Laurie Udesky/EdSource Today

Oakland coach Geetha Lakshminarayanan on the left debriefs with teacher Johanna Langill in her classroom.

To break down the isolation that many teachers experience in their classrooms, California schools are using instructional coaches as a key tool to help teachers adapt their instruction to implement the Common Core standards in math and English language arts.

Enter Geetha Lakshminarayanan, a math coach who on a recent morning was making her weekly visit to Oakland Technical High School and watching closely to see how students were grappling with exponential equations in Johanna Langill’s Algebra 1 class.

Districts have used coaches – more formally known  as instructional or training specialists – for years to improve the effectiveness of classroom instruction. Many coach positions were trimmed as a result of cutbacks during the Great Recession. But with the improving economy and the need to get teachers up to speed on the new Common Core standards, districts are turning to instructional specialists as an essential resource.

Now, their help and training is needed more than ever as teachers make the radical shifts in instruction set by the Common Core State Standards, the new academic guidelines for what students should know at each grade level in math and English Language Arts.

A survey by EdSource of six California districts – Garden Grove Unified,  Santa Ana Unified, Whittier Union High School District, Visalia Unified, Oakland Unified and San Jose Unified – showed that all are relying on coaches as they move forward to implement the Common Core.

Oakland Unified, with an enrollment of over 37,000 students has between 45 and 50 coaches who are each assigned to work full time at a particular school. That’s double the number from three years ago, said Nicole Knight, the district’s interim co-director of teaching and learning

Lakshminarayanan is one of an additional 35 coaches who specialize in different subject areas and move from school to school. She works with six to eight teachers each week at two different schools. She and the other coaches help out in a number of ways by observing classes, giving feedback to teachers during or outside school hours, responding to teachers’ questions by email or giving demonstration lessons.

Next year, the district intends to reduce the number of coaches that travel to different schools and add 20 Common Core coaches assigned to specific schools, Knight said. Coaches at Oakland Unified are funded by a combination of state funds districts receive through the Local Control Funding Formula, grants from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, federal Title II funds for teacher and principal training and Title III funding for English learners.

Johanna Langill teaches math at Oakland Technical High School

Other districts have to manage with far fewer coaches. At Visalia Unified, a 27,000-student district near Fresno, a single coach is assigned to serve all teachers in each elementary grade. A total of four coaches work with teachers in 7th- to 12th-grade classrooms. Sacramento City Unified, with 43,000 students, has 12 math coaches, each of whom is assigned to five or six schools. But that number is up from only two coaches in 2010-11.

“We have grown the number of coaches each year, but we definitely need more of them,” said Iris Taylor, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The coaches, she said, “are the most critical component of our capacity building [to implement the Common Core].

These specialized instructors, she said, “are able to provide a more in-depth and stronger layer of support, and are able to work with more teachers than we are able to touch through professional development sessions alone.”

Without coaches like Lakshminarayanan, teachers may not know for certain if they’re getting the new Common Core approaches to math instruction right, said Robert Rosenfeld, director of the curriculum and assessment training team at WestEd, the nonprofit research and consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco.  

“Until you actually try it out with students and have a thought partner (such as a coach) to give you feedback, we don’t see any meaningful changes in the classroom,” he said, referring to the need for coaches. “With the Common Core there are so many things we’re expecting to see in the classroom, you really need a guide.”

Lakshminarayanan observed how Langill was helping her students engage with each other by asking them how they arrived at their answers on their homework assignments.

In the back of the classroom, she quietly debriefed an EdSource reporter about what she was seeing. She explained that she was looking at how students approached the math problem. Are they talking among themselves about the assignment? They should be. If not, what is Langill doing about it? If so, what are they saying to each other?

“With the Common Core there are so many things we’re expecting to see in the classroom, you really need a guide,” said Robert Rosenfeld, director of the curriculum and assessment training team at WestEd.

She referred to a student in a red and white plaid shirt who was talking to Langill.

“I just saw that student ask Miss Langill a question and before she even started responding to him, she pulled in the other two students [into the dialog],” Lakshminarayanan whispered. “That was a good move. He [the student] should ask the other kids first and they need to also pay attention and talk to each other.”

In order to successfully impart the Common Core standards, math teachers’ roles are changing substantially, Lakshminarayanan said. Teachers should act more like facilitators of discussion and debate rather than an instructor with all the answers, she said.

