Marion Brothers

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Baby Moses Project: Solving the Crisis of the Black Boy: Part III

Part III – What is behind Instructional Intent?

From Connie Collins, Program Specialist K-12, Fort Wayne Community Schools:
Are there specific methods or classroom practices that motivate students to perform to their potential? For example, do small groups work better than whole group discussions, or does the instructional intent still play a large role in method choice with diverse students.

Henry M. Levin:
I am not sure that one can generalize about group size and pedagogy for black males since it depends upon the subject, teacher skills in different instructional modes, and the use of balancing different approaches rather than relying on a single one.

However, any approach that more nearly personalizes instruction is helpful.
Personalization can be based upon small group or even tutoring approaches. But, it can also draw upon guided independent study on topics of interest or of curiosity to the learner. My own experience suggests that personal mentoring has a very positive effect for the education of black males. If we can get members of the school staff or the larger community to take on mentoring tasks for individuals or small groups (advice, friendship, guidance, connections to employment and other opportunities, assistance with homework and assignments), we can get some very good results.

Eddie Griffin:
Well said by Levin, insofar as addressing Collins’ ambiguous reference to “instructional intent”. There is an implied recognition the some teachers motivate some children and de-motivate others in one and the same process, by selective delivery of educational content.

It’s as if you cannot please everybody; you cannot teach to everybody’s style; so, the style of teaching is more comparable to the bias of suburbia middle-American children, not inner-city. Where a teacher may motivate one student in a particular subject with a certain delivery system, it may completely turn off an African-American student… hence, reference to “balancing different approaches”.
Where the teacher fails to “personalize” instructions in an effective discernable mode for the African-American male student’s digestion, Levin suggests that mentors should help bridge that learning gap, rather than the teacher change the mode of instructional delivery.

Of course, there are other modes of instructional delivery, more effective than the tools and systems we now use. For example, there is less need for hardcover books nowadays, because there are CDs, DVDs, Podcasts, and online curriculum loaded with quality curricula contents, some are interactive in a way that reinforces learning. But book publishers would block any effort if public schools starting utilizing multimedia learning tools (except the ones manufactured by book publishing companies).

Different students need different amounts of reflective time to absorb information and arrive at a comprehension. Some students may need to divert to an online dictionary for the meaning of a word that will unlock meaning on a subject. African-American male students need more leeway and freedom in exploratory learning. The process of teaching changes into a guidance mode of instructional delivery.
Essentially, an African-American boy should be “guided”, rather than “taught” (in the old traditional sense of the word). Through guidance, he is able to preserve his self-esteem from the embarrassment and humiliation of being stigmatized as a “slow learner”, when it may be a problem a delay in processing information in a particular subject matter. For students that come to school hungry, it may be hard to impossible to concentrate on an empty stomach- a symptom a trained-eye professional should be able to detect.

Teacher training should include multi-tasking and individual observation techniques, so that he or she can tell when a child is not absorbing classroom information and following instructions. That a child is often lost in the middle of a class and diverts his attention to some other distraction is not always disciplinary offence.


  1. Great post. I think the problems you wrote about here are the biggest issues in schools.

    - Many schools offer free or low cost breakfasts and lunches sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but asking for it may be embarrassing for the parents, particularly if the application stating parents' income can be seen by the teacher. There also needs to be a system that makes it impossible for other students to tell who is getting the free lunches, such as lunch "credit cards" for everyone to keep poor children from being embarrassed.
    - There are several homework help websites, some sponsored by libraries, that may help kids. My own teenage son has even started one. Again, the public library is a good source of free computer time, or possibly a school computer room or library.
    - The dictator approach to teaching seriously needs to be phased out. By the way, black boys are not the only ones who hate it.

  2. Anne, I am looking to create a supplemental educational program online. Hopefully, when we scale it up, it will cover all subjects and all curriculum requirements; otherwise, we will find ourselves head-to-head against book publishers and other special interest groups.