The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 18, 2013

Bob Steere, guest columnist: Globe letter writers doing their homework

By Bob Steere
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin Globe’s letters to the editor have of late achieved a higher level of erudition because some writers based their opinions on tested research and, therefore, less on the dogma of their affiliations and less on which side of their bread is being buttered.

Kudos to Duane Eberhardt (3/12), Jeff Goldammer (2/25), and Sylvia Martin (3/12) for one particular reason — all three scribes based their opinions on research findings, not just their knee-jerk opinions. Truly refreshing.

The above three Globe letters, with two of the writers disagreeing on the findings of one particular document, are in contrast to a recent politician’s (Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar) legislative report on education. His report, without reference to any research, belittled the “common core curriculum” by saying it will “shackle the potential of our best teachers and hid the deficiencies of our worst.”

The politician then conveniently moves to his belief that the Bible and school prayer were outlawed in our schools. He, like some other folks, does not understand that students can still have their Bibles and pray in silence. But teachers and administrators cannot tell children what to believe regarding religion. Indeed, I and most folks would not tolerate a teacher pushing his religious beliefs on our grandchildren.

Contrasting the politician’s document with Sylvia Martin’s letter “Student success,” we find her piece providing studies for the justification of her views. She recognizes three important contributors to students’ achievements and future success: 1) children’s ability to pay attention and complete tasks by age 4, 2) the necessity for students to be in attendance and 3) students’ completion of assignments and homework. She continues by citing a couple of studies emphasizing that successful students “must be self-motivated, engaged and disciplined.”

Martin’s advocacies are on target even though there are numerous other factors, proved by hard research, that contribute to academic achievement. Many of these factors that are directly and indirectly related to achievement are summarized in the book cited later.

That said, a reaction is here raised about Martin’s use of the term “self-motivation” — something infrequently possessed by many students who nonetheless can be high achievers. Well-trained teachers have various techniques to keep most learners on worthy tasks. Naturally, instructional skills are largely for naught if a teacher’s management skills cannot maintain discipline.

Elaborating on Martin’s mention of the need for learners to be engaged, let it be emphasized that this is important. This contributing factor is documented by research during which each student’s “time on worthy tasks” is recorded and later analyzed. Teachers, principals and school boards wishing to improve standardized test scores can most assuredly accomplish this goal by implementing methods to increase each student’s time on worthy tasks.

One source available, with specific methods for training both teachers and instructional supervisors, from elementary schools through graduate classes, is: “Becoming An Effective Classroom Manager: A Resource for Teachers.” Copies are housed in both the Joplin Public Library and the Spiva Library at Missouri Southern State University. Yes, I’m the author.

Bob Steere lives in Joplin.