Chesterton_quote

Education More Than Facts

All we are trying to do is teach our students what is real and true.  It is simple.  Well, maybe not.  But, it should be.  Without a confidence in what is real and true we become unmoored and hopeless. G. K.Chesterton, a Christian author, concurs, “ It is typical of our time that the more doubtful we are about the value of philosophy, the more certain we are about the value of education. That is to say, the more doubtful we are about whether we have any truth, the more certain we are (apparently) that we can teach it to children. The smaller our faith in doctrine, the larger our faith in doctors … (Chesterton, 1911)”

I would agree with his contention that without the presence of theology and philosophy at the core of the modern education, this inevitably leads to two mutually exclusive concepts of teaching and learning that are trying to co-exist.  He implies that this “constitutes a schism or schizophrenia at the very heart of the schooling:
“The truth is that the modern world has committed itself to two totally different and inconsistent conceptions about education. It is always trying to expand the scope of education; and always trying to exclude from it all religion and philosophy. But this is sheer nonsense. You can have an education that teaches atheism because atheism is true, and it can be, from its own point of view, a complete education. But you cannot have an education claiming to teach all truth, and then refusing to discuss whether atheism is true. (Chesterton, 1911)”
Chesterton regularly asserts, “The absurdity of the modern schooling’s attempt to build a university in the absence of universals. (1950) ” “Take away the supernatural,” says Chesterton (1911), “and what remains is the unnatural.”  “Education is only the truth in a state of transmission,” he wrote on another occasion, “and how can we pass on truth if it has never come into our hand?”

One consequence of this lack of truth or foundation in the school is what Chesterton called “standardization by a low standard, (Chesterton, 1928)” a dumbing-down of standards to a lowest-common denominator of prescribed mediocrity. In the absence of an integrated curriculum in which each discipline informs the other, each part making sense in the light of the whole, the modern academy has literally disintegrated itself into a plethora of fragmented particles, none of which is in communication with the other parts. “Everything has been sundered from everything else, and everything has grown cold. Soon we shall hear of specialists dividing the tune from the words of a song, on the ground that they spoil each other… This world is all one wild divorce court. (Chesterton, 1928).” When reading the reviews of Chesterton’s statements on education I was reminded of a conversation I had about Common Core.  First, I must say that I am ambivalent about Common Core.  Since I am in a private Christian school, we do not have to and have not adopted the state standards built around the National Common Core.  However, as professionals, we look at it, study it and see if there is anything to glean in our pursuit of excellence.  –Pardon the digression.  Amongst the many complaints I hear about the Common Core is the lower expectation and the indoctrination of a false and convoluted understanding of the world.  

In a recent blog I recently read, “Ironically, in exorcising the unifying spirit of theology and philosophy from the core curriculum, the modern academy has doomed itself to fractious fragmentation, in which each discipline has exiled itself from all the others. In excommunicating theology and philosophy, the modern academy has paradoxically excommunicated itself from itself!” (imaginative, 2014).  “Because the elementary school doesn’t teach theology,” wrote Chesterton, “it must be excused when it doesn’t teach anything. The bias of the modern world is so enormous that it will allow a thing to be inefficient as long as it is also irreligious.”  Isn’t this where we are?  

The modern fervor from almost any secular university and center of learning is against religion and is antagonistic and militant against Truth.  They vehemently oppose a unifying Truth.  Instead they prefer a hollow education to one that is “informed by the underlying meaning inherent in the truth-claims of religion or philosophy (imaginative, 2014).  I would agree with Chesterton (1950) when he says that this is education at all: “Every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not an education at all (Chesterton, 1950 p. 166).”
A cohesive and integrated view of a broad education is contrasted with the “disintegrated” education of the relativist:
“There is something to be said for teaching everything to somebody, as compared with the modern notion of teaching nothing, and the same sort of nothing, to everybody.” (Chesterton, 1950) Whereas the former conveys a philosophy by which one can understand the cosmos, the latter “is not a philosophy but the art of reading and writing unphilosophically [sic].” The former teaches its recipient how to think; the latter prevents its victim from thinking.”

