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Social Media in the ClassroomWhy Ontario Students Are Failing in the Real World
By Jason Beaudry
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Jason Beaudry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEDUCATION BEFORE SCHOOL
The greatest gift a parent can give a child is love and affection and of course—Time. All children, but young children in particular, who spend quality time with their mom and or dad reading together will do so much in assisting their cognitive development. Infants have the ability to soak up all the knowledge that mom or dad is giving them-good or bad. Spending some quality time before bed reading to children provides them a good start for a love of books. It also helps them improve and increase their vocabulary and much more then that they feel their parents love. They get that much valuable quality time with mom and or dad. Too much emphasis had been placed on the television raising our children because we are "too busy." We should never be "too busy" for our children. What we give them early on in life will follow them for the rest of their lives. Checking Facebook, Twitter or whatever else is going on within the confines of social media should never take precedent over our children. Who cares what the Kardashians are doing or specifically not doing; it pales in comparison to what our children are doing or specifically not doing—like their school work. Spending quality family time at an early age will make raising young children and then teenagers a little easier; it is not to say all children will be perfect, but it will not make things worse—remember teaching never ends. Children need to be taught proper behaviour and proper learning. Doing something as simple as reading to our young children will make a world of difference in how they are able to learn when they begin school. However, sadly far too many children do not get the much valuable time with mom and or dad. Far too many children are rarely read to. We as parents need to take responsibility for this. When home life fails the responsibility falls onto the shoulders of our education system and at the moment this system is failing them—maybe not so much at the junior and senior kindergarten levels but more so later on at the elementary and high school years.
Chapter TwoJUNIOR AND SENIOR KINDERGARTEN YEARS
One positive course of action the Ontario government has done in terms of improving education was to make full day junior kindergarten. It is a good place to start by providing our youth a reasonable chance to become successful during their educational experience. For the children who do not get valuable learning at home going to school all day will give them the opportunity to get a good start at learning. Our educational system needs to be proactive and help students who are not given the same opportunities at home. In junior and senior kindergarten, children are taught the basics of learning letters, basic words, how to write and of course how to properly interact with one another. They are taught to respect people and things. Junior and senior kindergarten teachers along with early childhood educators are extremely valuable in the educational process because this is where a large portion of our youth get the essential skills they will need to become key members of society. The government needs to place a greater emphasis that all students get the necessary skills needed to progress within their educational careers. Yes, even at the kindergarten level. The earlier we start the better it will be for our children. Each educational level is vital to progress to the next level.
It is essential that kindergarten classrooms be kept within a reasonable range of no more than 20 students per classroom so teachers and early childhood educators can provide the support needed for all our children. Junior and senior kindergarten students need to receive the necessary basis skills in order to be successful in grade 1 through grade 8. This is not to say that simply because children are read to at home and class sizes are kept reasonable will be the key to greatness from all our students. It would be unrealistic to think that, there will always be some students who fall behind and need extra help. In the long term, repeating a grade, if necessary, will be more helpful than harmful. If a student cannot read or do what is expected of them in grade 6 that student will not succeed in grade 7 and beyond so why make their lives more difficult by pushing them along when they do not have the necessary skills or knowledge to succeed at the next level. Taking one step back and repeat a grade to take two steps forward and succeed later on. We do not get a free ride in adulthood, so why set children up for failure and disappointment later on in life?
Chapter ThreeELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE
As important as junior and senior kindergarten years are for the cognitive development of children, elementary school is where they begin to learn the ways of the future in what they can or cannot get away with. This stage of their lives is where they often begin to learn how to manipulate the adults in their lives in order to get their way—that is if adults allow them. There is a term that I learned a few years back from a former colleague called, "train the puppies." It was being used in regards to grade nine students because, as he liked to say, they needed to be "trained" but it can be easily applied to all levels and all students. You have to properly train a puppy to go outside to do its "business," to not bark for nothing, to not run away etc ... We train puppies to be exactly what we expect of them to do and not do. This same concept should be practiced with children. We need to properly train children just like we would with our puppies. Consequently, we should hold our children in higher regards than puppies, and maintain high expectations of our children that they can be taught and learn to a high degree. We will continuously work with puppies so they get what is expected of them. Unfortunately, we tend to give up far easier with children than we do with puppies. It is understandable that not all students learn the same way and at the same speed. This is understood within the educational system as the catch phrase in Professional Development is differentiated instruction in which students learn differently and should be taught differently. It is believed that teaching so that all students are able to learn to the best of their abilities is essential for their success; however, that in no way means that the educational system should cave to students and parents because of some of their difficulties. Some difficulties can be overcome if everyone involved works together to overcome them. We should focus on what they are having difficulties with (i.e. reading and writing) and help our children overcome such problems; instead of just letting students skate by for fear of hurting their self-esteem and their feelings. Our education, and society for that matter, has fallen into an Oprahfication of doing what feels good and not what is necessarily beneficial for the youth in this province.
