. In fact, the default is to fall into an unthoughtful fuzzy genericism that works well enough to get us through the day, but would fall apart if we ever cared to inspect it.

Our approach to education, or our educational philosophy is rooted in our broader worldview. So, before we can effectively work out our own teaching philosophy we must work out our worldview.

Appropriated Worldviews Make Poor Anchors

When we don’t analyze what we believe, we lack a sound worldview, we lack an anchor, so we must appropriate one. The place we appropriate a worldview tends to be from whatever subculture we most identify with; whether that’s democrat, republican, religious, environmentalist, etc. Worldview appropriation always causes problems. 

Problems arise because we don’t “own” an appropriated worldview, this means we are not anchored to the ground, we are anchored to some larger ship and we will move with it. This causes us to have a fuzzy worldview, because we are simply relying on a larger group for our ethics. This leads to a blind or semi-blind following of the culture. Our morality shifts this way as well (blindly shifting morality is bad). Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. 

We can skate by with an appropriated worldview (I think most people live like this) but those with an appropriated worldview will likely struggle to produce thought out, internally consistent answers to the following questions.

Does anything objectively matter? Why/why not?
What is the purpose in life?
How do you justify your own morality?
Is human flourishing good? Why/why not?
Is suffering bad? Why/why not?
Why is “cultural hot topic” a step in the right/wrong direction?

Appropriated Philosophies of Education 

When we don’t think about our philosophy of education, we appropriate one from whatever educational subculture we happen to lean towards. This causes similar problems as an appropriated worldview. Our views and educational approaches will shift with the educational culture around us. We won’t really control the changes because our philosophy will remain vague and fuzzy to us. 

Before you can purposefully change and improve your philosophy of education, you must work to remove aspects that are vague and fuzzy by bringing them into focus and defining them because it is nearly impossible to change a vague problem. Think about it. How do you fix something that is bothering you when you don’t know what that something is, but you know you are bothered? You have to figure out what is bothering you first!

Owning Your Philosophy of Education

Work out your worldview so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than culture. Work out your philosophy of education so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than an educational subculture.

Make it specific so you can make purposeful changes as you learn more. This process happens through a lot of reading, thinking, and talking.

Here are some questions to think about as you define your philosophy of education.

What is the primary purpose of education? Why?
How do humans learn?

How do you encourage creativity? Why?
What are your views on having children of all ages memorize information?
How should you reinforce rules?
What is the best way to manage disruptive behavior?
What types of punishments are acceptable? Why?
What role should educational research play into your approach as a teacher? Why?

Science Labs in Primary School: Content Knowledge

This is part two in a three part series.

Part 1. Science Labs in Primary Schools: Process Knowledge


The Second Key: Content Knowledge

If you want your students to be able to succeed in the lab, they need to know the science. Do not have your students “discover” the main idea or key concepts in the lab. This will work for some students, but not for struggling students. Teaching with this type of discovery in mind widens the achievement gap. Instead, teach your students the key vocabulary words and concepts before the lab. 

Giving Content Knowledge Requires Structure

The best way to give your students knowledge and skills involves a structured approach to teaching (The Third Key). This structure need not create a stiff, cold environment. In fact, if your structure creates this type of environment, I’d argue that your structure is bad and that you need to adjust your approach to classroom management.

Essentially, this means being an authoritative teacher. Or, in the vernacular of Teach Like a Champion, it means being warm/strict. But more on this in post three.

Instruction and Content Knowledge

We must help our students become critical thinkers if we want them to have a chance in the lab, because a lab is essentially applying background knowledge through critical thinking in order to solve a problem. Luckily for us, the research here is relatively clear. Critical thinking happens with what we already know (Willingham, 2007). 

A tried and true method that helps students learn more is the I do, We do, You do model. In this, we essentially do what it says. The teacher explains and demonstrates, then there is some sort of group work, and after several checks for understanding and feedback, students are ready for independent work.

I am partial to the Explicit Instruction model, which is essentially a detailed version of I do, We do, You do. Here is an overview of Explicit Instruction.

