Monday, January 20, 2014

It’s The Little Things: Details Are Important

I sweat the details.  I always have.  Both my parents, but especially my dad, are detail-oriented people.  My wife pays close attention to the details.  My kids are detail oriented as well.  A couple of us (me?) are maybe even detail obsessed!  It is frustrating to all of us when people do not pay attention to the details.  I recall hearing a statement and then reading a book that was called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and some people add on to it and say, “it’s all small stuff.”  I guess it depends on perspective, and I do know that for those that are of the “don’t sweat it camp” they are basically talking about stress relief.  But that being said, try as I may to “not sweat it,” it is my opinion that details are important and cannot be ignored. 
In the classroom there are examples on both sides of the teacher-student relationship.  For example, as much as teachers try to be clear and concise in their explanation, from time to time they over look a small important point.  Without that information a common result is confusion on behalf of the students.  On the other side, a skill that a lot of students lack is writing in a detailed manner.  “Give me the details!” is often heard when proofing or correcting a student’s writing. 
I deal with a lot of incidents where something has happened to a student and I let them tell their story before I start asking questions and so often they leave out the details, which are critical because the details tell the story.  I alluded to it earlier, but it amazes me that details are seemingly skipped over.  I generally start the student over, slow them down, and ask a lot of questions to get to the details.
I see it all the time in athletics.  We are in an era where kids play a lot of games, but have paid little attention to the fundamentals.  The fundamentals are the details, and even then there are details to the details.  Coaching softball, I see a lot of pitchers that do not snap their wrist at release or do not get up on top of their drag toe on their drive foot, two little things that can mean the difference of up to five or six mph.  In basketball the angle of release with their shooting arm it critical to increasing the odds that they will make a shot. 
As I have visited both our chorus and band rooms, instructors hone in on what appear to the untrained ear as very subtle differences, but in when you hear the entire group make an adjustment, the difference in sound is incredible. 
Another example that I cannot believe is overlooked is proofreading.  Students hate to proofread, but it is incredible what a difference it makes when you do!  I proof nearly everything I write, or in some instances ask my secretary to do so.  And even then, I miss things.  Young writers that do not proofread generally turn in papers with a ridiculously high number of errors.  Why not proofread?  Perhaps it is because there is a desire to be done, and by proofreading there may still be work to do!
All of this is kind of like reading the fine print.  In the cyber world, people have found that if they do not read the fine print, it may cost them thousands of dollars.  Consumers have recently been successfully sued because they have posted derogatory comments online about certain companies in violation of conditions they agreed to, but did not bother to read.  It was in the fine print.
It is easy for the sake of time or convenience to skip over the details.  It takes a lot of work when it comes to taking care of the details.  However, if a job is going to be done well, one must make certain to pay attention to them.  Otherwise, something important will most likely be left out, and it could be costly in the long run.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Is Public Education In America As Bad As Some People Say It Is?

I have become frustrated with the political ping-pong ball that public education has become in the past ten to fifteen years, smacked unmercifully by people that manipulate statistics, data, and other information to push agendas and special interests.  Are their problems with public education?  Yes.  And, there is a tremendous amount of research out there, as well as models of very effective education programs that need to be used as guidelines as to how to make changes that will in fact lead to better education programs for our children.  However, a lot of the changes being proposed by politicians, most of whom have little or no expertise in education, are not the changes that have been shown to work.  In fact, privatization, charter schools, and many of the accountability systems that some insist on have been shown to not work, or certainly not any better that what is currently in place!  Maybe we ought to look at the things that do work.

I have included a link to a slide presentation that appeared shortly after the most recent results of the PISA test.  The PISA test is an international assessment that is probably the best comparison of educational programs between nations.  This is the one that many refer to when wanting to point out that America's schools are failing.  However, that is a surface level assessment of the data.  When one takes a deeper look, there is a totally different story to be told.  You will fine that the quality of education is not declining and for the vast majority of students, their performance is quite good.  Do we have problems?  Absolutely!  However, they are not necessarily education problems.  Take a look and decide for yourself.  

Note: While the slide presentation was put together by the American Federation of Teachers, this data and the analysis is supported by numerous educational researchers.