I think my argument can get lost in the condemnation of a modern education.  Forgive me if that is true.  Because indeed, I am really espousing that there is an alternative to this hollow education.  Sure, the modern common school can have a robust amount of classes they offer with sparkling Chromebooks and magnificent edifices to their glory.  But, remember at the core it is missing key ingredients.  It is akin to the shiny genetically modified apple that is the perfect red with a shiny peel; but the substance is manufactured to look like the more nutrition realty.  The triumph of a Christian school is unfortunately, the tragedy of modern education, perceived with such brilliance by Chesterton, is that it has left us perilously ignorant of who we are, where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.   In a Christian school Truth is at the core.  Truth is the mission.  The integration of philosophy and Truth is the essential ingredient that makes a Christian school what it is.   Those pupils and graduates of a Christian school are not lost and are not blissfully unaware that we are heading for the abyss.  In fact they have a perfect navigation system for life and have hope.

References:
Chesterton, G.K.  (1911).  Illustrated London News, May 13, 1911
Chesterton  G.K. (1950). The Common Man, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1950, p. 168-169
Chesterton, G. K. (1928) Culture and the Coming Peril, being the text of a speech delivered by Chesterton at the University of London in 1928; reprinted in the Chesterton Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, August 1992
http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/02/chesterton-and-the-meaning-of-education.html

 


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Data

Data and the School

Salem Christian School is continually pursuing excellence.  We know we have areas in which to grow.  Research shows that a flourishing school has a firm understanding of its success and the ability to measure the success and short comings.  The question is how do we do this?  We must have goals and desired outcomes for the teaching and learning at SCS.  Then, we must determine the paths that take us toward these goals.  Finally, we need to determine what success is and how do we determine if we have succeeded.

This requires us to use the data at hand to guide us in better serving the students we have the privilege of teaching.  We need to use the data to make wise decisions on how to best use the resources.   Considering our resistance to state and federal data mining efforts, Common Core, and other public school methods, we need to determine how we are going to make wise decisions based on our data at hand.

Data-driven decision making is widely accepted today as a necessary element of a flourishing school. Spurred by the movement toward standards and accountability in every state, educational systems today are under much greater pressure than ever before to produce measurable results. All across the United States, results in student achievement are driving responses by teachers and principals. Educators are realizing that failure to make changes that improve student achievement as measured by specific, external measures of performance is unacceptable. The ability to make quality decisions based on local data is important for the future of our school. This is why the faculty at SCS is working towards better using the interviews, questionnaires, Terra Novas, newly added PSAT’s and SAT data to drive us forward to a brighter future for all of our students.


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Block Schedule Image

Block Scheduling Done Right

Recently I was asked why we do block scheduling the way we do.  Much effort has gone into the study systems that will help SCS meet its goals of academic excellence and its extensive impact on student learning. As with any choice, there are both pros and cons. At Salem Christian School, we had to move towards a format which enables the school to provide more dynamic instruction, broader choices, and more nimble scheduling that this change enables. Some of the major advantages researchers have noted are the following:

Improved Teaching and Learning

With longer blocks, teachers have more time to complete lesson plans. More class time is available to develop key concepts, incorporate creativity into instruction, and try a variety of classroom activities that address different learning styles. Longer time blocks allow for deeper instruction instead of wider coverage.(O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).

Ability to Focus Attention

Using active learning methods helps the students better understand and retain material.(Rettig & Canady, 1996). With block scheduling, students have fewer subjects during a semester, enabling the learners to explore deeper and allow the teachers to focus efforts.

Fragmentation Reduced

With block scheduling, instructional time is not fragmented by frequent transitions between classes. Fewer distinct classes means less time spent on classroom management activities, such as calling attendance and organizing and focusing the class. In addition, there are fewer opportunities for students to arrive late to class (Rettig & Canady, 1996).

