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Showing posts from 2018

Focusing on What a Child Needs in Basic Education

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Although it is obvious that an effective education must be guided by what a child needs, we often spend more time labeling our students as if skills and knowledge are static. In gifted education, for example, we focus more on "bragging rights" thereby reducing classrooms for these exceptional children to mere positions of ascendancy and neglecting the fact that these children have unique needs. Paying more attention to what a child needs is important in education as an article in phys.org reminds all of us. When we think of needs, we have a specific child in mind and there is no need for ranking children in any given classroom. It is only through a recognition of these needs, how special these are, how these can not be possibly met in a general classroom, can we in fact justify a separate program, a separate classroom designed specifically for exceptional students.


Focusing on needs means less attention should be given to what a child's accomplishments are. This involves…

When a Court Decides on Matters Involving Education

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The Supreme Court of the Philippines has ruled that DepEd's K to 12 is consitutional. The court can weigh on content that needs to be taught if these are deemed in line with the interest of the state in the well being of its citizens. DepEd's K to 12 is therefore seen by the Supreme Court justices as a curriculum geared toward the welfare of Filipino citizens. Such ruling, of course, takes into account only matters of constitutional proportion, more specifically, balancing the rights of the citizens against greater state interest. The court cannot really decide whether a curriculum is pedagogically sound as this determination should rest in the hands of educators, not lawyers, not judges. Thus, DepEd's K to 12 is constitutional in so far as its general nature is judged to be for the common good. After all, who can really argue against two additional years of basic education? However, whether the K to 12 curriculum is effective or not is a matter only data and research can …

More Than Half of Filipino Families Are Deprived of Basic Education

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A couple of years ago, the Philippines has adopted a more detailed and comprehensive way of measuring poverty. This methodology takes into the account the following dimensions: education, food and nutrition, health and santitation, and employment.  Two indicators are used for education: school attendance and educational attainment. School attendance counts the number of families that have at least one school-age child (between age 5-17) that is not attending school, while educational attainment counts the number of families that have at least one family member aged 18 or older who have not completed high school. The initial numbers for the years 2016 and 2017 are indeed sobering for educational attainment: At least half of Filipino families have one member aged 18 or older that has not finished basic education.


These numbers represent the first attempt to measure poverty in the Philippines along different dimensions. These are derived from representative surveys that include about 500…

Why Do We Keep Doing the Same Things That Are Already Known Not to Work in Education?

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If you are renovating a home, you would not pay a contractor if the work does not yield good results. If you are on a drug regimen, you will not be advised to continue with the same course, if positive outcomes are not observed. Ingrid McCarthy at STEM Sellshas some highly inspirational words to share: "We can't keep doing things the same way and expect different results." Yet in the field of education, we seem unable to apply the same principle as we stubbornly cling onto schemes that simply do not work.



One good example is gifted education. It is widely known that enrollment in gifted, talented or advanced academic programs has gross underrepresentation of the poor and certain minority children. This underrepresentation, of course, mirrors the well known academic achievement gap associated with poverty and race. This is only expected since there is really no other way but to look at achievement when screening for gifted students. What will be surprising is if these two…

Lacking Attention Or Motivation: We Should Tell Stories in Our Classrooms

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A mom and a teacher, Shari Gent, provides nine tips to help kids who struggle in starting and completing tasks in one of the recent issues of ADDitude magazine. While most of her suggestions involve rewards and a change in mindset, one seems to have a high probability of working and may apply, in fact, to all students: "connect uninteresting activities to areas of interest". Children diagnosed with the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are capable of demonstrating at least in a few activities focus, organization and motivation. These are often activities that are of great interest.


Thomas Brown, a clinical psychologist specializing on ADHD, notes this similarity among all children, regardless of whether they have ADHD or not in his article, "The Mystery of ADHD Motivation, Solved". All children are motivated in tasks that they are interested in.

While Brown does describe the lack of motivation insightfully, comments from readers clearly indicate a wan…

Voter Education in Basic Education

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In tomorrow's election in the United States, the party that manages to convince their supporters to go out and vote will win. Society does reflect a situation in which we have already acknowledged that convincing people that our values matter do not work and what simply works is exciting people with what they already believe in. Such is the enigma of moral education. Richard Weissbourd shared a story in the Harvard Education Letter years ago: "I asked my six-year-old daughter and a few of her friends a question posed in a popular character education program: “Should you be honest with your teacher if you forget your homework?” One of my daughter’s friends hesitated slightly but then piped up: “Do you want me to tell you what you want to hear, or do you want me to tell you the truth?” Emboldened, another friend stated flatly, “I know that you want me to say I should be honest, but nobody is honest about that.” Weissbourd cited research that showed students "felt only patr…

