Monday, January 5, 2009

What We Learned from Annette Breaux 2.0

This is the second post in a series of reflections on our visit with Annette Breaux.

One of the most poignant things Annette discussed was the tendency to play the blame game regarding students. Using a very clever series of illustrations, Annette showed a high school discussing a student who lacks skills to be successful in high school. The high school blames the middle school. The middle school then blames the elementary school. The elementary school blames the kindergarten and pre-k. They, in turn blame the parents. You get the idea. I'd be willing to bet you have heard a conversation like this in your office, in your workroom, etc.

Quite often validity can be found in such statements. When we find ourselves with a student or students like the one mentioned above, seeking the root of the cause of the deficiencies can be a legitimate and productive endeavor. However, expending great amounts of energy placing blame almost certainly will not be the most productive use of resources. We must remember not to lose the student in the search for why the student is deficient.

When it comes to the student, I have always believed and Annette argued, we must meet the student where he/she is and move forward from there. At whatever level of skill we find a student upon receiving them at our school or in our division, we must assess their skill level and work to move forward. For example, if we inherit an entire class section of Algebra I students who seem to lack basic math skills, we can spend only so much time trying to pinpoint where the students got off-track. What we need to do with this class section is move them forward as much as possible and at a realistic pace from whatever level at which we find them. We can't thrust upon them coursework with which they'll be unsuccessful because we don't have the patience to bring them up to speed. The inherent danger, and indeed the challenge, with such an approach lies with our ability to move them ahead to a level of readiness and preparedness at which they will be successful in the next course in the sequence (Algebra II builds on Algebra I, Spanish II builds on Spanish I, etc.).

This philosophical approach to dealing with kids behind the curve applies to teachers and educational leaders alike. Teachers must move beyond, or get over, the fact the kids are behind schedule and get down to the business of teaching them and moving them forward. Administrators have more of a responsibility to seek out possible causes for any deficiencies than do teachers. However, administrators must keep in focus the question that should drive student-related decisions: what's best for kids? What is best for kids is for teachers and administrators to meet kids where they are and help them move ahead, to progress, to grow academically.


Shawn said...

As you allude too, the big problem is keeping the course legitimate to its name. If you go back to where a weak class is, in teaching Algebra II, in the end have you really taught algebra II or algebra I. How do you stay accountable to the curriculum and still find time to remediate?

Nathan Barber said...

Although this isn't the complete solution to the problem, I would suggest that having a master teacher with such a class is crucial. An average teacher, in my opinion, simply would not be able to bridge the gap. Since I don't have the answer, I'd love to get additional insight from other educators/administrators.