Checks for Understanding: No-Stakes Quizzes

One way I like to check for understanding is by giving a few no-stakes quizzes in the week or two leading up to a lab. Click here to see how I go about using no-stakes quizzes. In our checks for understanding, regardless of the format this takes (quiz, groupwork, assignment, etc) we should mix in a  variety of factual recall and transfer (application) questions covering the same content in different contexts.

Factual Recall Examples:

What is a convection current?
What causes a convection current to form?
Why does change in temperature cause convection currents to form?

Transfer (Application) Examples:

Describe how a convection current forms in our atmosphere.
How does a convection current form in the geosphere?
Explain how convection currents affect the ocean.
Why does your soup have convection currents?

This mix of questions helps to make knowledge flexible, meaning that students will be more likely to successfully apply what they have learned both in the lab and in their daily lives. This is the goal right?

Knowledge in the Lab

So, after we have taught in a way to ensure our students know about the content, they are ready to test and apply it in the lab. By having background knowledge, we are changing the type of questions our students will ask and therefore, we are changing their hypotheses.

For example, if we take a more discovery based approach to labs, we may have our students investigate the following question, “What happens when a heater is placed under a glass of water with dye at the bottom?” 

Whereas if we use a more explicit approach, our students will not ask this question, because they will already know what will happen and why it will happen.

Instead, students with greater background knowledge can ask more involved questions such as, “Will a larger temperature difference change the size or speed of the convection current?” “How will obstacles affect convection currents?” and many more.

This type of question is worth spending a lab on. The first question, “What happens when a heater…” is not worth a lab. It is worth a teacher demonstration. 

Help your students think critically, redeem labs by teaching knowledge. Give your students knowledge so that they may apply it.

Science Labs in Primary School: Process Knowledge

Doing a science lab with younger children can be stressful even to think about. I have made the choice to avoid labs before because I couldn’t figure out  a way to do it without wanting to rip my hair out.

But as my own hair is starting to fall out of its own accord, I have learned how to make labs with primary students relatively painless and certainly useful.

As I see it, there are three key parts of a successful lab with any age of students, but these components are even more important for young learners: process knowledge, content knowledge, structure and routine. 

The First Key: Process Knowledge

Students must understand the process of science before they can reasonably perform a lab. This will look a bit different depending on the level you teach. But the overall ideas remain the same. Our students should be familiar with an appropriate version of the scientific method.

By appropriate, I mean that we can adjust it to our students. A seven year old doesn’t necessarily need to memorize every step in the scientific method. But the seven year old should understand the scientific method to be something along the lines of, “I use what I know to make a hypothesis. Then I test it. I write what happens. I test it again and write it down again. Finally I say why my hypothesis was right or wrong.”

Content Light On Purpose

When I am introducing the scientific method, I want my students to focus on the scientific method, not the “science content”. I go about this by doing what I call a “content light” lab. This is on a topic I am certain my students have good knowledge on. This allows them to better focus on following the steps of the scientific method without being distracted by complex procedures the experiment’s outcomes.

For example, I would not teach the scientific method with a chemical reactions lab. Mixing acids and bases is great fun, but it would not lead to a focus on the scientific method. Students would likely be distracted by the complex procedures and or the novelty of the experience.

Content Light Labs

For a content light lab, we take notes on one step of the scientific method and then we immediately apply it in short steps. One of my go to’s for this is a lab on gravity. My students already have background knowledge (Second Key), the testing procedure is simple, and it is fast. All of this works together to allow students to focus on the scientific method.

Example

1a. Define background knowledge: what you already know about a topic
1b. What do you know about gravity? Jot down this info as a class below the definition

2a. Define hypothesis: Using what you know to to explain what you think will happen in a testable and repeatable way
(This takes longer as you have to explain testable and repeatable)
2b. If I drop ‘Object A’ and ‘Object B’ at the same height, then “Object A/B’ will fall to the ground at a faster/slower/same rate.
(Feel free to adjust how you require students to form their hypotheses. But I do recommend always writing them in the same format. This makes it easier for students to focus on the science, not the writing.)

3a. Define procedure: steps to perform the experiment
3b. Grab two objects (not a single piece of paper) and drop them from the same height, then record the results.

4a. Define test: Doing the experiment
4b. Perform the procedure

5a. And so on…

The most challenging part here is step 4b. This is where the lesson is most likely to crash and burn. The way you can avoid this is with the third key, structure and routine. I will write about this more in a future post, but in brief here is my advice.