A former Oakland high school math teacher, Lakshminarayanan left classroom teaching two years ago to become a coach, and the district provided a week of training in the summer, plus ongoing training every other month. Additionally, the district has brought in experts on various Common Core math topics that she and fellow math coaches request, and Lakshminarayanan meets for about three hours each month with fellow math coaches. During the meetings, coaches take turns training one another in the areas within which they have expertise, she said.

One of the eight Common Core “Standards for Mathematical Practice” that applies to all grades is that students “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” As a result, students are expected to be active conversationalists in the classroom.

To encourage students to engage each other in such conversations, teachers implementing the Common Core typically assign students to sit in small groups. In Langill’s class, she’s assigned “facilitators” to each group. Those are students whom she hopes will take the lead in prompting discussion among their classmates.

In some cases, the initial groupings don’t always work out as she had thought they would. In her meeting with Lakshminarayanan after class, Langill shared her concerns about the different groups. In one group, there wasn’t enough interaction.

In another, the designated student “facilitator” seemed to only be communicating with the girls sitting on either side of her, instead of the entire group.

Lakshminarayanan had also noticed the lack of communication, and wondered if the girls who weren’t participating couldn’t hear the facilitator or just were resigned to thinking that they were not going to be included in the discussion.

She suggested to Langill that a simple solution might be to change the seating arrangement.

San Jose Unified Assistant Superintendent Jason Willis said that before the Common Core was introduced,  in math at the elementary school level “a lot of content was scripted, you kind of read from the book,” and it drilled students on things like multiplication tables.

To help teachers adjust to the new Common Core standards, his district has also assigned a coach to each grade level. Last year, some schools had part-time instructional coaches. This year, most of the elementary schools utilize full-time coaches. Additionally, 10 coaches who have been working with middle and high school teachers over the last five years are now helping them settle into the new standards.

Lakshminarayanan, who has been observing Langill’s classes since the beginning of the school year, said she’s witnessed critical changes in Langill’s algebra class. “I see kids relying more on each other and on their own reasoning instead of Miss Langill,” Lakshminarayan said. “They know that when she comes over she’s going to ask them more questions, she’s not going to tell them how to do it.”

For Langill, Lakshminarayanan’s input has been invaluable. “It’s made such a difference,” Langill said. “Sometimes it’s just talking through successes and what is frustrating me that can help me identify what kids need next and what I can do to meet those needs,” she said of her interactions with Lakshminarayanan. “It helps me see the progress that I have made and kids have made.”

 


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  1. Concerned Parent 1 year ago1 year ago

    April 2015 I am a parent. I am very concerned at the way Common Core math was introduced in year 2012-2013, and 2014-2015. Very concerned and I have had to go out and spend monies to ensure my child is learning math. What a bunch of crock in that we believe that students can now teach eachother to find "ah ha" moments. What is needed is firm benchmarks of testing for three times a year or … Read More

    April 2015

    I am a parent. I am very concerned at the way Common Core math was introduced in year 2012-2013, and 2014-2015. Very concerned and I have had to go out and spend monies to ensure my child is learning math.

    What a bunch of crock in that we believe that students can now teach eachother to find “ah ha” moments.

    What is needed is firm benchmarks of testing for three times a year or more to check if children are learning or not. We do not have that. We don’t.

    The State of California has also ruled up in la la land that no state testing will be used to judge the learning of children or for schools to be held accountable with, in other words, the State is not using the new State Test to measure learning. Nope. It is not.

    So, this year there is less learning in math, in my opinion, then any other year in the history of our little California.

    I want the old fashioned benchmark tests for checking if my child is learning or not. I say we do not need teacher coaches no. We could cut that $$$ in half and use on line tutoring.

    Put the monies in the classroom for children to do more learning.

    All the monies are being put down the drain with teaching seasoned teachers and other teachers how to teach and they do not need that help. They are quite capable of getting help on line and with free resources.

    I do not trust the educational system, but I did before Common Core teaching and Smarter Balance testing. I once did, but, no more. No.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

      I thought it was a good idea but in San Francisco, and nowhere else, they are eliminating 8th Grade Algebra and making everyone take Algebra in 9th Grade claiming it benefits black and Latino kids and Asian and white kids are privileged and should help assist teachers in bringing the others up. They’re focused on equity. As if, our black and Latino kids do worse than their counterparts nearly everywhere else in the state.

