The Ottumwa Courier


April 17, 2014

A change at Evans

OTTUMWA — You can get kids to memorize facts. But teaching them to think can take more time.

Educational leaders told the Ottumwa school board that the school year that begins 2014 will shift Evans Middle School students from 45-minute periods to 60-minute periods.

"For those who argue these are middle school kids, that that's too long for them, that 60 minutes will kill them — we understand," said Shannon Vesely, the district's 7-12 school improvement leader. "The teacher won't be talking for an hour. Students won't silently be doing math problems for an hour. We know these are kids."

Vesely works as a teacher for teachers. The new education strategies adopted by the district have both improvement leaders and improvement coaches. And the techniques they've taught educators require some extended interaction and observation by classroom teachers.

"But when we talk to teachers, they tell us they can't get four kinds of instructional interaction [completed] in 45 minutes: Teacher modeling, guided instruction, collaborative learning and independent work," Vesely said.

She said the public may not understand why reading, which kids learn in the early grades, is taught at the middle school, too. She knows kids can make the sounds represented by the words in front of them. They need to understand it, too.

"We're talking about reading a tax document and understanding it. Blue prints. And at the ... higher level, understanding the message an author is trying to convey but doesn't [directly] say, that is, to infer. We're asking for some advanced thinking, some high-order thinking."

Vesely told the board that when she started her career on a college campus nearly 40 years ago, she would stand at the front of the room and just "talk at the students." Having our current knowledge we would be making a mistake to keep teaching that way.

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