I love my ZITE app. I tell everyone about it. It’s an aggregator of content that produces a magazine suited perfectly to me. My ZITE app is set up to send me articles about eLearning, the future of education, and education policy, in addition to the NFL, NBA, and all things disc golf. I really enjoy curating the articles and sending the ones I want to keep (for research, enjoyment later, etc) to my ReadItLater account or Evernote. Occasionally I retweet some of the articles I think my colleagues would enjoy.
Typically, the articles that I get to “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” are related to technology in higher education. As ZITE learns my tastes, those seem to be what I enjoy reading. But about 1/3 of the articles are based on K-12 education. Like the one I was sent recently about ADHD, differentiated instruction, and boredom in schools…
As the parent of a 4 year old, I certainly know about attention deficits. It has been quite fascinating watching my little girl learn to focus longer year after year. And it has been equally frustrating (at times) when I just want to watch a basketball game (…ok, in fairness, a TWO hour basketball game), but she isn’t interested in playing by herself for that long. So, about midway through the second quarter, I stop to “talk dolls” or pretend that I can’t find her as she hides under a blanket. But I digress.
However, I must admit, I had no idea what ADHD has become in recent years. In College, I worked at a psychiatric care facility in northern Colorado and I knew about Ritalin, ADD (back then there was no ‘H’), and other aspects of the disorder. But I had no idea how much ADHD has spread over the years. As well, I did not realize how many people were on either side of the fence. There are those who fervently oppose the diagnosis (NYTimes) as well as those who defend it with zeal (NYTimes2). And as I clicked from link to link in the article, I found some big names talking about. From Oprah to the Surgeon General to my education/creativity hero, Ken Robinsonwho makes that point that the diagnosis of ADHD increases significantly in the United States as you head east, a lot of people have big opinions on the subject. Even doctors seem polarized on the subject.
But the most compelling notion that I ran into time and again was specific to differentiated instruction. For many who believe that ADHD is either a misdiagnosis or at least diagnosed too often, the answer seems to lie in an instructors ability to present students with multiple options throughout the day so as to promote engagement and learning on various levels thereby keeping the child motivated and interested. Fair enough. I certainly buy into the notion of differentiation (and not just for elementary students, but at all levels!). I know the studies dating back to Bloom and having been replicated dozens of times which show our propensity to teach at the “lowest” levels for human cognition. The bottom line is that in spite what we know about learning, we still teach with methods that don’t work very well – especially when they are the only methods we employ.
So, intrigued and formulating opinions, I explained the articles and ran some of my thoughts by a teacher whom I greatly respect. She is an elementary school teacher and she is one of those people who is loved by parents, children, and even the other teachers. You know…Mary Poppins in jeans. She is one of those people who eloquently straddles the theoretical with the practical, taking a pragmatic approach to teaching. Her classroom is fun but no-nonsense. Her first graders thrive. So, when I asked about her thoughts on the matter, I must admit….I was suprised with the answer she gave me. (I’ll call her KTT as I did not get her permission to use her name.)
Me: So, 9-11% of children are diagnosed with ADHD, although only 4% of adults seem to be. Most diagnosed kids only take meds for school, not needing it at home or in the summer. And prescription meds seem to be highly concentrated in pockets of the country, rather than being equally distributed everywhere. Do you think that we are really just misdiagnosing millions of children when differentiated instruction might take care of it?
KTT: Sure, in a perfect world, that is exactly what we should do. But the problem is we don’t live in a perfect world. People have been talking about education reform – especifically differentiation – for 6 or 7 decades. But here we still are. So you tell me, would you rather take a stand and allow your kid who is bored in school to stay bored, stay unfocused, and likely get in trouble, flunk out, or worse? Or, to at least give them a shot, should they get medicated so that they can deal with the reality of underwhelming instruction, but get grades solid enough to give them a chance in life. To give them a chance at college or a decent job they are going to need an education, regardless of the kind of teaching they receive.
I just sat there for a moment and let that wash over me. Hmmm.
But at the end of the day, the entire conversation left me puzzled. There is likely an answer here, but is it really too big for us to achieve? Does political gridlock, too many opinions, and not enough accountability make it impossible to fix education? Should we “give up” and accept reality, or constantly strive to fix it? And most importantly for me…what happens if, in 3 or 4 years, our daughter’s school comes to us and suggests that she has an inability to focus? What then?