One Size Fits One, in Education

The biggest trouble with having a great classroom discussion in one period is that it sets the bar impossibly high for the next.

I managed to get my first block of students to argue about Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton, poetry versus prose and change versus experience for a full hour once we finished presenting our posters in the first 30 minutes of class.

These are media-constructed arguments, with few if any valid applications, but at least they’re timely, relevant and getting them interested in American government.

With these two Democratic contenders, I think I have my hook.

The hook is the most important part of motivating students to learn the boring stuff. Once I can get them to care the job is as simple — not easy, mind you, but simple — as subtly harkening back to that common interest. For both classes, Obama and Clinton were the hot topics. I even have a Ron Paul supporter in the first block, and one of my students is fascinated with Mike Huckabee.

For this reason.

The trouble is that my second block of kids weren’t nearly so responsive as the first.

I goaded my second class into participating into the same discussion, but it took quite a lot of goading, and it wasn’t nearly as satisfactory. I had to prod them every inch of the way.

As far as I knew, from gaging the reaction of my students, these kids had the same hook. The same method, the same provocation, the same ideas should have promoted the same, or similar, discussion.

It didn’t, mostly because no two groups of kids are ever sufficiently the same.

On a larger level, that’s the trouble with No Child Left Behind, the hack legislation initially penned by the surviving noteworthy Kennedy and supported by the reigning Bush. Bipartisan doesn’t make it worthwhile.

It seems a secret to politicians that centralized education, defended here by a straw man, doesn’t work. However much teachers vent, they don’t vent loudly enough.

If we assume all kids are alike enough for identical education, we condemn them to, in the best case, mediocrity.

Moral of the story? If we pave one road to success, most of us end up in the gutter.


  1. So many times, the best class ever is followed by the biggest dud of all times. Thankfully, sometimes the biggest dud is followed by the class discussion that reminds us of why we do what we do.

    Your hook got me into this blog entry. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for leaving a sentence at the Day in a Sentence feature. It’s nice to have your words there.

    I think it is interesting how one group of students can get so engaged that you, as the teacher, think that it will work so well for everyone else, and then you hit a dud and you wonder, what have I done differently? (and what should I have done differently).

    Class dynamics are such a funny thing and one or two students and their personalities can really shape a class for the year (I teach sixth grade). I realized that early on, it is so important to identify the positive leaders and provide them with scaffolding to exert positive leadership.

    That, of course, does not always work.


  3. Thanks, all, for the comments. I’m always looking for feedback.

    Understanding class dynamics, and the different class dynamics between classes, is crucial to becoming a successful teacher. Or so I’ve heard.

    I’m crossing my fingers on this one.

  4. Classes have individual personalities. I’m still figuring out what to do with that knowledge, but yeah, every class has a personality that can be changed by the addition or subtraction of even 1 student.

    As to your point about NCLB, amen. I remember reading “Harrison Bergeron” years ago in middle school, and every time this conversation about NCLB comes up, I can’t help but think of that story.

  5. Harrison Bergeron is a fair comparison.

    I read an blog post about a Midwest politician advocated holding back third graders who didn’t perform at grade level.

    The blogger went on to make the point that grade level means “average achievement” if the standard is fair, meaning that half of the population will exceed grade level, and the other half won’t.

    NCLB is comparably stupid.

  1. 1 Students Sound Off, and Vociferously: Part 2 « On the Tenure Track

    […] prose and how they relate to Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It had been a popular topic in class, and my kids ran with it. Excerpts from the essays begin here. “Poetry is easier to […]

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