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  1. Multi-tasking in High Need, High Stakes Schools
    For anyone teaching in an inner city middle or high school, there is little disagreement that the majority of our students are far behind suburban peers in virtually all academic areas. As new teachers, we struggle to master our subject, manage our classroom, grasp unions and finally to impress our evaluators. So while we are trying to do all these things, we also feel a compelling urgency to include in our daily lesson, additional subjects such as communication, basic economics, nutrition, recycling, social skills, and manners. The purpose of the paper is to discuss, how much a new, or used teacher should, or can cover in one subject area. More importantly, is it even appropriate to try.
    We understand that our ultimate purpose of our specific subject area is to encourage higher order thinking. Our students must be able to analyze, evaluate, and create. We also understand that the complaints found in the research of employers of recent high school graduates show that:
    • 42% are dissatisfied with graduates’ ability to think analytically
    • 39% are unhappy with graduates ability to apply what they learn to solve real-world problems
    • 41% are dissatisfied with graduate’s ability to understand….difficult material.
    In my first year, I discovered several important failings in our public school education system. Number sense, (my job), geography (“Santo Domingo is 2 hours if you went by car”), spoken and written English, history (11th grade students had no idea why they spoke Spanish, or why Brazilians speak Portuguese). I once substituted a “Health” class for sophomores. I cannot reprint here the questions asked regarding human reproduction. So what is a teacher to do given our wiring, and what research and good sense tell us not to do?
    There has been a valuable ongoing discussion since the publication of the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid”, which counters our intuitive instinct that we must backfill wherever and whenever we see a hole. The article highlights how search engines have assumed the philosophies of the Industrial Revolution and Taylorism “to adopt, for every job, the one best method of work and thereby to effect the gradual substitution of science… in the past the man has been first, in the future the system must be first”. The parallel to search engines is Google’s mission “to draw on the terabytes of behavioral data it collects ... to refine the algorithms that increasingly control how people find information and extract meaning. What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind”. (Carr, page 5). From a student’s perspective, this pre-thought thought is not conducive to learning. Dr. Kirk advances that focus is key, multitasking results in disruptions and interruptions which inhibit a student’s ability to process information.
    All of this comes as a rude, and counter-intuitive shock as many of us recently concluded a course entitled “Assessing and Developing Adolescent Reading and Writing in Social Studies, Science and Math”, which dealt with literacy on a secondary level. Among my peers there was an audible “Really?”, we have to take this? “What does literacy have to do with math and science, and how will we possibly have time to cover core topics in high need schools were children are already impossibly far behind?” . Besides, we thought collectively, multitasking is an evil in the adult world, a consequence of too much information and too little meaning.
    How can we overload our students and ourselves?
    (continued in next blog .. there is a 4,o96 character limits)

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  2. “Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” said David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”
    The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said RenĂ© Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University.
    Neuroscience seems to confirm what we all suspect in our own lives: Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy at the same time. Dialing this back several decades, perhaps we can analyze our own journey to literacy, a journey which looks nothing like Generation Z.
    For many of us, literacy began with patient parents reading, and re-reading books, magazines posters, street signs, anything really. We read for school, entertainment and then for interviews, and jobs. Reading and writing was instrumental in the middle class life pre-Apple/PC. Parents could supplant a mediocre public school to provide the necessary literacy foundation which offered a level of confidence to compete in a world beyond the beach, the hood or vacuous suburban ghetto. For most of us, this foundation would enable college, graduate school, and a successful career. This foundation would also encourage recipients feel connected to, and hopefully repay their community in some way. So let’s get practical. As a math teacher, with a quantitative background, I know that my students cannot read well, and they certainly are more than a little challenged by written response. I know that these students must pass the Integrated Algebra Exam to graduate from a New York public school. My own research shows me that my students ARIS ELA scores show that 50% of students are Level 2 or “Partially meet learning standards” with approximately 20 F-ELL (former ELL students). Given that these students have serious limitations in both Math and Literacy. If I choose to follow the proscribed curriculum and spent year on math addressing major deficits in elementary computational skills, I know that they will not be able to fake their way through the “monkey work” of math on a qualifying exam.
    I also know that if I miss an important opportunity and focus my efforts exclusively on math skills, I really have no chance of improving comprehension and retention of processing and vocabulary words.
    I recognize that my high school education provided the foundation for my success. I also recognize that I grew up in a literate era, if not a literate community of thinkers. Successful reading and writing provided the platform for all other learning. I do not think that we can argue that multi-tasking our classes to include literacy will detract from our ultimate objective of teaching math or the sciences. It does not seem that we can expect to have any meaningful quantitative result in math scores if we have not accomplished a fundamental life survival and progression skill. Reading is the first step in the virtuous student cycle. Success promotes self-confidence and determination. This cycle, in either its positive or negative form is self-reinforcing from middle to high school and becomes essential in college, graduate school and for competing in the work force. My journey from “I cannot possibly spend limited class time on literacy” to “this is how I will make more time to spend more time on literacy” is my pro-multitasking mantra. Although I understand the neo-Luddite position that by multitasking our class we risk achieving little and promoting the cycle of the superficial, I believe that the expense of myopic teaching is too great.

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  3. ( part 3 of 3)

    Literacy has become everyone’s job. I would even argue in future briefs, that we should take a giant leap of faith and put our own subjects on the back burner if for those students who are unable to read and write by high school. We must continue to believe that outstanding teachers do “do it all”. We need to teach not only curriculum and character, while we prepare students for state tests, we must also multitask to provide a caring environment if we hope to reach these students in some way, some day.


    Works Cited

    Carr, Nicholas, “Is Google Making Us Stupid”, Atlantic Online. July/August 2008.

    Kirk, Dr. Delany, Taking Back the Classroom, Schuester and Nally, 2008.

    Fiore, C. Associated Content, Outstanding Teacher: Become a Master at Multitasking, August, 2006.

    McKenna & Robinson, Teaching Through Text. Massachusetts, Allyn & Bacon, 2002, page 291.

    Salend, Spencer, Creating Inclusive Classrooms. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 2008, pages 346, 350, 431

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