Back To Basics

Back to Basics dan skognes motivation blogger speaker teacher trainer coach educator

There is a crisis in the world of education that seems to be growing. Kids are promoting from grade to grade without mastering the 3Rs…Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. The feedback I have received from people around the world indicates this is not a problem isolated to the USA. It is worldwide and pervasive.

There is incredible pressure in the US to graduate a certain percentage of students to the next grade level every year. Your job may depend on it. After all, if kids are not learning, it has to be the teacher’s fault, right? Well, that is a partial truth. Every teacher has to take responsibility for the students entrusted to them. However, some things are beyond a teacher’s control.

You have no control over:

  • Kids who are promoted to your grade that should have been held back.
  • Kids who have emotional or mental disabilities and have not been diagnosed yet.
  • Parents who refuse to do their part.
  • Administration that insists on a quota system and does not support the teachers.

It is obviously very frustrating for anyone trying to teach with the deck stacked against them. It is not just frustrating, but is one of the primary factors for teacher burnout. I wish I knew who actually came up with the 3Rs. They were brilliant beyond their years. They understood that there is a basic foundation for teaching that has to be in place for learning to occur. Think of it as the 3 legged stool. If you don’t have one of the legs, you are going to fall, right?

If you can’t read, how do you comprehend written instructions? If you can’t write, how do you communicate with others in writing? If you can’t do simple math, how do you create a budget, understand when someone is cheating you financially, or even hold a job? These 3 basic cornerstones are critical to our health, welfare, and future.

Here is my simple wish list:

  • That every child master the 3Rs before they are graduated to the next grade level.
  • That every child be required to memorize the basic math tables before graduating to the next level. (Obviously this is grade specific. By 3rd grade they should have memorized the tables.)

Why would we want to promote a child to the next level if they have not mastered the basics? It is sad, but it happens every day. If we are doing the right thing as educators, we will make sure that every child gets what they need to succeed, but if they don’t, we have to be willing to hold them back till they are ready. Better they be held back as a child than to be held back or fail as an adult.

I realize this is a delicate subject and nobody wants to humiliate a child by holding them back. The problem is, if we don’t make the tough decisions for them now, those decisions will be made for them when they are grown. The problems do not go away; they compound. I hope we do the right thing for the kids sake and for our future. Shalom!

Dan Skognes

12 Responses to “Back To Basics”

  1. Steve says:

    Yes, this is a delicate issue, mostly in the area of perception. It is a practical , teacher -centered intervention to hold someone back, but not practical in terms of the psychological, emotional and social areas. I think the only real option (as a teacher myself) is to provide as much intensive support possible to the student ie using differentiation, scaffolding, one-on-one sessions, teacher aide assistance and other means. As a relatively old (age-wise, 57) but new teacher, (this is my 4th year)I have learned the value of developing relationships with students as the/a number 1 priority, One of my colleagues has a quote in the signature block of their emails – “Without a significant relationship, there will be no significant learning..” We could debate the semantics of ‘significant; but …I don’t want to.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      Steve, I get that, and I know that in the ideal world all the tools you mentioned will help push them to the level that they need. The reality is that emotionally and mentally, some kids just can’t keep up even with all the help. You can’t make a flower bloom before it is ready. Relationship is an absolute must in helping kids or adults to learn. I have taught both and when there is relationship there is a greater chance for learning to occur. I liken that to sales. We buy from people we like and trust and avoid those we don’t. Same thing goes for teachers. Thanks for your feedback, and I wish you the best in your teaching endeavors. Shalom! Dan

  2. Almas Taufiq says:

    I think holding a child back till he masters the three Rs, especially in Grades 1 to 4, is only going to lead to low self esteem and demotivation in the child, and shifting blame and responsibility in teachers and parents. There needs to be structured assessment and support to bring each child to the base level in every grade. This is easily possible as I’ve seen in my 20+ years of teaching kids and adults.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      Almas, the problem is that some kids are just not ready to be promoted despite the additional tutoring, special ed help, parental involvement, etc. I do agree that most kids can be helped, but far too many are pushed through the system and the results are not good. Self-esteem issues are easier to deal with in the early years than a young adult who has been pushed through and still can’t read, write, or do basic math. Of course, this is simply my opinion. Structured assessment and support is in place, but the factor that seems to be overlooked is when is the child ready? If he has not mastered the 3Rs by the 3rd grade (appropriate to that grade level) he should be held back and given all the support needed to move forward. I realize this is a touchy subject, but I believe it has to be changed. All the new teaching methodology and techniques seem to be falling short of the mark intended. Thanks for your feedback. Shalom! Dan

  3. This is a touchy subject and opinions differ. It is my opinion that it is best for kids to be held a year back and at least taught to read before progressing to the next level. I believe it is best to go up the stairs one step at a time. My first student was retained in school in primary one and was transferred to another school when I was asked to coach him.I believe this was a good move as he will not be taunted by his classmates who were now in primary 2.I am not a teacher and as such all that I now know about teaching ‘shut-down’ kids are what I have learned from students over the last 15 years.I have successfully taught about 50 kids in the last 15 years.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      I am not sure about segregating the studies like that. It may be appropriate in some severe cases, but most kids can learn multiple things at once. Teaching the 3Rs reinforce each other. When you write and when you do math, you typically have to read, so reading skills are reinforced. Shalom! Dan

      • My mistake – I did not make myself clear. I don’t mean segregating and teaching only the English language. Retain the kid in primary one and teach him whatever he needs to learn at that level and then promote him. If it is a ‘learning to read in the English language’ issue it should be easy to remedy within 4 months if he is a shut-down kid.

  4. I believe a majority of the so called ‘kids with learning disability’ or so called ‘Dyslexic kids’ are just ‘shut down’ kids. They shut down when things taught to them are illogical. They shut down as most teachers here in my country as well as in US, UK, Australia and other countries do not know why these kids disengage themselves from continuing to listen to the teacher teaching them the English Language.

    I would like you to please ask yourself as to why is it that teachers all over the world are able to teach kids to read when they have been classified as dyslexics by some so called experts.

    • Dan Skognes says:

      You may be right. I am sure that many kids are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities that have shut down. The question in their case seems to be two-fold: 1. Why? 2. What can be done to help them open up? Not an easy answer for either one. Shalom! Dan

      • As mentioned a majority of kids are kids who shut down or become disengaged because they have been taught wrongly. Please allow me to explain what I mean by shut down. A person believing strongly in one faith will sit and hear a friend talking about another faith but he won’t be listening. He shuts down as soon as another person talks about another faith.

      • Dan, both the questions can be easily answered if you are willing to ask further questions as critically as you want and not block me without warning. I speak 4 languages and I have successfully taught shut-down kids over the last 15 years.

  5. Dan, I will commence writing on why kids shut down on my Facebook page under my name. It is open to public. Please feel free to make any comments or ask any questions you may have for me and my readers. I have learned everything about shut-down learners from my students and I will be happy to learn from a professor like you.

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