My Turn: Actually, effective teachers are already using this best practice
As a longtime educator (public school teacher and reading specialist, K-12 literacy consultant, college professor and author of Lifers: Learning from At-Risk Adolescent Readers), I was confused by “Why not adaptive learning?,” Roy Schweiker’s letter in the Dec. 5 Monitor.
His discussion of three classroom instructional methods makes me wonder about his sources of information.
He seems to think that “separate but equal,” a euphemism he uses for classroom tracking, might well be “a miracle cure” for what ails U.S. public school education. In fact, research over the past three decades points to the understanding that once a child is placed in the low track in school she or he is forever consigned to the role of slow learner.
And since this labeling, based primarily on socio-economic factors rather than on intellectual potential, often begins by the second week of kindergarten, academic failure quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many undeserving children. Far from a “separate but equal” curriculum, low-track students more often than not receive an inferior level of instruction, are treated as “different” by both teachers and peers, and come to see themselves in a depressingly disparaging light. Such a negative self-image can and often does lead to disruptive and counter-productive classroom behavior, sinking the “slow learner” even farther into the dismal swamp of academic failure.
The other instructional extreme Schweiker mentions is what he calls “lockstep learning,” which in his opinion is being adopted by some school districts in order to “narrow the gap” among learners, making sure that by teaching “the same number of pages per day regardless of whether the particular students understand it. . . fast learners learn less than they could.”
I will sadly admit that such an ineffective one-size-fits-all approach may well be in use in some schools. But I am confident that in the vast majority of local elementary classrooms a third approach, one which Schweiker seems to believe is virtually non-existent, is currently an instructional method of choice.
“Adaptive learning,” as he labels it, is indeed an integral part of most effective teachers’ classrooms, as they strive to differentiate their instruction in order to meet the needs of a wide range of learners. By using this best practice, educators are able to teach a common curriculum while working to meet the learning needs and preferences of each student entrusted to their care by parents who expect the best education possible for their children.
Perhaps this response will take columnist Rob Fried off Schweiker’s proverbial hook.
(Pam Mueller lives in Contoocook.)