Overcoming Obstacles, Community Action and Math

Yup, there's a connection there. Yesterday, I had sufficiently recovered from a very difficult school year to finally start tackling some of my embarrassingly long To Do list and I ended up contacting a local news station to report the crappy job Walgreens is doing maintaining the house next door to mine pending the sale. I've also resorted to the rather dirty tactic of passing out the cell phone number of the gentleman I've been dealing with at Walgreens, and am constantly urging my neighbors to call the 311 complaint number. Periodically, neighbors show up next door and have a discussion with us and say "Isn't someone doing something about this?!" And I say, "Um yes, letter, letter, phone call, letter, meeting, email, EPA, closing date, letter, phone call." And then nothing really changes, and I get busy with washing dishes or writing IEPs and put it out of my mind. Except I never really do, because every time I walk out my front door I see urban blight and I spend a lot of time chasing off vagrants.

This morning a landscaping crew showed up and mowed it.

This has been a lengthy process and it is not over yet. I will need to continue to make phone calls and write letters and threaten empty legal action and in general continue to be a constant annoying bug in the ear of Walgreens Corporate until they complete the sale. I know that failure or perceived failure often comes before success or mastery, and I have spent good portions of my life doing things that are really, really hard or took a really, really long time. So, I will persevere.

In reflecting upon my year teaching math, I have decided that giving up when one experiences failure or difficulty is one of the biggest problems students with special needs have. Scaffolding is perhaps an overused strategy in the special ed. world and it eliminates the process of muddling through partial understanding or confusion on your way to making sense of something. Teachers are instead encouraged to break things down into such teeny tiny, guided steps that students could not possibly experience anything but confidence. But they also grow dependent on a teacher, and even though we are supposed to engage in "gradual release of responsibility" so that students are eventually doing things on their own, the whole thing is just very teacher centered. The most brilliant minds spend years, decades even, puzzling over problems, trying and failing and trying some more. My students will "try" on their own for about 10 seconds before they turn to a teacher or an aide for assistance. Not good. And very annoying.

However, I have also been reading a bit of neuroscience on brain damage and the question of whether or not humans have an innate number line. Interestingly, this author entered number theory on a similar trajectory as I did...he studied dyslexia and speech prior to becoming interested in numbers and one of the things that spawned his interest was the birth of his first child and watching her develop.

So part of the problem is that they give up too easily, but there may be some neurological reasons for not knowing what 2 + 5 is.

On a side note, why do they not teach neuroscience in teacher prep programs? I never learned anything about this stuff other than what I have read on my own, and perhaps carrying over a bit of what I got from my undergraduate work in linguistics. Most teachers know very little about the brain. Isn't that odd?


Laurel said...

I totally agree! As someone in neuroscience I think the idea of making what we know about the brain more accessible to teachers, who could actually put the info to good use, is a brilliant idea. I would love to spend my time doing this when once I finish up my degree. What do you think it would take to get that kind of teacher training going?

k said...

What if we operated under the assumption that teachers are a kind of practical scientist engaged in experiments with brains every day?

People in the Ed world, especially those who are marketing some kind of training, like to talk about "proven results". Use this kit and all of your students will learn. But in reality every day is an experiment, even for a really experienced and talented teacher. Ask any secondary teacher who teachers multiple sections of the same class. They use the exact same lesson plan with completely different results depending on the group of students.

I had to take a class where we learned how to assemble our professional portfolio and talked about bulletin boards. That was dumb. Neuropharmacology would have been a much more useful study, as many of my students take medication that most certainly affects their perception, memory and concentration. However, just that word would scare off 98% of teachers. So, I don't know....maybe rewrite some neuroscience textbooks in a comic book format or something?