  2. Maureen Coffey 1 year ago1 year ago

    "Many coach positions were trimmed as a result of cutbacks during the Great Recession." Well, like with companies slashing advertising just when turnover goes down and more marketing might be needed, most institutions never act counter-cyclical although almost everyone tends to agree that this would be the way "to go". However, I wonder if -using a kind of train the trainer approach- school districts could not kind of multiply instructors via training a few teachers … Read More

    “Many coach positions were trimmed as a result of cutbacks during the Great Recession.” Well, like with companies slashing advertising just when turnover goes down and more marketing might be needed, most institutions never act counter-cyclical although almost everyone tends to agree that this would be the way “to go”. However, I wonder if -using a kind of train the trainer approach- school districts could not kind of multiply instructors via training a few teachers on each school’s staff over time and start a self-supervising process which embeds the activities of the “itinerant” coaches when available. Japanese companies have become so fabulously successful (and outshone the likes of e.g. GM, Ford, Chrysler etc.) by establishing “quality circles” etc. Which, ironically, is something that was suggested by a US professor but then ignored at the time but utilized in Japan …

  3. Brian Silberberg 1 year ago1 year ago

    There has been a lot of consideration recently about how we can train students to be ready for the standards of the Common Core. At Books That Grow our app can be a critical tool in helping with that goal; our app provides a library of reading materials, all of which can be read across multiple reading levels, and all of which have been developed to help accommodate students to the standards of the Common … Read More

    There has been a lot of consideration recently about how we can train students to be ready for the standards of the Common Core. At Books That Grow our app can be a critical tool in helping with that goal; our app provides a library of reading materials, all of which can be read across multiple reading levels, and all of which have been developed to help accommodate students to the standards of the Common Core, so that a classroom can simultaneously bring all of its students up to standard, across all levels of need. See more at http://www.booksthatgrow.com/

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Great. Got any good deals on Amway products, or maybe Avon? How about Tupperware? What this site has always been missing is a couple of good infomercials now and again.

      • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

        Gary thinks we just have to pay teachers more and have huge welfare benefits for all to discourage fatherhood and the achievement gap will magically disappear. Mention Asian effort, hours per week, or parenting efforts to give their kids tools over the summer and on weekends, teach their kids early and help them maximize performance, and he gets sarcastic or disappears. The STAR prep books were great for my kids, as was supplemental … Read More

        Gary thinks we just have to pay teachers more and have huge welfare benefits for all to discourage fatherhood and the achievement gap will magically disappear. Mention Asian effort, hours per week, or parenting efforts to give their kids tools over the summer and on weekends, teach their kids early and help them maximize performance, and he gets sarcastic or disappears. The STAR prep books were great for my kids, as was supplemental effort on my part. Teaching math, reading, history, science, languages, etc. was invaluable. These tools sound very good. See Gary doesn’t believe in competition, he wants the French 35 hour week. He doesn’t want parents to work harder teaching their kids because that encourages competition which is bad. He wants a one world government socialist solution for all. Therefore if anyone suggests a way families who choose to sacrifice can work hard and improve their children’s futures, he mocks them.

        Thanks for posting this. I will use this product to help my kids reach the top. More people should provide practical solutions like this rather than rhetoric.

        • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

          And about those Asian students who are doing so well. That they are is a fact, at least for certain sub-groups of Asians, and for that the kids are to be commended. But, as I have briefly outlined above, the test based “merit system” where they shine seems to allocate much more “merit’ to those with wealth. Could that be a factor in Asian student success? There’s actually quite a bit available on the issue; however, … Read More

          And about those Asian students who are doing so well. That they are is a fact, at least for certain sub-groups of Asians, and for that the kids are to be commended. But, as I have briefly outlined above, the test based “merit system” where they shine seems to allocate much more “merit’ to those with wealth. Could that be a factor in Asian student success?
          There’s actually quite a bit available on the issue; however, most of it will interfere with the agendas of those who just want to spout platitudes about “effort and hard work.”
          Dr. Lingxin Hao of John Hopkins writes on Race, Immigration, and Wealth Stratification in America. the Pew Research wrote a report on the subject.
          Pew asserts 3/4ers of adult Asian immigrants were born elsewhere. And: “The educational credentials of these recent arrivals is striking… 61% have a BA or greater. This double the rate for non-Asian arrivals…and makes the recent Asian arrivals the most highly educated cohort of immigrants in US history.”
          Pew goes on: “…27% of adults in Korea…and 25% in Japan…have a (BA). But…”70% of (US) immigrants from those counties have a (BA).”
          Further reading will show that Asians do have a higher than “average” US income, but the income of many immigrants is low for the US but was high for their native countries. These immigrant’s children, though eligible for Free&Reduced lunch in the US still come from families that “on average” have adults with higher than average levels of education and come with middle-class values, including an appreciation for high academic achievement, established in their parent’s home countries.
          Trying to compare the academic achievement of children on F&R lunch from these immigrant families with children from other immigrant families, or even non-immigrant families, on F&R is the old apples and aardvarks kind of comparison. It makes no educational sense.
          But it adds volume to the “sound and fury.”

          • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

            There are a lot of cultural values that are involved here which you don't mention. People forget, Jews were once very poor and discriminated against. What comes first, an appreciation for education and culture and saving, or the wealth that goes with it? Jews were once just as poor as Italian, Irish and Polish immigrants, but in 2015, Jewish Americans earn far more than Italian, Irish and Polish Americans. We will … Read More

            There are a lot of cultural values that are involved here which you don’t mention. People forget, Jews were once very poor and discriminated against. What comes first, an appreciation for education and culture and saving, or the wealth that goes with it? Jews were once just as poor as Italian, Irish and Polish immigrants, but in 2015, Jewish Americans earn far more than Italian, Irish and Polish Americans. We will see the same thing in the future between Asians and Latinos. It won’t be based on pedigree or wealth, but on effort.

            Gary, do you think anyone who claims they are too poor to study and let’s their kid study 5.6 hours a week or less, yet somehow finds money for nice shoes and clothes and somehow finds 40 hours a week to watch TV and play video games or let their kids do so is at all, in any way, serious about making an effort to improve their lives?

            DO poor kids have an excuse to not study just because they are poor? Maybe they got evicted once, most of their childhood they are studying. Poor Asian kids do well even when their parents are not educated. Studying is not tied to income. It is tied to character. That those with more character tend to raise kids with more character and tend to earn more money should not come as a surprise.

  4. Susan Teece 1 year ago1 year ago

    Committed and effective and educators really want to deliver the most effective instruction. They also want their students to be effective thinkers, communicators and collaborators. Ms. L (with 16 letters in her name) provides rich opportunities for educators to explore their pedagogy and their understanding of their students strengths and needs, perhaps it even gives them the chance to look at their own content based understanding! The kind of work she did with Ms. … Read More

    Committed and effective and educators really want to deliver the most effective instruction. They also want their students to be effective thinkers, communicators and collaborators. Ms. L (with 16 letters in her name) provides rich opportunities for educators to explore their pedagogy and their understanding of their students strengths and needs, perhaps it even gives them the chance to look at their own content based understanding! The kind of work she did with Ms. Langill is extremely necessary so that the students understand the critical benefits of working toward a common goal and that which develops real knowledge. I am somewhat hopeful that the belief regarding the potentcy of CA’s investment moves from the west, east, as the rest of us share the exact same struggles!

  5. Matt Hurt 1 year ago1 year ago

    As with any implementation of more rigorous standards, school districts must have great formative and benchmark assessments that are exactly aligned with the new expectations. Administrators must monitor these assessments and work with teachers when expectations are not met. Teachers are licensed professionals who know how to teach. However they need feedback to make sure they are teaching exactly the right things. Administrators must use the results of the highly aligned assessments to evaluate … Read More

    As with any implementation of more rigorous standards, school districts must have great formative and benchmark assessments that are exactly aligned with the new expectations. Administrators must monitor these assessments and work with teachers when expectations are not met. Teachers are licensed professionals who know how to teach. However they need feedback to make sure they are teaching exactly the right things. Administrators must use the results of the highly aligned assessments to evaluate teacher performance and provide them constructive feedback. If this process is carried out, the need for instructional coaching is mitigated if not deleted completely. I lead this process in a school district and have the data to back up my comments.

  6. jimbo jones 1 year ago1 year ago

    Common core is common crap. Plan and simple.thats what it is when i cant help my 2nd grader with his homework and where is his math book at . Or any school book at for that matter.

    Replies

    • jane Jillbo 1 year ago1 year ago

      Finally! The answer to why parents can’t help their 2nd graders with homework.
      I bet that math book is hiding under a pile of unnecessary prepositions.
      Damn you common core!

  7. Brian Silberberg 1 year ago1 year ago

    The implementation of Common Core has lots of parents and educators worried. Going through such a new process can be frightening and cause anxiety about the quality of new education. At Books That Grow our app provides a bevy of great reading materials, all of which are compliant with Common Core standards, as well as readable at a variety of reading levels, accommodating all students. See more at http://www.booksthatgrow.com/.