Have students perform step 4b in unison by following your direction.
Ex: “Ok, grab the two objects you decided to test. Everybody ready? Ok, good. Now hold them up, make sure they are the same height. Now, when I say go, drop them. Ready? 3, 2, 1 Go!”

The Second Key: Content Knowledge
The Third Key: Structure and Routine

Worldviews and Teachers

Just like we all have a worldview, as teachers, we all have a philosophy of education; it is unavoidable. So, my thoughts are, if having one is a logical necessity, we might as well try to have one that is well thought out, meaning that it is grounded in our worldview, research, and practice. 

Worldview

No one’s philosophy of education is fundamental, for our beliefs about education flow out of our beliefs about values. Our beliefs about values flow from beliefs or lack of beliefs in higher powers or purposes and then from our cultural context. These beliefs form the foundation of our worldview.

Merriam-Webster defines worldview as, “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world, especially from a specific standpoint.”

Worldview Shapes Your Approach To Education

Many books have been written about how worldview affects education. If you are curious, just Google a worldview + philosophy of education. The traditional approaches to education can be classified as Idealist, Realist, Pragmatic, Existentialist, and Scholastic. For a more modern twist on how worldview shapes education, just take a glance at how many educators are advocating for other teachers to read and teach the principles taught in anti-racism or climate change books. The view that one should be an anti-racist or a “______” educator stems from something more foundational than one’s philosophy of education. These moral positions do not originate with your teaching philosophy, ultimately, they stem from your worldview. 

Worldview Shapes Your Pedagogy

Worldview does more than affect how you deal with cultural issues. It also plays a significant role in your teaching pedagogy. What does good classroom management look like? Is the ideal teacher more of a sage on the stage, a guide on the side, a bit of both? Is knowledge foundational, or are skills? What knowledge, what skills should be taught?

*Note: Your worldview and philosophy of education should be capable of explaining the “why.” If it cannot explain the why, why believe it?

Worldview Shapes Your Values

The reason worldview shapes your approach to education and pedagogy is that worldview shapes your values. That worldview affects values should be obvious to you, but what is often less obvious is that many seemingly neutral things are value laden. Knowledge can appear to be neutral, but knowing is moral. For a clear example, look at reading. Hopefully we all agree that it would be immoral to withhold the knowledge of how to read. The content and skills you choose to teach are not neutral because when we include something, we are by default excluding other things because of time limitations. These are value based and therefore moral decisions. We value what we include more than what we exclude.

Teaching Is Rooted In Morality

When we make these choices, we are making a decision based on our values, so it is a decision rooted in our morality.

The reason people are so passionate about politics is that politics are moral and have real effects. Education is the same. We must make decisions based on our morality and those decisions have real effects. Because of this, there is something about teaching that has intrinsic moral value. This is why debates within education can get so heated, just like political debates. Teachers are not simply disagreeing on methods. Teachers have moral disagreements on what qualifies as good. Even if the stated goals (critical thinkers, life-long learners, etc) are the same, the methods are incompatibly different. 

To have a well developed philosophy of education requires a thought out worldview. This implies having a thought out morality, knowing what you believe is good and why. So, before you work on your philosophy of education, you need to answer this question. Where is your morality rooted?

Reading in Science Class

I have experimented with incorporating more reading into my 5th and 6th grade science classes. This started with a desire to have my students see how the science we were learning was connected to their everyday lives. So, I would find popular science articles for them to read and take notes on.

Class 1: The Trainwreck

However, during this first lesson, I found out that I cannot just give them an article, even when I have already taught the vocabulary and background knowledge. I did not realize that notetaking was such a complicated skill and as a direct result of my ignorance, this lesson failed. So, after trying to salvage the trainwreck of a lesson I went back to the drawing board. 