Individualized Pace

The schedule allows advanced students to move through material at a more rapid rate, and they are able to finish sequential language classes within one academic year. (Woronowicz, 1996).

More Course Offerings

Students actually take more courses in a standard plan because they enroll in at least eight classes per year instead of six or seven (Rettig & Canady, 1996).

Stronger Inter-Personal Relationship

A hallmark of SCS is the family atmosphere. Anything to promote this is always welcome. The number of daily classes for which students and teachers must adjust and prepare is decreased, allowing students to develop the deeper interpersonal relationships that are integral to academic success (Rettig & Canady, 1996; Eineder & Bishop, 1997). Teachers get to know students more personally which enables them to adapt lessons to the interests of their students.

Attitudes and Comprehension Improve

Research indicates that teachers’ and students’ attitudes about their school improve. Both teachers and students state that they get more done in class and learn more because they are better able to focus their attention. Classes address material in more depth, and teachers feel students are better able to comprehend and retain concepts learned in a block period (O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).

Source: http://www.ashland.k12.or.us/files/advantages%20of%20block%20scheduling.pdf

College Preparatory

Almost all of our students move onto a four-year college degree at some point.  The transition from eight 40-minute classes to four 83-minute classes is difficult.  The skill to handle this is learned in an environment that is more personally supportive and has more accountability for the student in high school than in college.  Thus, this model prepares the students for the expectations that they will face.  The second preparatory element of block scheduling is the use of college credit and dual enrollment at SCS instead of Advanced Placement courses.  This better aligns the schedule to accommodate these courses.

These were the reasons that we moved to this model and continue to stay within this model.  Of course, there are always areas to improve.  We could better use the model.  But, it has significantly made a difference in the academic prowess of our school.  In fact we have been used as a model for other schools in the northeast.

We had the same concern about gaps in the learning that seems like it would occur due to the space of time between courses.  There are two aspects to this that would need to  explore.  The first is whether the gaps do indeed pose a challenge.  The second is what does the school and students do to overcome the  challenges if they do indeed exist.

Theoretically, we are teaching towards mastery and automaticity.  This means, that the student has adopted the skills, concepts, or outcomes to a degree that he or she can confidently and automatically rely on them.   Of course there are skills and concepts that need multi-courses and years to develop.  But, these skills are scaled so that we can teach mastery of each step so that they can use them automatically as they move onto the next level of skills or concepts.  We see this most often in mathematics and reading.  We teach the same skills in reading instruction from grade one all the way through twelfth grade.  However, at every step the skills are expanded and become more complex.  The gap between the school years often allow us to catch the gaps that have occurred in students who haven’t truly mastered something and allows us to provide remediation and review.

We recognize that some courses are more vulnerable to this gap than others.  For example, we read in every class and incorporate writing in every class.  Thus, there is no specific gap in this, because we expand the vocabulary and writing skills each time we confront new material in other classes.   However, math is sequential in skills and may be more vulnerable to the skills.   Granted, geometry and algebra are very different maths.  Thus, the skills are different.  But, because we want to ensure mathematics ability is strong and continue to build on strong SAT scores, we require a math lab in the semester that students are not in a leveled math class.  At SCS, our students received significant more time in math each year than any other program because we have this system.  The math labs allow for remediation, enrichment, and SAT prep.  The teachers have developed this course (which is unique to SCS) in order to have outcomes that are tailored in order to ensure our students’ scores on college boards are strong.

All of this seems to be working well.  However, we want to measure it and have hard data that supports this.  Thus, we have instituted a few things.  We have entrance exams in every math course every semester.  It provides feedback to the students, parents, and teacher about retention and specific instructional needs for that semester’s students.  Additionally, we have instituted that every student in grade 8-10 takes the PSAT.  This will provide valuable data that we can track and use to measure the efficacy of our program.