Advanced Academics: Examining Our Mindset

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"Without examining our theories and thinking, focusing on policy and resource issues will do little to change the reality of learning inequality."  This is indeed a profound statement of Anthony Muhammad in the preface of his book Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap: Liberating Mindsets to Effective Change. And I find advanced academic programs as one of the best areas in basic education where Muhammad's words must be heard and seriously considered. It is a fact that minorities and low-income children continue to be underrepresented in these programs, yet we persist in finding ways to alleviate the problem without addressing the heart of the matter: Our continued belief that there are always children who are exceptionally superior in intelligence compared to their peers in a classroom. With this mindset, we then device screening schemes through which we can identify these children early on. And when we find our selection is biased towards socioeconomic status or race, w…

The Drawback of Advanced Academic Programs

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As parents, we simply want the best for our children. The adage that says children need to be challenged is fairly common among both parents and educators. Thus, it is only expected that we want our own children to be attending schools with high scores in standardized tests and challenging learning experiences. An article in the Washington Post five years ago illustrates how great a length a parent will go to simply to place his or her child in an advanced academic program:
"When a contributor to a local parenting listserv recently solicited recommendations for an “educational consultant” to help get her child into Fairfax County’s program for “gifted” students, readers were quick to attack.
“My God!” wrote one parent, “this is wrong!”" Sadly, that one parent who says, "this is wrong", is more likely an exception. Labeling students and creating tiered schools unfortunately can actually harm basic education and a recent 50-year longitudinal research study shows that…

Parents' Engagement in Their Children's Education

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Two nights ago, I attended a meeting of the Title I Parents Advisory Committee of Fairfax County Public Schools. Title I schools in the United States are schools that have at least 40 percent of its students qualifying for either free or reduced-price lunch. Title I schools are provided additional funds by the federal government to help address the academic achievement gap based on family income. The main topic of that evening's meeting is parent engagement, as numerous studies have shown, parent engagement correlates with succesful academic outcomes. One issue raised in that meeting is the difference between parent's involvement and engagement. A large percentage of students' parents often come to school events such as Bingo Night, Talent Shows, Multicultural Dinner, and other social gatherings but when it comes to meetings of Parents Teachers Associations, the attendance is usually low. To analyze the relationship between what a parent does and how a student performs in…

A Recent Graduate of DepEd's K to 12 Speaks Out

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A former associate editor of the Bedan Roar, a publication of the San Beda Manila Senior High School, recently wrote an opinion on DepEd's K-12 on CNN Philippines. Feeling despondent, Cristina Chi writes in her first paragraph, "Today, it appears that the first students to graduate from K to 12 have been forgotten and swept in the dustbin of history. After enduring two additional years of high school where the implementation was unclear for teachers and students all throughout, the guinea pigs of the K to 12 reform have every right to be distressed at the Department of Education’s lack of evidence of its success."


Although Chi laments about how ineffective DepEd's K to 12 has been, her article is actually a good example of critical thinking and writing. So, perhaps, going through a poorly designed educational system can ironically lead to learning how to think critically. Chi exemplifies how a student can excel not because but in spite of an educational system. But h…

I May Not Be Gifted After All

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At age 15, my classmates and I were already studying calculus in high school. Surprisingly, I still chose to take algebra during my first semester in college. Everyone would have thought that I was misplaced especially if one knew that I had already taken not just calculus, but also linear algebra and analytical geometry. But I still enjoyed my algebra class in the university. I might not be gifted after all because I did not feel bored. I did not feel that the course was lacking in challenge. This is the greatest concern that proponents of gifted education raise with regard to the gifted. Rachana Bhatt wrote in A Review of Gifted and Talented Education in the United States, "Advocates for gifted education argue that special curricula are needed for high-achieving students so they do not become disinterested in school, which can lead to low achievement and poor work habits." It is equally true, however, that every child needs to be challenged and my algebra instructor defini…

An Alarming Trend?

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Education Week reports on the latest ACT exam results, a standardized exam that measures college readiness in the United States. Apparently, this year, the average score in the math section is a 20-year low. More recently, going as far back as 2014, the percentage of students reaching the math college readiness benchmark is actually declining. Thus, the trend is not just toward lower scores but also toward lower number of college-ready high school graduates.



And it is not just math. From the above graph, performance in English is also on a downward trajectory.

Adding to this worry is encapsulated by a remark from ACT mentioned in the Education Week article:
In general, test scores tend to decline when the pool of test-takers gets larger and includes more students of varying skill levels. The most recent class of ACT-tested students was smaller, however, and its diversity was unchanged, ACT officials said. The fact that scores declined anyway is cause for serious concern, Roorda said. …

Students' Answers on Tests That Are Supposed to Be Funny

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Everyone has some sense of humor including me and I do find some posts on the web that share student's unusual answers to test questions rib-tickling. One site actually has a collection of such posts, "Hilarious Test Answers from Kids" by Robert Wabash, which even ranks the answers by readers' votes. One case comes from either a physics or chemistry exam.