Class 2: Prepping for Reading

My new, more thought out approach was to print out a shorter article and go over how to read and take notes on it in a very teacher led fashion. I started by teaching a simplified MLA citation. I explained that you can normally find the author at the top or bottom of an article. Then we looked at the article and students raised their hands when they found the author. The students followed my lead as I wrote the author’s last name and first name on the board. We quickly wrote the title of the article. Finally, I showed them how to identify the website name. Annotation 2020-06-30 140658

With that we were finally ready to start our notes. Just kidding. I still needed to teach them how to take notes from a longer text first, because this is where it really fell apart in the first lesson. I had wrongly assumed that since we take notes each day, my students would know how to create their own. This assumption was far from reality. 

My approach to this involved pulling up some of my own powerpoints and having students open their books to the corresponding page in their textbooks. I asked whether they would prefer to write the paragraph in the book or the phrase on my powerpoint. Then we talked about how to summarize and take notes from a longer piece of writing, and I gave them two simple rules.

  1. No sentences allowed
  2. Do not just write down a word, you must explain it

After going over this and practicing a bit in our textbooks with familiar material, the class was over.

Class 3: Moderate Success

As the next class began, we reviewed the two notetaking rules from the previous class and I gave my students a warm up where they took notes on a paragraph. We reviewed what they wrote and then I passed out the article from last class. We were finally ready to take notes. As students were looking over the article, I drew attention to some text features (headings, links, underlined/highlighted words) and mentioned that they were very similar to the text features in their textbooks. 

I read the first two paragraphs out loud and we had a class discussion about what to write down. I wrote on the board and my students wrote on their summary sheet. After this, I allowed my students to work in pairs. The quality of this first, reading and notetaking activity was disappointingly low.

I still had about half of my students focusing on minor details or on only the interesting parts of the article, neglecting the important parts. Others continued to copy complete sentences from the article because paraphrasing is much more difficult than simply copying what you read. But I still consider this lesson a success because it was the first time my students have had to do anything like this, in any subject. I should expect it to be a bit rough in the beginning.

Feedback and Progress

I decided that this was worth trying again because I want my students to read challenging content in my subject area (Their textbooks are not so challenging). So, I gave feedback and a few weeks later, we tried it again. This time the results were much better. Students were generally following the instructions (no sentences, and giving explanations) and while some were still getting lost in the weeds, I was happy with their overall progress.

I noticed that many of my students needed more guidance on formatting their notes, just telling them to copy my format was not enough instruction. This led to another mini-lesson where I taught how to use bullet points and indentations in their notes, and to link each section of notes with a heading in the article. (This is a work in progress.)

As time went on, my students were able to complete their notes faster and with greater depth. This encouraged me to continue with it. I ended up making a Google Site in order to give my students a limited range of choice and to save paper. Ultimately, we read and summarize an average of two articles per chapter.

My Own Reflection

In science I am fairly skilled at breaking down concepts or skills into bite-sized chunks. Unfortunately this did not really transfer over when I tried to teach reading and notetaking skills because I overlooked how complicated they were. I am a science teacher and I was simply viewing the skills as a vehicle for learning my content.

Once I took the time to properly break down the skills and pre-teach each step, my students were able to find success. But, my pre-teaching in this area tends to be a bit rough as I am still learning how to teach the more technical parts of notetaking while balancing the need to cover material. Teaching is tricky stuff, but I’ll get there.

 

EduTwitter Tiffs: Drill-work

Recently there was another EduTwitter Tiff. This one was about drill-work in schools. Essentially, one side was saying that drill work serves a useful purpose. The other side said it was outdated and promotes mere rote memorization without helping with understanding.

The meaning of a drill is relatively straightforward. But to make things explicit, here is how an education researcher defined ‘drill’. Schofield (1972) defined drill as “the formation of good or bad habits through regular practice of stereotyped exercises.” 

If we can agree on the definition above, it is clear that drills on their own are neither good nor bad. It depends on how they are used. 

Basketball Drills

Sports are famous for their drill-work. Steph Curry has his own MasterClass full of shooting, dribbling, and passing drills. It should be obvious with a bit of thinking that drills have proven themselves to be an important factor is Steph Curry’s ability on the courts, and it takes only the tiniest bit of transfer to see how drills are valuable for anyone in sports, whether a beginner (a young child) or an expert (Steph Curry).

As education is primarily a mental activity, the value of drill-work is less obvious than in sports, but no less important. In education, drills play an important role in learning facts, concepts, and procedures.