Far too many students feel inadequate because of some of their learning issues and simply feel that they are too dumb to learn and wallow in complacency and self-doubt. It is not that they are dumb it is that they were taught at an early age that hard work was not important like it once was. This is not to say this is the fault of teachers, but more of a system problem that allows complacency to occur. Many more students may be graduating from Ontario high schools today than they did twenty years ago, but what is that high school diploma worth if they cannot think for themselves, spell properly or read above a grade 6 level?
In Ontario, many students have Individual Educational Plans or IEP's which if used properly can help students improve. An Individual Education Plan should not just be implemented in order for a school to obtain additional funding. When a student has difficulty reading and has an Individual Education Plan as a result, the educational system should provide additional assistance to help that student learn to read. We should not enable this student by reading for him or her but assist the student to be able to read on their own.
I often use a skateboarding analogy to illustrate my point about reading. When a student says to me that he or she "cannot" read I ask them, "is it that you cannot read or that you simply do not like to read?" and the response I normally get is the latter. There is a huge difference in having the ability to read and the ability to read well—which goes to fluency and comprehension. Many students, for whatever reason, would rather be read to instead of reading themselves which goes back to not placing a greater importance for children to read earlier on in their lives. Why do something for yourself when someone else will do it for you? This is the type of mentality that dominates in our society. They do not want to read because for most of their young lives they did not have to read. It becomes a vicious cycle of complacency which results in someone or something doing the reading for them which just continues and becomes an issue later on. This goes back to an early age if their lack of desire to read was construed as an inability to read therefore leading to an increase push for the creation of Individual Education Plans. In no way am I saying that Individual Education Plans are a waste, just that a large portion of them have been overly misunderstood or taken advantage of for the benefit of the school and not necessarily for the best interest of the students. Individual Education Plans do generate some additional funding for schools; the school receives additional funding to pay for whatever a particular student requires whether it is assistive technology or possibly an Education Assistant. What often occurs is instead of helping a student learn to read and read with fluency and comprehension the heads of our education system have decided to have someone read for them or have some technological device read for them. So what do they learn—if you are not strong at something someone will do it for you instead of teaching you how to do it.
Now to get back to the analogy of skateboarding that I like to use with students. I ask the student the first time he or she got on a skateboard how it felt? They usually respond with something like it was "weird" "scary" or "hard." I ask them if he or she can do the same tricks now as they did when they first got on the skateboard. I ask them what they did to get better and every single time the response is "I kept at it, or I just practiced a lot." I normally finish with so you physically got on the skateboard and did it, tried new things and just kept practicing. You did not just watch a video of it or have someone else do it for you? I usually then smile and say you can do the same with reading or whatever difficulty they may have in school. "Vygotsky said that if you give a child a task to do and he cannot do it, then you have the chance to teach (Wilhelm, 10). This is where the education system is failing because the system would much prefer bring the child along then to teach them to accomplish the task on their own. Sometimes it takes time, and additional assistance which involves time and money when what really matters to the Ministry of Education is the numbers. I understand this will not always work for every student as some have deeper learning issues but for a large portion it will make a world of difference. For the students who still require additional assistance the programs available could be used for these particular students with Individual Education Plans. I will go in greater detail about IEP's and issues of funding a little later on.