Thank you very much for submitting your question.  I hope that I have answered it.  If it prompts more, then I can continue on this topic or move onto the next question when it comes.


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Singapore Math Picture

Singapore Math in the Lehigh Valley

This week I would like to talk about math, because I like it.  In fact, it is one of my favorite subjects.  I am very proud of the efforts our school has made in math.  I look forward to analyzing the data we will be collecting over the next few years.  Great commendations should go to the teachers, recognizing their ability to deliver such a promising program.  Specifically, I would like to share about our Elementary math program.

Covers fewer topics in greater depth

Compared to a traditional and Common Core math curriculum, our program, Singapore math, Math in Focus,  focuses on fewer topics but covers them in greater detail. Each math textbook builds upon prior knowledge and skills, moving the students towards mastery and automaticity. We work hard so that the students are ready for their next level. By the end of sixth grade, Singapore math students have mastered multiplication and division of fractions and can solve difficult multi-step word problems, including basic algebraic understandings.

Our Math was found to emphasize the essential math skills recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).  They do this by focusing in on the essentials that build strong number sense and mathematical reasoning skills.

Three-step learning process

The younger grades spend a significant time building number sense through their work in part-part-whole.  This is the mathematical equivalent to phonics in reading.   The students learn that numbers, quantities, and algorithms are representative of something.  They learn how to take numbers apart and put them back together in a way that gives meaning.

They learn practical steps to solving word problems.  I loved math but loathed story problems.  No one taught me how to approach them or gave me the tools and confidence necessary to attack them.  Our students are taught the bar model beginning in grade two.  Our second grade teacher helps her young pupils see that 100 is comprised of other things.  We can find whole parts and missing parts, just by using the bar model.  Later in the intermediate grades, the teachers and students work through more challenging and complex uses of the bar model.  Just a bit of secret, I used the bar model to quickly solve ratios on the GRE (Graduate Records Exam) that I took for entrance into graduate school.

A bar model used to solve an addition problem. This pictorial approach is typically used as a problem-solving tool in Singapore math.

Three Step Process: Like We Learn

SCS math program teaches students mathematical concepts in a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, and abstract. This learning process was based on the work of an American psychologist, Jerome Bruner (1960). In the 1960s, Bruner found that people learn in three stages by first handling real objects before transitioning to pictures and then to symbols. That is why we teach the students in this matter.

The first of the three steps is concrete, wherein students learn while handling objects such as chips, dice, or paper clips. They use something that teachers call manipulatives, anything that the student can move around, touch, or manipulate in order to learn the concept or skill.  Students would learn to count these objects (e.g., blocks) by physically lining them up in a row counting them or grouping them. They would then learn basic math operations like addition or subtraction by physically adding or removing the objects from each row.

Students then transition to the pictorial step by drawing diagrams called “bar-models” to represent specific quantities of an object.  This involves drawing a rectangular bar to represent a specific quantity. For instance, if a short bar represents six books, a bar that is twice as long would represent a collection of twelve. By conceptualizing the difference between the two bars, students could learn to solve problems of addition by adding one bar to the other, which would, in this instance, produce an answer of eighteen books. Multiplication, division and subtraction can be solved by this model.  Additionally, they can use this model to begin to conceptualize algebra with missing parts to a math algorithm (problem).

Bar Modeling allows the student to model the thought process used to solve the math problem.  And, the teacher can provide strong feedback in order to help prevent errant thinking.   The student can move onto more complex mathematical problems with exclusively abstract tools such as symbols and numbers.  
The third part, abstract is simply writing the algorithm with symbols.  3 +4 = ?   or   3 + x = 7.

We don’t spend much time on math facts like the addition facts and multiplication facts.  But, that doesn’t mean that they are not important.  The teachers review them in the morning meeting.  However, this is something parents can do at home with their children to ensure they are prepared by playing a game, flashcard etc…


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