Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Learning Gap

Recently read a book titled The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education by Harold Stevenson. I found this book fascinating. It really changed not only the way I view education, but also the way I teach my children. Here are some notes, comments and quotes:

  • When the class is too noisy or misbehaving, the teacher turns to the class leader (student) and says, "I can't teach the class like this." Then the leader turns to the students and tells them to be quiet, so the teacher may continue teaching. This has really changed the way I school. When my children have a bad attitude or are distracting themselves in some way, I state, "I can't teach you like this." If they don't have a response to that right away I also say, "I will go and do something. I want you to sit there until you are ready to be taught. I will come back soon and ask you if you are ready to learn." I repeat this until they are ready to learn. It has never taken more than 15 minutes, even with one who is very rebellious about doing school.

  • Preschool and Kindergarten years are primarily concerned with social skills, not academics. First grade is when the transition to serious student takes place, which -when you think about it - is a much better developmental age. Before 1st grade, not much is expected, scholastically wise, of Asian children except good social skills. They save that for 1st grade and beyond, when the child's mind is physically capable of learning and thinking.
  • "Experiences in Asia, where there is little formal academic teaching in preschool and kindergarten, show us that it is not necessary to concentrate on early academic preparation in order to develop high achieving children."

  • Teacher stays with the child for 2 to 3 years.

  • Asian schools take a lot of time to teach study habits and how to behave and work in a classroom.

  • Asian schools do a lot of group work, each group is made up of a variety of students - those who are doing well and those who are struggling. They help each other learn. Nor do they separate special needs children unless it is an extreme case. They do not feel any child is beyond learning and achieving good grades, as long as they work hard and have perseverance. They do not put children in a certain track base on what they think their abilities are scholastically. This has be very liberating to me, if my child does bad in one subject, we CAN catch up. Also is very helpful when Ms. G does not win a medal at an Irish Dancing competition.

  • When an Asian child gets a wrong answer or does poorly on a test, it is looked upon as telling the teacher and student what they need to learn. They believe with hard work and perseverance the child can get that answer right, no limitations based on individual intellect. They always seek improvement. If their child gets a 93 on a test, they hope and work for a 95 on the next test.

  • "By assuming that all children are able to learn effectively if they are taught well and work hard, Asians have enhanced the achievement of all their children."

  • "The worst Chinese students in mathematics received scores that were near the average for American students!"

  • Children do not do chores at home as much as US kids, their primary job is seen at being a student. However, Chinese and Japanese children clean and take care of the school property. Needless to say, there are no choice words written on their school walls because the students who have to clean it off.
  • Parents are very involved in their child's education. The child is given a study area at home. Parents are supportive of the teacher and the school. Teachers are in constant contact with parents.

  • The author attributes some of the poor world standing of American students to the fact many schools use a spiral approach. Where as our Asian counter parts completely teach a concept and then do not teach it again. In Japanese schools, every school uses the same books, so there is less difference between the educations students get. While in America, it is up the local school or teacher. Each state provides standards, but no where near the degree it is in Japan.

  • Asian elementary schools have 4 or 5 mini recesses a day and a longer lunch period.

  • "Recesses not only allow for physical recovery, they also help to make school a place where children can interact socially with their friends. Typical programming in American elementary schools does not meet children's needs for social interaction and group membership. Schools often appear to be lonely, even harsh places, and children become increasingly disengaged from school the longer they are in attendance." (This is a quote from the book, and no they are not homeschoolers to my knowledge. It is also helpful when answering the socialization issue. )

The above is not my personal opinion necessarily, though I may comment on the notes. Japan does not allow the freedom to homeschool, so I am not suggesting they are right about everything. I do think we can learn a lot from their educational philosophy and their dedication to their children's education. This was an interesting book to read, but one downside is it is old - 1992. I would love to read a more recent book comparing American and Asian schools. The author does have another book (reprinted with a new cover) titled The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom. I am looking forward to reading it.

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