If you were the one teaching these topics, the above maybe distressing if this comes from one of the students in your class. But if this student is not in your class, you have to agree that this is quite funny. This is why these posts generally turn out to be quite viral in social media.

Recently, there is one that has become viral on social media in the Philippines. It is from Lola Nidora, a character in the noontime soap opera Kalyesere.


The above test question is asking the student to illustrate through a sketch how someone can become a hero. The student is then asked to summarize in a couple of sentences what hi…

Teacher Evaluation Systems that Actually Work

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The quality of education or lack of it is often equated to inadequate resources. Lack of materials, a poor curriculum, being underprivileged are among the factors frequently cited as obstacles to good basic education. There is one factor, however, inside the classroom that can still make a significant difference even amidst dire conditions. It is the teacher. For this reason, numerous efforts have been made to design ways by which a teacher can be evaluated and then hopefully supported. Unfortunately, there is not much solid evidence of teaching evaluations that actually work. The National Council on Teacher Quality in the United States has recently released a report that cites six places that appear to have teaching eveluation systems that benefit both student learning, and teacher retention and effectiveness.

One of the six places is the state of New Mexico. Its teacher evaluation system especially caught my attention because it is definitely a system in which teacher evaluations ar…

The Internet Could Be a Good Thing Or Not

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Having access to information at your fingertips sounds great. This is what technology has to offer. Of course, access comes with not so good things as well. In terms of privacy, using a global positioning system application, for instance, can collect and store data on one's whereabouts. And for information, greater access can also mean greater misinformation. With Facebook, sharing has become too easy that most do not even ask the question if something is indeed worth sharing or not, or more importantly, if the information is correct or not.

The innovative educator blog has provided the following rules:
If you have not verified something is true, keep it to yourself.
If you don’t have the time to verify it, keep it to yourself.
If you like the idea, and don’t care if it’s verified, keep it to yourself.
If you don’t care if it’s true, you think it is interesting and want to share, keep it to yourself.
If you can't help yourself because you love sending spammy chain messages to …

Engaging Students with Current Events

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Teachers should teach children not what to think but how to think. At first sight, this statement may sound reasonable but it is in fact false. No one conceives ideas out of nothing. How we think is shaped by what we know. This is especially true when it comes to matters that are controversial or judgmental. How we think is also influenced by how we feel. More importantly, it is shaped by our beliefs. And when it comes to impressionable individuals, especially children, it is often a lot easier to copy how one thinks than to understand or grasp what one actually thinks. Young minds can be easily persuaded or even pressured to accept what adults say. For these reasons, a teacher inside a classroom of students must be careful, thoughtful and considerate since he or she is really in front of a captive and impressionable audience. Critical thinking should remain adherent to facts, but by its very nature, it should not likewise serve a teacher's set of beliefs or agenda. As teachers, w…

The Advantage of a Bilingual Program in Basic Education

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English is considered as a primary academic language. Most books and journals on almost every discipline are often written and published in English. English, however, is not the mother tongue of a significant number of children. Even in the United States, one can easily find elementary schools where a significant number of students are not native English speakers. Although one may regard this as a challenge for schools, having a mixture of non-native and native English speakers in one classroom actually provides an excellent opportunity for a genuine bilingual education. Unfortunately, most programs choose either immersion (in which students abandon their native tongue in favor of English) or transitional (in which the language spoken at home is used in the early years simply as a support for instruction). This is perhaps due to practical reasons as bilingual education requires more resources. For one, teachers need to be proficient in the native language and culture of their students…

How Can We Help Students Learn?

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More than four years ago, before my daughter started kindergarten, she had the opportunity to see the room where I give lectures to my General Chemistry class. She was surprised how big the lecture hall was and that seats were fixed in place and were arranged in rows. To her it was pretty clear that the classroom was mainly for students to listen to what I had to say. She said, "Your class just sits and listens to you. In my class there's playing, and reading books, and listening to teachers, and "circle time", and nap. And your class just listens. Why?"


Back in 2012, Richard Clark, Paul Kirschner, and John Sweller wrote the following in the American Educator:
"Decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance." The authors, Clark, Kirschner, and Sweller actually wonder why educators and education policy makers are ignor…

Should We Worry About Our Children's Screen Time?

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Earlier this month, this blog talked about the increased use of social media by teenagers in the United States over the past six years. A recent news article in Science adds to this concern. Citing a study published in the journal The Lancet: Child & Adolescent Health, ScienceNews reports that children 8-11 years old in the United States are now on average in front of a smart screen for 3.6 hours a day.


It is indeed a matter of concern if a large chunk of a child's waking hours are now spent in front of a screen. The study also shows that only 1 in 3 children aged 8-11 years uses the screen for less than two hours. Clearly, some other childhood activity is losing time. The report also looks at physical activity and only about 1 in 5 children in this age group perform the recommended 60 minute physical activity per day. On the sleep recommendation, at least half of the children are still able to sleep 9 to 11 hours per day. Homework has also disappeared in a significant number …