  8. Laura Mayer 1 year ago1 year ago

    Thank you so much for this article. As a high school instructional coach who spends much time helping my colleagues implement these standards, I see the positive results of one-on-one support. As with any new standards implementation, teachers need time and support to deconstruct standards, develop targets and lessons, and reflect on next steps. True professional development is sustained, personalized, and embedded in the work day. That’s where coaches fit in perfectly.

  9. Laura Clarizio 1 year ago1 year ago

    Yep, they are taking our American School Children "Deep" alright, Deep in a bunch of Not Proven, Not field tested, no proof of international benchmarking "as claimed", no evidence of making students college/ career ready as "claimed", but definitely developmentally inappropriate.......Garbage. Why didn't the Common Core architects listen to Dr. Sandra Stotsky, ELA Emerita, and Dr. James Milgram, Stanford Mathematics Emeritus (The ONLY TWO Content area Experts on the validation team for the Common Core … Read More

    Yep, they are taking our American School Children “Deep” alright, Deep in a bunch of Not Proven, Not field tested, no proof of international benchmarking “as claimed”, no evidence of making students college/ career ready as “claimed”, but definitely developmentally inappropriate…….Garbage. Why didn’t the Common Core architects listen to Dr. Sandra Stotsky, ELA Emerita, and Dr. James Milgram, Stanford Mathematics Emeritus (The ONLY TWO Content area Experts on the validation team for the Common Core standards), when they said, they would not sign off on these standards because there was lack of evidence for all these above claimed things. Common Core is nothing more than another giant education shift profiteering scam, that takes kids away from real learning time in the classroom and forces educators to waste time teaching to standardized tests. The children are only coming along for the money making Ride, at the kid’s expense!!!!

  10. Jim Mordecai 1 year ago1 year ago

    There seems to be a structural problem with this creation of a coaching position. Do the districts negotiate these newly formed positions with their local teacher unions? This approach could be disruptive with teachers feeling that they are been judged and there is a 5th column in their classrooms impacting their evaluations. And, if there is need for time to go over the feedback, are the professional teachers being paid? Since there is … Read More

    There seems to be a structural problem with this creation of a coaching position. Do the districts negotiate these newly formed positions with their local teacher unions? This approach could be disruptive with teachers feeling that they are been judged and there is a 5th column in their classrooms impacting their evaluations. And, if there is need for time to go over the feedback, are the professional teachers being paid?

    Since there is a difference between Common Core State Standards and a curriculum that addresses those standards how are decisions being made on what the curriculum will look like? What is the role of the classroom teacher and these coaches in creating that curriculum? And, since teachers will be evaluated, are they using their professional judgment on making the curriculum decision of how to approach a standard? What if classroom teacher and coach disagree on what is the best curriculum approach?

    The approach of using coaches to implement a Common Core State Standard curriculum is just wrong. It is eye wash. A symbol of implementing a curriculum.

    Schools with resources (money to pay for teachers to work overtime) and perhaps with trained facilitators should work on building a curriculum to implement these untried package of standards.

    Finally, to expect all students to comply with all standards for a grade is unrealistic. What is going to happen is that many will try to get students to do well on the test that is suppose to show mastery of the standards. Test prep will become the curriculum. That is a low standard of education.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      I would hope such positions are negotiated locally. Though it is possible the coaches are hired as consultants. The "coach" being present on site to work on a day to day basis with teachers is actually pretty well confirmed as the best practices model of professional development. The article doesn't seem to make any connection between the coaches and evaluation so I'm not sure where you are getting that. It appears your resistance to CCSS might be … Read More

      I would hope such positions are negotiated locally. Though it is possible the coaches are hired as consultants. The “coach” being present on site to work on a day to day basis with teachers is actually pretty well confirmed as the best practices model of professional development.

      The article doesn’t seem to make any connection between the coaches and evaluation so I’m not sure where you are getting that.

      It appears your resistance to CCSS might be coloring your reaction.

      You are right that teachers will need more time. Curriculum should be developed collaboratively, Many of the problems you identify are due to the rushed implementation of CCSS and these problems were evident that last time new standards were implemented.

  11. SD Parent 1 year ago1 year ago

    Maybe "mumbo jumbo" is better? I get where Sue is coming from. How long will it take for students to grasp a mathematical concept with 5 or 6 students in a group "discussing" various erroneous theories and methodologies? The CCSS powers that be say that it's better to have more depth and less breadth, but how much time is wasted in spinning their wheels when it could be used with more directed … Read More

    Maybe “mumbo jumbo” is better? I get where Sue is coming from.