  • Facts and Concepts

Drills are great for memorizing facts and concepts. *Flashcards are a classic example of drill-work in education. Flashcards and all other types of drilling are effective because they combine spaced practice (practicing over time) with retrieval practice (calling something to mind). These are two of the most studied and most effective learning strategies
*both physical and digital flashcards are effective

  • Procedures

Drills are also great for learning procedures. If you teach young children, you have probably taught them how to clean up, line up, etc. Teaching these procedures involves drill-work. You say a statement and demonstrate it, then the students follow your lead.

But drill-work is useful for more than physical procedures. We can (and should) use drills to help students learn academic procedures as well. 

When students are learning to write the alphabet, we give them drill sheets to practice writing. We give memorization drills when we require students to memorize PEMDAS. We give application drills when we give students order of operations worksheets. 

More Than Memorization

Done halfway well, drilling leads to much more than rote memorization, it leads to understanding and transfer. The research backs this up. If we want understanding and transfer, then we ought to incorporate drilling into our teaching.

Feedback: The Secret Ingredient

Drills on their own will not make you into a basketball star or a scholar. Going through the drills did not make Steph Curry a basketball star. His being focused while going through the drills coupled with receiving actionable feedback and then working to immediately act on said feedback helped make him a basketball star.

Learning works the same way. If we do not incorporate actionable feedback into our drills, then we will be helping some students develop and ingrain bad habits.

My Stance on Drilling

We should regularly use drill-work in our classes. Drill to kill ignorance and inability. Drill to thrill by unlocking possibilities and unleashing creativity.

When we drill for facts, concepts, and procedures we are killing ignorance by helping students gain knowledge. This is also a key step in destroying inability because drills are focused and explicit, helping students gain the ability to read/write/apply concepts more quickly.

Once our drill-work has killed ignorance and inability, we are able to use it to thrill. Drill-work is thrilling not because it is always exciting in and of itself, rather, drill-work is thrilling because it leads to the ability to thrill. 

The hours of drill-work Steph Curry and Lebron James put in behind the scenes are a large reason we find it thrilling to watch them play basketball. Likewise, drill-work unlocks academic thrills because it unlocks possibilities. The more we know about facts and concepts, the more likely we are to use them in creative, cohesive ways. The knowledge and abilities provided by the drill-work helps unlock our students’ creative potential.

Get Drilling

If we want our students to succeed, we should drill them, give them feedback, and give them many opportunities to respond to said feedback. This dovetails nicely with research on explicit instruction that I have tried to summarize here

If your whole teaching process can be summed up as drill-work, you are a bad teacher because teaching is so much more than drilling. However, if you avoid drill-work, then you are not helping your students as much as you could be. That is also a problem. So, get drilling, judiciously.

Citation
Schofield, H. (1972). The Philosophy of Education An Introduction. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

Reading is Rocket Science

I just read a research summary by Louisa Moats from 1999, Reading is Rocket Science. It was an eye opener. But, it shouldn’t really have been. I have looked into the research of explicit instruction, and as a profession we have ignored that research for years. So it shouldn’t really have been a surprise that we would choose to ignore the research on how children learn to read, especially when the research calls for explicit instruction as well. We just ignored the same thing twice.

Ignore it no longer! If we would use research backed teaching methods, it is estimated that 95% of students could learn to read. We knew this in 1999. 

USA: Land of Below Proficient Readers

  • 65% of 4th grade students are below proficient in reading. 
  • 66% of 8th grade students are below proficient in reading.
  • 63% of 12th grade students are below proficient in reading.

proficient readers

We have chosen to ignore the evidence. We have chosen to harm our students. We have chosen to harm your children. Hopefully as these sad statistics become more well known, more teachers will choose to care about students, to care about your children, and to teach them how to read.

The Research Is The Remedy

Research has found that we must utilize teacher led instruction for decoding, comprehension, and literature appreciation. A reason we ought to use teacher led instruction is because students benefit the most when lessons are systematic and children are taught the code of written English explicitly.

“For best results, the teacher must instruct most students directly, systematically, and explicitly to decipher words in print, all the while keeping in mind the ultimate purpose of reading, which is to learn, enjoy, and understand.” (Moates, 1999)

We must be systematic and explicit when teaching reading or writing because it is not intuitive. We do not naturally or easily learn to read and write. The rules are complex and we add obstacles to learning by making students infer the rules. 

