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Schools need freedom to make our kids intelligent

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

In the late 1990s Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist working at Harvard University, broke intelligence into eight areas: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Even though many psychologists disagree with Gardner’s views on intelligence, the categories he created provide a good base for the abilities people need in the modern workplace.

It is nearly impossible for someone to succeed if he/she is only intelligent in one area. Artistic products require technical and financial support and the most technical products require beauty and a strong user interface. It is pointless for a scientist to conduct amazing research unless he/she can effectively communicate his/her findings to his/her colleagues; and it makes no sense for a musician to create beautiful songs, unless he/she can execute successful contracts so the songs make him/her money.

In short, all kids need strong visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal abilities. Sadly, few children graduate from high school with strong abilities in all these areas. Perhaps it is because we have tasked our K-12 schools with so many things (teaching, coaching, parenting, counseling, etc.) that it is impossible for them to succeed.

Maybe we should encourage schools to return to their primary mission. Then they can focus all their energies on maximizing visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, and logical-mathematical intelligence.

This limited focus would give schools time to rethink their approach to building intelligence and encourage them to find ways of identifying learning gaps early. They would have time to implement third party curriculum based testing (teachers have not seen the test ahead of time) at least once a quarter. Then teachers could identify deficiencies within a few weeks of when a student has missed a concept and could take corrective action quickly,

Some people worry that returning the focus of K-12 schools to academic areas would impact students’ interpersonal and intrapersonal development. In fact, the opposite might be true. Instead of relying on schools to offer sports, leadership, and other pursuits, schools could contract with community organizations to handle these activities. These organizations have lower overhead, so they could offer these activities at a fraction of the cost. Best of all, the students would have a wider range of options available to them.

Technology has changed the world. Now it is time for us to set aside preconceived ideas and think about how we can change education to prepare children for this new world.

In writing foundational skills more important than volume

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

We would never expect a child to become proficient in algebra without a strong understanding of arithmetic, yet we expect kids to write well by osmosis.

For much of the 20th Century, elementary-school teachers taught the general rules of spelling, sentence structure, and basic paragraph writing. In secondary school, students focused on building paragraphs into essays. This regimented approach produced some excellent writers and many average writers.

In the 1970s, academics began experimenting with new strategies for teaching writing. A group of professors argued that making writing assignments less regimented and more creative and social would encourage students to write more. If the students wrote more they would become better writers. In other words, writing could be “caught” rather than “taught”.

The proponents of this method of writing instruction were persuasive. Gradually formal instruction in grammar, sentence structure, and essay writing took a back seat to creative expression. By the 1990s, most students were learning to write by this “caught not taught” approach.

Sadly, very few students learned how to write well. Universities and employers began complaining about the written communication abilities of high school graduates. Universities were forced to introduce remedial writing classes and employers began hiring English speakers educated overseas. Students expressed frustration with writing.

In the early 21st Century, a few K-12 schools reintroduced a structured approach to teaching writing with a creative twist. At one school, students begin writing instruction with phonics-based spelling. Then they learn how to write simple, creative, grammatically correct, properly spelled sentences. The following year they learn to construct slightly longer sentences (creative, grammatically correct, and correctly spelled). Next they learn to creatively combine sentences into simple four to five sentence paragraphs; then how to write outlines and creative, eight-sentence paragraphs; and finally how to construct creative, twelve-sentence paragraphs that include more interesting sentence structure. By the end of elementary school students can write a well-organized, grammatically correct, properly spelled, interesting three-paragraph essay without stress.

In the early 21st Century, a few K-12 schools reintroduced a structured approach to teaching writing with a creative twist. At one school, students begin writing instruction with phonics-based spelling. Then they learn how to write simple, creative, grammatically correct, properly spelled sentences. The following year they learn to construct slightly longer sentences (creative, grammatically correct, and correctly spelled). Next they learn to creatively combine sentences into simple four to five sentence paragraphs; then how to write outlines and creative, eight-sentence paragraphs; and finally how to construct creative, twelve-sentence paragraphs that include more interesting sentence structure. By the end of elementary school students can write a well-organized, grammatically correct, properly spelled, interesting three-paragraph essay without stress.

As with math, learning to write in a slow methodical way is better than rushing ahead without the necessary foundational skills.