    How long will it take for students to grasp a mathematical concept with 5 or 6 students in a group “discussing” various erroneous theories and methodologies? The CCSS powers that be say that it’s better to have more depth and less breadth, but how much time is wasted in spinning their wheels when it could be used with more directed learning? Furthermore, this model relies on there being at least one student in the group who “figures it out” and then that person or someone else in the group being able to explain the reasoning in a way the other students understand. This sounds more like a lesson in leadership and communication (and creating a new generation of teachers) than in learning math concepts.

    I absolutely believe in students understanding the reasoning behind math (not just memorizing stupid math tricks to get the right answer), and I also understand that interpersonal skills are critical to success in the real/working world, However, if you think of those in STEM who really advanced their field–be it Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, James Watson, or Stephen Hawking–their major contributions to their fields was through deep inner reflection and thought, not via their interpersonal skills (which in many cases were quite lacking). Are we really ready to value social skills over increased knowledge?

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Does the question of "how long" it takes students to grasp a concept supersede the question of "how well" that grasp it? Having students work in collaborative groups, when well done, has been demonstrated to help in critical thinking and problem solving. Is that what you think the public schools should be developing; people who lack interpersonal skills that verge on the autism spectrum? Actually, highly developed interpersonal skills and people who know how to problem … Read More

      Does the question of “how long” it takes students to grasp a concept supersede the question of “how well” that grasp it?

      Having students work in collaborative groups, when well done, has been demonstrated to help in critical thinking and problem solving.

      Is that what you think the public schools should be developing; people who lack interpersonal skills that verge on the autism spectrum? Actually, highly developed interpersonal skills and people who know how to problem solve collaboratively are one of the chief requirements for employees demanded by the tech industry, These are commonly called the “soft skills.” Look it up.

      Working in groups would only be one of the classroom strategies that might be “coached.” No need to venture into hyperbole.

      • SC parent 1 year ago1 year ago

        Sources please? Where has been demonstrated that working in collaborative groups, as SD parent describes, helps in critical thinking and problem solving?

        In Canada, the emphasis on student-centered group work has led to a decline in math ability and problem solving:
        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/the-damaging-legacy-of-discovery-learning/article15768057/

        I’m sure that you also have seen Project Follow Through, the very large study that was done in the 1970’s that found direct instruction was better:
        http://www.jefflindsay.com/EducData.shtml

        • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

          You understand the links you provided go to a newspaper op/ed and a blog representing the opinion of some guy who is a fan of direct instruction. You have kind of tiptoed into the great education debate between the constructivists and the direct instruction/behaviorists. In other words the "reading wars" and the math wars." Understand that the side you seem to favor, the direct instruction/behaviorists had the instructional ball in their side of the court … Read More

          You understand the links you provided go to a newspaper op/ed and a blog representing the opinion of some guy who is a fan of direct instruction. You have kind of tiptoed into the great education debate between the constructivists and the direct instruction/behaviorists. In other words the “reading wars” and the math wars.” Understand that the side you seem to favor, the direct instruction/behaviorists had the instructional ball in their side of the court since the late 90s in CA and since around 2002 (with NCLB) nationally. In that time, and you can find a National Research Council Report on the topic if you poke around, the student achievement needle has not moved much with the behaviorist folks at the helm.

          I found the KONRAD YAKABUSKI (an education expert?) op/ed particularly amusing. He uses PIRLS scores to condemn “discovery learning”,” based on scores outside one Canadian city, and then notes (as I stated above} that the US gave it all up years ago. He then notes that the limited sample of Canadian scores he’s focused on dropped Canada to #13 while the US is at #36. It did the US a lot of good to drop “discovery learning” and now he wants Canada to do the same thing. (At least if high PIRLS scores are on your agenda.) Great advice. I will say he notes, and accurately, that PIRLS scores mean almost nothing as to national levels of innovation or productivity as the US has had low international test scores for decades, but has pretty much dominated the world in real life considerations like innovation and economic productivity.

          As you might guess, I am in favor of constructivist/”discovery” type learning. (But, then, I spent 35 years in a classroom so where do I get off with opinions like that?) I may write something for EdSource on research behind constructivist v. behaviorist education pedagogy, but in the meantime I’m sure you have google or yahoo at your disposal: Discover! And have fun.