The French child psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) created his four stages of cognitive development that is still relevant today. The four stages are the Sensori-motor (Birth—2 years), Pre-operational (2-7 years), Concrete Operational (7-11 years), and Formal Operational (11 years and up). Children at a young age comprehend what they do and how other's react shapes their understanding of how their world works. Infants understand that when they cry someone will come and either change them, feed them or just hold them. So when they want or need one of these things they understand what they need to do to get what they want and need. They cannot speak so they figure out what they need to do. In Piaget's second period (2-7 years) is what he calls "the Characteristic Behaviour Phase where there is an increase use of verbal representation but speech is egocentric. Whereas when children reach 4-7 years old their speech becomes more social, less egocentric and only uses simple do's and don'ts imposed by authority" ("Learning and Teaching"). This is where we as parents and teachers need to improve; we need to set reasonable and attainable expectations for children and stick with them. Children need to understand that their actions and words have consequences and will no longer be tolerated. They need to be held responsible for their actions regardless how unfair they think it is. Children who lack understanding of consequences and still get praise or rewards when they do not do what is expected of them will only continue to not do as expected of them. This lack of expectations will be what is expected of them. When this occurs, it is they who have trained us as opposed to the other way around. When a student fails to do any of the school work expected of him or her and yet still "earns" a passing grade then that child has discovered that he or she does not have to do any work to be successful in school. The more this happens the more it will happen. Children talk and in today's world of social media the word gets out quick. When children see, and hear that a fellow student did little to no work and still passes then more children will follow. This kind of behaviour will spread like a bad weed. Independent work has been pushed aside in favour of group work so it is easy to see how fast children follow one another. The more it is allowed to happen the more it will happen and then it becomes difficult to stop—which is where we are now.
Piaget's third stage the Period of Concrete Operations (7-12 years) furthers my point by stating that children are able to "organize logical thought and comprehend the principal of conservation" ("Learning and Teaching"). They comprehend what is going on around them and if they see that doing very little will get them similar results to working hard then the majority will chose to do very little work. Why work hard if you do not have to? This in no way suggests that all children are lazy, not at all just that they have learned that little work is expected of them because that was what they learned from an early age. They just continue on the path of complacency. If we expect little from our students we will get exactly what we expect from them.
Chapter FourClass Sizes
The discussion of class size or more appropriately the number of children in a class can lead to very different opinions depending on one's perspective. It is always funny to hear a great number of parents stating how easy teachers have it. How teachers have all those holidays off, and only work until around 3:00 pm everyday with weekends off. However, it is normally these same parents who complain how their 1 or 2 children at home are getting on their nerves during the Christmas holidays or March break and yet they only have 1 or 2 children at home. Teachers have upwards of 24 or more and high school teachers easily have more than sixty students every day. With regards to our youth and our future we need to not just look at the dollars and cents because our place on the global stage will continue to diminish if this trend continues. Ontario's students will no longer be able to compete against Asian and Middle Eastern students because of the lack of support we are providing our Ontario students now and in the near future unless things change for the betterment of our educational system. What the government would save in terms of decreasing support would be lost tenfold by the number of our students not being able to compete in the real world; there will be a brain drain that will affect us substantially leaving irrevocable consequences. We need to maintain a proper cap on each class size. We need to put our trust and faith in our students and provide them with the greatest chance at educational success and if that costs a little more money then so be it because the cost will be far greater if we ignore our youth. The government, by its own admission, stated that class sizes do make a difference in student success. The Liberal government stated, "Since 2003, the government has maintained that smaller classes yield better results through teacher-student interaction" (edu.gov).
By having larger class sizes it simply allows more students to be "left behind" in terms of the educational experience they receive. The idea of "no child left behind" has gone in the wrong direction because as so many are well aware that Ontario's students no longer are expected to repeat a grade regardless of comprehension of curriculum expectations. A child who is pushed along in advancing grades when he or she does not meet expectations is essentially being left behind in their ability to comprehend subject content. The irony is that in the curriculum teachers need to teach all expectations for the subject and students must achieve these expectations; however, whether students do or not do they continue to ascend to the next grade. The Ministry of Education sets curriculum expectations for teachers and students, but really they are more guidelines than expectations because with expectations they should be reached in order to be successful and that is no longer the case with our current education system. These students will be pushed and pulled along without fully grasping educational expectations. This will do far more harm, later on in life, then good. We need to provide our students, all of our students, more teacher—student interaction to increase the chance of our students becoming successful-successful in the ability to comprehend, and not only in the success of credits achieved. If students need more interaction they should be able to get it whether it is from a teacher or at times with an educational assistant. EA's are an integral part of our educational system and yet many are undervalued and often not used properly. I have been witness to Educational Assistants stuffing envelopes and doing menial tasks for the head of the special educational department instead of having them work with high needs students. So with the great number of our students being formally identified it would be believed that class sizes would be restricted to accommodate the needs of our students. At the elementary level, where students are at a key stage of their cognitive development it is vital to get them on track so they do not fall far behind.
Excerpted from Social Media in the Classroom by Jason Beaudry Copyright © 2012 by Jason Beaudry. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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