“Pitch & Shout” Instruction Method Really WorksBy Bill Page
If every kid in class is the same, teachers can teach them all the same. But if some kids are different, they have to find ways to accommodate the differences; there is no viable choice.
The farm I grew up on in Missouri had three different streams that ran through it. No matter how dry the weather got in the hottest part of August, there were always several swimming holes deep enough to drown in. So, as soon as kids got old enough to be out of direct sight from the house or big enough to be out of the hollering range without getting in serious trouble, our parents could be sure we were going to be “taking a dip” in a swimming hole.
The problem was not, “How do we keep the kids out of the swimming holes?” The question was, “Since they’re going to be in the swimming holes, how do we keep them from drowning?” And the answer was, “Teach them to swim.” Well, they had a way called, the ”pitch and shout method” of teaching swimming. I assumed it was a system unique to our area. Only later did I discover that it is a universal system.
Some Kids Learn from Being “Pitched In”
In the “pitch and shout method” an adult throws the kid into the deep water and shouts “SWIM!” After flailing around, gagging, gulping water, and gasping for breath, the water-logged kid makes it to the shore, where he/she looks around at the beaming adults and in an exhilarating moment of triumph hollers, “I made it!” From that time on, both the kid and the adult know that if the youngster jumped, fell, or was pushed into deep water, it would be O.K. After all, s/he had learned enough to swim to shore under adverse conditions, so s/he knows s/he can do it again.
On the other hand, some kids on being thrown in react in sheer panic as they swallow water and realize they are in over their heads. The adults let these flounderers stay under water a little longer than the kids would expect causing a crescendo of fear that blots out every other thought or feeling. When finally rescued, the bedraggled kids are so scared they and the adults know they won’t have to worry about drowning in the future. The kids will never go near the water again, ever. They will never learn to swim either. The method is excellent for “drown-proofing.”
Kids either swim or they don’t, and either way the drowning problem is solved.
Using the Pitch and Shout Method for Reading
While the pitch and shout method worked for swimming, it is not appropriate for teaching reading—after all, we don’t want to “read-proof” kids. But unfortunately, it is what schools do. We adopt a reading program and every kid who walks through the classroom door, whether he can already read or whether he has never seen a book, gets pitched into the program and we shout “READ!” Some do and some don’t. If they read, we say “they’re smart.” If they don’t we say “they’re dumb.” Then, another expert comes along and says, “No wonder some don’t learn to read, you are using the look-say reading program. That Dick and Jane stuff doesn’t work.”
We Toss Them Into a New Method but Same Old Stream
So, we throw out all the sight-reading material, and bring in phonic stuff, having determined, “The grunt and groan system is better than the look-say method.” Now every kid who walks through the front door gets pitched in the phonics program and we shout, “READ!” Some do, some don’t. For those who do, we say, “It’s because we have an excellent reading program in our school.” For those who don’t we say, “They have dyslexia.” We have not changed the method, only the stream into which we throw all learners.
Individual teachers, too, use the pitch and shout method in their classrooms. They adopt a program (there are more than 100 commercial reading programs in use and in schools) or buy some materials and activity sheets, and every kid assigned to the class gets pitched in, they shout “LEARN!” If kids learn, teachers take credit for teaching them. If kids don’t learn, they say, “It’s the fault of their parents, genes, culture, environment, income, zip code, motivation, school policies, or last year’s teacher.” There is always sufficient blame to go around.
Examples in other Subjects
There are plenty of Pitch and Shout examples in every subject and grade level. In teaching middle school social studies, I used the “posthole” method.It involves the idea that as kids read about a country such as South Africa and consider its political, religious, economic, and cultural aspects,they encounter a topic such as language. They dig further into it, like digging a post hole in the middle of the field, encountering questions such as “What language do they speak?”
The answer, “ Afrikan,” elicits additional questions like, “What is that?”
“Well, that’s a mix of Swahili and Dutch languages.”
“What are the Dutch doing in South Africa?”
As students keep digging deeper,theywill probably get to the early colonization period. Or they may wind up going all the way back to Greek civilization or back to Mesopotamia. Out of that broad field kids concentrate on digging deeply into just one part as a starting point, digging in other “holes” and spreading out.The problem with the posthole method is that every kid assigned to my social studies class got pitched into the posthole. And I shout, “Learn social studies!” Some did and some didn’t. I had to use a different method for those who didn’t.
The Learning Center Approach
Remember the days when learning centers were new in elementary schools? We’d have 20 or more independent learning centers around the room. Every kid who walked into the room got pitched into the learning center program and we shouted, “Learn!” Some did and some didn’t. What happens if some kids don’t learn? Or, what if some kids don’t have adequate ability or responsibility? Or, what if the learning centers are too difficult?Should we set up seven “remedial” learning centers? Or do we consider a method in addition to learning centers?
In teaching 10th grade literature,what if you have a kid who can’t read? The only choices you have are to teach him/her to read so s/he can participate in the literature class , or you have to find a way to accommodate a 10th grade student who can’t read the reading assignments. I suppose there is the choice of letting the kid sit through the year entertaining him/herself and others, disrupting the class, and making F’s, but I have never used that choice.
The Teacher Needs to Provide Alternatives
Some teachers will say, “The real world doesn’t accommodate people. S/he is going to have to learn to adapt to the world.” It’s true the world doesn’t change for individuals, but I’m not in charge of the world. If I have a kid in my class who cannot do what I ask, then my responsibility is to change the work for him/her simply because other alternatives are unacceptable.
I can’t change the world or improve stupid education policies, but I can change my teaching. And it isn’t big deal stuff. I’m just talking about my decisions in my class. I don’t select my students and I don’t determine whether a kid should or shouldn’t be in my class. Every class I have ever taught, even those homogeneously grouped have had wide ranges of differences requiring differentiated lessons.
However convenient it might be for all of my students to be ready for my predetermined, prescheduled lessons; that’s not reality. My responsibility is to teach the kids assigned to me — all of them. That requires that I, as a professional teacher, create ways to provide for all student differences. While I have not been able to provide for differences in every kid, my desire, determination, and using the kids input and help, sure did help.
Individualization: A Definition
My definition: Individualization is a process, not a program you offer, of seeking, finding, and providing more ways to offer more alternatives for more differences in more kids more often. Either a teacher is actively engaged in that process of finding alternatives for accommodating differences, or s/he is not. If students have differences and teachers have the students, the differences are your problem.. It beats spending time enforcing futile policies, flunking kids, and coping with defiant, unhappy kids.
Either all kids in class are the same or some are different. If they are all the same they can be taught the same, but if some are different, they must be taught differently. There is no reasonable choice; That’s the teachers responsibility.
With joy in sharing,