Education on dialogue imperative

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

In human societies there will always be differences of views and interests. But the reality today is that we are all interdependent and have to co-exist…. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue. – Dalai Lama

Many people find it challenging to converse about subjects that matter deeply to them without getting into a dispute. As a result, public discourse about divisive issues is often characterized by destructive debate that eventually leads to division and violence.

Social media seems to have exacerbated this problem. Before the era of electronic profiles and discussions, communication was face to face, by phone, via email, or in writing. People could select written materials of interest to them and most people were careful to communicate their political and/or social views in ways that were not offensive to those around them.

Now many people log their societal and political viewpoints in social media posts without the normal inhibitions that control they way they communicate in person. Many times the comments are personal attacks rather than ideas. In addition, the caustic comments are continually linked to a person in a visual way that tends to alienate friends and acquaintances that have different views.

While it is comforting to have supporters, it is also important to have outside input. As a result, it is imperative that we find ways to encourage dialogue. For this to happen, people need the freedom to express their viewpoints, regardless of how unconventional or radical, the wisdom and skill to present those ideas in diplomatic ways, and a willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints.

Unfortunately, these skills cannot be learned by osmosis, but must be honed over many years. With the increased focus on standardized tests, many of the classes where students learned to participate in dialog through the discussion on complex topics like firearms, law enforcement, war, race, controlled substances, social programs, gender, corruption, religion, incarceration, media and money, etc. have been removed from school offerings.

Even though these classes are challenging to teach and require government entities to turn a blind eye, students need exposure to topics that have a variety of viewpoints and so they can learn how to effectively communicate with others for the collective good.

If we allow freedom of speech and provide education on effective dialogue, perhaps we can limit the division and violence that is prevalent in the U.S. today.

Get rid of the education bureaucracy and kids’ hearts will sing

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing. – Steve Jobs, founder of Apple

Steve Jobs made highly technical machines user-friendly and beautiful by blending mathematics, science, and art. More importantly, he started a wave of innovation that made products that were once only accessible to scientists and engineers readily available to the general public.

During this period of innovation, the education sector was stuck in a time warp. Most primary and secondary students today are educated in about the same way that they were in the 1980s.

Counselors continue to place students into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), humanities, and trade tracks rather than encourage a broad education. Teaching credentials are still more important than an amazing understanding of the subject and schools are still accredited by personnel from other schools rather than by the market. Also, the majority of U.S. students attend schools run by the government.

Regulations and peer review accreditations may have been necessary in the middle of the 20th Century. However, the same regulations and accrediting bodies that protected our kids then are forcing schools to operate in ways that are inconsistent with 21st Century realities. In short, this means kids are wasting years of their lives on things that no longer matter.

For education to keep pace with the times, there must be a complete paradigm shift. Instead of regulating and delaying change, we need to encourage the education sector to innovate.

To make sure new ideas make it into the education system we need to encourage more private schooling options. Then we need to urge these schools to try radical concepts and provide concrete information on what students are learning. Finally, we need to make sure all students have access to these innovative schools.

The easiest way to make all this happen is to issue education vouchers that can be used at any school and require schools to publish third party test results each year.

With this type of competition, all schools should become better. When the schools become better, our kids will be better prepared. When our kids are better prepared, the country will be more vibrant. When the country is more vibrant, the economy will be better. When the economy is stronger, everyone will be better off.

It is time to get rid of the bureaucracy and allow our schools to innovate so our kids’ hearts can sing.

 

Tenth Grade Foreign Language Immersion Student makes Perfect Score on SAT Math

Outside the Box – Christy Johnson

Juliann

Amelia Talkington, a Renascence School International tenth grader, obtained a perfect score (800) on the math part of the December 2015 SAT test, the standardized test that is used for admission to U.S. colleges and universities. Amelia is nearly trilingual, having studied math and science in Chinese and language arts in English, Chinese, and Spanish since she was in kindergarten. She is interested in art, engineering, and business and has been a guest researcher at the University of Arizona Plant Science Laboratory and is a marketing intern with an Ecuadorian foundation. In addition, she is a record holding club and high school swimmer who placed third in the 100 yard freestyle at the Florida 2A State High School Swim Meet and received All American consideration. She also plays varsity high school soccer and will be joining an Elite Club National League soccer team in the spring.