An Interview with Anne Reichel: Expect More?

Jul 7, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

 

1)      Dr. Reichel , you have just completed a book indicating that we should “Expect More “ from children—let’s start at the beginning. Should adults expect more and better academics, sports, musical performance, dance, theatre drama, social skills or all of the above?

My focus on “Expect More” starts with adults. I believe we need to “Expect More” of ourselves as adults, if we have any hope of raising intellectually curious children. Children rarely see adults model their own passion for learning something new. We rush about taking children from one scheduled activity to the next talking on our cell phones while our children sit in the back seat tuned into some electronic device. The art of conversation is on the endangered list.

Throughout the book, I make suggestions to parents including the notion of dinner conversation as a time for substantive conversation about important topics. I challenge parents to think aloud so they teach their children how to be critical consumers of information.

As far as children go, my focus is on the quality of our expectations rather than on the quantity. Under the demands of NCLB our children and teachers spend a great deal of time on “teach to the test” strategies rather than on higher-level thinking and problem solving. Social Studies and Science have become the step-children of the curriculum. Only in 8th grade where a Constitution Test is mandated do I see evidence that social studies receives the attention it deserves.

When I work with teachers, I help them build instructional units that focus on problem-solving and real world applications. Just this week I worked with a group of teachers on their mandatory constitution test. Most of the initial questions required memorization rather than thinking. Our final assessment included prompts such as: Find examples in the media of places where individual’s rights have been guaranteed or denied. Another example: Support with evidence why the distribution of powers is an essential component of the US constitution. Support your answer with evidence from the first three articles. In the book I focus on suggestions that support critical thinking.

In my book, I share continuums for the teaching of science. My continuums evolved because when I worked with teachers I realized that some do not raise the level of thinking or the cognitive complexity of tasks as children move through the grades.

2)     Many students are already over-committed with jobs after school and chores. How much more can we expect of children and adolescents?

I agree that our children are over-committed but it is usually over-scheduled. They have little time for cognitive rest or to pursue something they are passionate about in depth. They are shuffled from one activity to the next.

3)     Let’s get specific for a minute- a parent has a child with say an 85 I.Q who is already stressed out about their homework and grades. What can they do?

I encourage parents to find out what that child is passionate about and to fuel that interest. We want all children to feel good about the steps they make towards learning. The focus in schools needs to change from grades to a growth model. We want all children to celebrate the steps they make towards growing as learners.

Often when I’ve done demonstration lessons in classrooms on technological design or inquiry based science an adult will remark about the spark and interest they saw in a child like the one you described above. Not all children learn in the same way. Our school days have become increasingly fragmented, and children need to experience challenges that require time and depth of learning. Children need opportunities to construct understanding through hands-on science and inquiry-based approaches.

4)     On the other hand, I know many, many, many gifted kids who are bored out of their minds- what should parents be doing IN school and OUT of school?

I encourage parents to look at the level of thinking required in the work that children bring home from school. Sometimes they come home with hours of homework that focuses on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Parents should look for questions that use words like “analyze, evaluate, synthesize, support with evidence” etc.,

In the book, I talk about the “dumbing down” of America. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good Bears game, but I see a society that celebrates sports heroes and celebrities. Our eye is on the wrong target. Rarely do we celebrate scientists or engineers. Terms such as “geek” and “nerd” are prevalent in our language. Gifted kids learn to “fit in” that they should take their intelligence down a notch. I would love to see a section on the news each evening that celebrated new discoveries and the amazing individuals who persevered to make those discoveries.

5)    Why science? I realize science classes are often shortchanged for reading and NCLB. What is it about science?

Here is an excerpt from the book:

“Science will continue to play an increasingly important role in our lives as we move through the 21st Century. Our children will need to be critical consumers of all the information that is so readily accessible. They will need to understand that the information they receive is dependent upon the reliability of data collected and the methodologies used to collect it. The imperative is to nurture the kind of thinkers who look carefully at the information they gather and its multiple sources before jumping to conclusions. Modeling our own interest in doing so is essential.”

I also have a chapter on “systems thinking”. I discuss the idea that many entrepreneurs attribute their success with systems thinking and the ability to see the patterns and relationships in and amongst systems.

6)     Let’s talk teachers- what can they be doing AFTER school in terms of homework? What can they be doing in terms of mentoring?

Teachers have a great deal on their plates. I always hate this kind of question because it requires a generalization. I work with all kinds of teachers so I see many things.

What teachers can do is look critically at the tasks they require of children. Are they requiring tasks that are authentic and that connect to the lives of children? Do the tasks require “uncovering” versus “covering”? I think kids need to see that their teachers are also passionate about learning new things.

Give homework assignments that engage families in thinking. Give homework assignments that help kids see the connection between what they are learning in school and life.

7)     Many teachers are having a difficult time with students that are inappropriately mainstreamed ( to use their words) into regular education classes. How much more can we expect from teachers?

I think if the shift is to learning progressions and growth models that we can make a change. There is nothing in my world that looks very much like it did when I started teaching in 1974 except school. I often wonder why schools still look the same for the most part with the exception of a SmartBoard where the chalkboard was.

The SmartBoard often becomes a glorified chalkboard rather than a tool for increasing the complexity of what we are challenging children to do.

When special needs children reached our classrooms we started developing graphic organizers and all kinds of things to scaffold instruction . An unintended consequence of that approach was a dumbing down of the curriculum. Teachers are working harder and doing all the thinking for the children. We hand kids a compare and contrast organizer or a problem/solution organizer. We figure out and tell them the structure of the excerpt they are reading rather than challenging the children to do the thinking. We took the organizers and gave them to all kids. We started have kids read “just right” books so they are losing the skills they need to read challenging text.

We need to shift the lens.

8)     What about the local church and minister or Boy Scout leader- what can they be doing?

In the book I encourage all adults to model their own intellectual curiosity. Ministers, boy scout leaders everyone needs to be more transparent in sharing their wonder and enthusiasm for learning.

Children need to see adults struggle with tasks, they need to hear us think aloud about how we solved problems and how fun it was when we figured out a solution. I’m afraid in a world of instant gratification that children have lost the art of persevering.

9)      Where can interested people get a copy of your book and who should read it?

My website

www.childrencandoremarkablethings.com

Barnes & Noble on line, amazon, etc.,

10)  Why did you write the book?

I am very concerned that we have our eye on the wrong target. We need to focus on the cognitive complexity of what we ask of children.

Should you have questions you can reach me at:

agreichel@comcast.net

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