We know that some methods of reading instruction are more effective than others because, “Emergent reading follows a predictable course regardless of the speed of reading acquisition” (Moates, 1999). Essentially, because emergent reading follows a predictable pattern, we can infer (and the research supports) a predictable pattern of effective instruction.

Teacher led instruction isn’t the most popular right now. But we shouldn’t let ideology or pop-education culture get in the way of effective instruction. Unless, of course, your freedom of choosing your preferred teaching method is more important than children learning to read. Make your choice.

Research Summary

Teaching Reading is Rocket Science is available for free. I strongly recommend you read it.

 

More Resources

Reading Rockets
Bringing Words to Life
Explicit Instruction
The Reading League

Good Logic is Circular

If you stop to think about it, all logic is circular. What makes a triangle a triangle? Well, a triangle is “a plane figure with three sides and three angles.” What makes this so? People. We decided that all planar shapes with three sides and three angles would be called a triangle. This logic is circular, yet sound.

But maybe you’d argue that math is a bit different than other types of logic. Of course it must be circular, we humans simply decided that shapes meeting certain qualifications are triangles. All shapes that do not meet said qualifications are not triangles. Are other types of logic also inherently circular?

In short, yes. For a short, accessible explanation, see John Frame. Annotation 2020-06-17 162803

For a more in depth, academic explanation, see William Alston. Annotation 2020-06-17 162745
So, our concern shouldn’t be whether or not we use circular logic, our concern should instead be on whether our logic uses a “good” or a “big” circle.

Think about morals. But, for sake of clarity, think about controversial morals. What is the correct view on the following?

  • Pro-choice
  • Environmentalism
  • LGBT
  • Religion
  • War

How do you justify your stances?

It is my contention that, in addition to the fallacious version of circular logic,  there are three other types of circular logic: personally relative, socially relative, and objective.

The Small Circle

If you are a personal relativist, then you must believe that nothing matters objectively. By nothing, I mean not a single thing. For example, if you believe that morals are relative to the individual, then you can only condemn torture and murder as bad because you do not like them. You cannot say that they are bad categorically.
If your morality is only based on your thoughts or feelings, then you are a personal relativist. Ex:
“I am pro-choice because I think it is good.” or “I am pro-life because I think it is good.” 

The OK Circle

If your thought process goes deeper than pure relativism, that is good. “I am pro-choice because my friends (my society, my culture) are pro-choice.” or “I am pro-life because my friends (my society, my culture) are pro-life.” Then you believe that morality is dependent upon certain cultural norms. 

This is ok. It is better than bad. But it is still far from good. For example, if you believe this, then you cannot claim that slavery has always been bad. You can only claim that slavery is bad in today’s society. Because, long ago, slavery was ubiquitous. Not just in America, but in the entire world. Go back far enough, and all societies condoned slavery, at the very least. If you believe that morality is dependent upon your context, you are a relativist.

*Note: I am obviously not talking about all of morality. Ex: Expressions of respect do depend on your context and so are relative to an extent.

The Big Circle

Many people want to avoid relativism because something about it just strikes them as being off. So we say that rape, murder, extortion, etc are wrong in all times, among all peoples, within all cultures. But how do we justify that belief? 

If we simply say that it is so, we are either a personal relativist or a societal relativist. We are only saying, “I think these things are wrong, so they are wrong.” or we are saying “Our culture thinks these things are wrong, so they are wrong.”

If we want to say that anything is objectively wrong, we must broaden our circle beyond ourselves and our culture. The only way to have a big circle is to appeal to some sort of God or gods or higher power or powers. We must appeal to something above humanity in order to justify any form of objective morality because if a human (personal relativism) or a group of humans (social relativism) can determine what is moral, then what is moral or immoral will always be subject to change as the data changes.

*Note: Science, on its own, is powerless to prove whether anything is moral or immoral. It can only seek to prove cause and effect. We must use the findings of science with other philosophies to determine right and wrong.

Circular Logic in the Classroom

Many of you are probably educators and probably view education as an objective good. But how do you justify that?