          • SC parent 1 year ago1 year ago

            Gary, You make an interesting point about the rankings of Americans on the test. Considering that curriculum like Everyday Math and Investigations have been used in America right up to the start of Common Core (and after), and I have not seen studies on how many schools are using one pedagogy or another, I have been unsure how to use that data on American schools to determine which side I should take in the great … Read More

            Gary,

            You make an interesting point about the rankings of Americans on the test. Considering that curriculum like Everyday Math and Investigations have been used in America right up to the start of Common Core (and after), and I have not seen studies on how many schools are using one pedagogy or another, I have been unsure how to use that data on American schools to determine which side I should take in the great math wars. Saying that we’re using a particular pedagogy “less than before” seems very nebulous, especially in American education. Per your suggestion, I will “discover” it further to see if I can make more sense of it.

            I am reluctant to dismiss the Canadians’ math experience with declining test scores as readily as you are, because of Canada’s relative position to the US. Obviously, things like poverty affect relative position. Also, the test scores have also been analyzed from year to year, and found that the kids were twice as likely to be innumerate and 1/3 less likely to be prepared for a STEM degree in college. While I don’t think that in the end the PISA tests matter very much, I do consider trends to be useful information, especially when there has been minimal demographic change.

            I understand that you don’t agree with the author that I linked to regarding Project Follow Through. Are you also saying that you think that Project Follow Through did not find that direct teaching was a better method?

            I look forward to reading your article, Gary, and the demonstrations that you have that constructivism works. It sounds like you’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences with constructivism over the past 35 years, so I would also be interested in knowing the demographics of your classrooms. I think that Google and Common Core has probably changed your readership some. A lot of our children now have experience with constructivism and group work and collaboration in math, and not all of that experience is good. Even if you decide to write an article that favors constructivism, I hope your article can find a way to acknowledge that constructivism can be badly done, and the problems that students are having are not just because “change is hard” or because they have innumerate parents. I have heard stories of lots of kids who are having trouble with this method for one reason or another, but one mom’s comments were particularly poignant…. she pulled her daughter out of public school after her daughter went through 7th and part of 8th grade of Common Core math. When she pulled her daughter out of school, every single placement test that her daughter took in homeschooling curriculum showed that her daughter had to repeat 7th grade. This is a kid who was a top scorer prior to Common Core.

            As far as I can tell, behaviorism and constructivism is just a spectrum. On the one end, you have unguided “discovery” learning, which wouldn’t work, and on the other end, you have a teacher who is teaching directly and just drones on and on. Obviously that won’t work either. We all have to go somewhere in the middle.

            • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

              The experience of your friend and her daughter are, obviously, anecdotal. People who decide to pursue home schooling, in my experience (also anecdotal) tend to be the same kind of parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated. I'm not sure of the "validity" of those folks as a "sample." Of course constructivism can be done badly, as can direct instruction. The difference is what do you want to see as the outcome. Direct … Read More

              The experience of your friend and her daughter are, obviously, anecdotal. People who decide to pursue home schooling, in my experience (also anecdotal) tend to be the same kind of parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated. I’m not sure of the “validity” of those folks as a “sample.”

              Of course constructivism can be done badly, as can direct instruction. The difference is what do you want to see as the outcome. Direct instruction can result in higher scores on some tests, which is its main claim to fame (See Project Follow Through). There has been a general consensus arrived at in many public spheres, including political, educational, industrial, etc., that simply pursuing higher test scores, particularly on the “simplistic” tests deployed for over a decade, is not enough. Problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to collaborate constructively are valuable traits that should be pursued by education. These kinds of skills are best pursued via constructivist pedagogy. Hence the rationale for CCSS and SBAC et al. The problem is that the more “valuable” (and it is subjective) and complex skills are not easily tested and reduced to spreadsheets or box-score layouts in the media. This leaves constructivism open to constant criticism from some quarters who value spreadsheets, numbers in the abstract, and “measurable outcomes.” Does this often put the business community, who also values the soft/constructivist skills, into cognitive dissonance? Absolutely.

              Another key battle ground in the constructivist/direct instruction wars is the issue of cost. Costs, and the attendant taxes, hits many people in the deepest recesses of their souls (for whatever that says about their souls). Lining kids up in rows of 50 or 60 with one teacher doing direct instruction is feasible and cheap (if questionably effective). And that’s not hyperbole, Bill Gates has actual proposed such “reforms.” Bubble in tests are favored by many because they, like huge class sizes, are more “cost effective.” Constructivist education, to be effective, requires relatively small classes. The tests must be geared to allow kids to demonstrate what they know as well as what they can do (performance based testing). SBAC initially promised to do this, but has now backed off because of…costs and time. The “time” element is a key argument for doing testing only every couple of years (3rd-6th-8th and 11th grades perhaps) so that too much instructional time is not lost to test prep/taking. Cost issue, particularly in CA, are endlessly problematic.

