The Elephant in the (Class) Room

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Myelephant 1 position on recent literacy teaching practices reflects the ancient tale of the six blind men and the elephant. Each man encountered a different part of the elephant, but not the whole, which resulted in each having a very limited understanding of the entirety of that magnificent creature. The elephant can only be understood by appreciating the sum of its parts—the entire animal.

To carry that forward to teaching, we must help children understand the idea of what their education is. We have to help them understand that they are not just learning about science or math or reading or history, but all those subjects and ideas and concepts combined will help them prepare for college, career and a full life. Similarly, in literacy, if we are only working on teaching letter sounds, vocabulary lists, making inferences, or scoring “proficient” by 3rd grade, we risk missing the full scope of literacy.

The recent pattern in the U.S. of NO improvement (see graph below) provides a modern take on the old blind men and elephant story. That is, teaching to this year’s objectives is just fine, but stopping there can hinder efforts to help children reach the overarching goal of all education:

8th Grade NAEP Scores 1992 to 2015 b

Every student will become an eager, independent, and

lifelong reader, writer and learner – i.e. EDUCATED*.

Achieving this goal is accomplished by assisting children in developing a habit of self-determined, avid reading, and daily individual inquiry into their own lives and worlds.  This expresses a primary commitment to children’s own personal growth, not merely a focus upon milestones to successes of educators and parents.

Educators and parents who understand the necessity of this global goal for kids will be sure to avoid elephant parts lessons: merely having children do things, herding them through activities that they neither understand, nor care about. All tails. No elephants. In teaching focused upon EDUCATING, there is a natural movement that begins and constantly moves toward  learner ownership and eager participation. Teaching means:researching

  • Always carefully demonstrating to children the personal value of the lesson’s important concepts, and modeling the literacy and research processes for the inquiry that lesson invites
  • Thoughtfully leading each child to engage personally with the ideas and thought processes that form the lesson’s foundation of new learning
  • Gently guiding both the talented kids and the strugglers to become eager, independent researchers and self-directed learners
  • Enthusiastically inspiring and encouraging ongoing self-directed learning in each child.

This type of teaching would be a dramatic shift in the curriculum of tusk and leg goals we set for our kids. Absolutely it would alter the direction and path across any given day in every classroom. Unquestionably, it would call into question almost all of our assessments and our communications with parents about who these children are, and what and  how they are doing.

Hopefully one day soon, we might finally see a significant movement beyond the decades of unchanging trunk and ear literacy achievements that have been the primary, but limited focus, manifesting virtually no progress for our very own magnificent creatures.

*EDUCATED – From Middle English – to lead out. 

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