              Another cost “item’ involves this post. Effectively teaching a constructivist pedagogy requires well trained teachers who are constantly upgrading and refining their skills. That involves time and personnel intensive ($$$) teacher preparation, and then coaching (Peer Assistance and Review), and time ($$$) for teachers to collaborate and work on refining practice. The “alternative” is, in large part, what has been attempted to be implemented over the course of more than a decade; multiple choice test driven “reform,” teachers using scripted curriculum and pacing guides, and even more extreme options like sending teachers into classrooms with high needs kids with only 5 weeks of preparation (Teach for America). You will find press releases called “studies” published by various conservative think-tanks [sic] advocating for all of these options and denigrating the more costly, typically constructivist, pedagogy. The bottom line is not educational effectiveness, it is the bottom line.

            • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

              Well said.

            • navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

              I'm glad you mentioned cost. Any discussion of these techniques must include a clear statement of how costs are affected, as reducing costs is often a priority we place above pedagogy, especially when someone else's kids are involved. To be sure, that something is cheaper doesn't have to mean its 'worse' than some arbitrary alternative. But it also doesn't have to mean its better. But there are always trade offs and those must be understood. … Read More

              I’m glad you mentioned cost. Any discussion of these techniques must include a clear statement of how costs are affected, as reducing costs is often a priority we place above pedagogy, especially when someone else’s kids are involved. To be sure, that something is cheaper doesn’t have to mean its ‘worse’ than some arbitrary alternative. But it also doesn’t have to mean its better. But there are always trade offs and those must be understood.
              More generally speaking, it is amazing to me how little consensus there seems to be in how we address education of our children. I could say a lot more to that but will leave it for now.

  12. Phil Lutgen 1 year ago1 year ago

    Unfortunately, many coaches are not highly qualified in the subject they are coaching. One case comes to mind of a middle school math coach with only a multiple subject credential. She has never taught higher than Pre-Algebra, yet she was hired as the math coach for the middle school. How is she a valid coach for mathematics? She only worked with the 6th grade math team as a result of her lack … Read More

    Unfortunately, many coaches are not highly qualified in the subject they are coaching. One case comes to mind of a middle school math coach with only a multiple subject credential. She has never taught higher than Pre-Algebra, yet she was hired as the math coach for the middle school. How is she a valid coach for mathematics? She only worked with the 6th grade math team as a result of her lack of knowledge of the rest of middle school math. Another example was a coach who was promoted by the principal with no input from the department. That person did not work with the staff she was hired to coach. As a matter of fact, a new teacher in the department was let go that year for being ineffective. The “coach” did not set foot in his room a single time to offer assistance. The coach should have been let go first.

    I agree that coaching is critical to better teaching, but the coach should be an expert in the field which they are coaching. The coach should also be a member of a team that the others can work with. Too many times, “favorites” are played and the results are negative. As we approach the next teacher shortage, qualified coaches become more critical to bring along the new folks and work with the old ones. Most importantly though qualified coaches become harder to find.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      What you are describing is not an issue with "coaching" as an effective strategy. You are talking about a highly ineffective administrator. During the 1980s the CA Content Area Projects ran summer programs that lasted a highly intensive 5 to 6 weeks to effectively train skilled coaches. Not enough of them to cover the states 400K teachers, but they were acknowledged as skilled. During the implementation of the last set of CA Content Standards that was … Read More

      What you are describing is not an issue with “coaching” as an effective strategy. You are talking about a highly ineffective administrator.

      During the 1980s the CA Content Area Projects ran summer programs that lasted a highly intensive 5 to 6 weeks to effectively train skilled coaches. Not enough of them to cover the states 400K teachers, but they were acknowledged as skilled.

      During the implementation of the last set of CA Content Standards that was mostly missing. Implementing the CCSS seems to be following the same course in many ways. And, again, much of this can be traced to CA’s significant deficiencies in funding to take on those kinds of tasks. The other issue is, the rush to” judgement.” Literally. Everything involving the CCSS as well as SBAC are being rushed because of the fundamentally hysterical notion that any further delay in publishing new “box scores'” of student test scores in the media represents a threat of some kind of “existential proportions.” We must be able to judge and point fingers at students, teachers, schools, districts, whatever. The fact that publishing the box scores for over a decade now has not moved the needle in many ways, and particularly for the poor and minorities, is to be rigorously ignored.

  13. sue deen 1 year ago1 year ago

    What a bunch of gobbly gook.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      So what didn’t you understand?

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