By now, pretty much anyone aware of the goings-on in education reform has heard of Sal Khan, the intrepid gentleman who has recorded nearly 3,000 educational videos for students to view on YouTube.
There is a list of videos organized by subject and topic over at the Khan Academy web site.
It would be disingenuous to ignore the range of Khan’s knowledge or his capacity to produce so many videos. However, to claim that he and his style are the answer to the ills of education, I think, is a bit much. In my eyes, like pretty much every other reform idea, Khan’s videos may work for some, but they won’t work for many.
It is clear Sal Khan never taught special ed.
(Or ELLs, for that matter).
Recently, I was looking for some video options to reinforce multiplication concepts, and I watched Khan’s “Basic Multiplication” video. I wanted to incorporate some visuals and videos to help engage some of my more reluctant learners.
Whenever I watch videos or consider content, I have to do so from my students’ perspectives. So, while something may make perfect sense to me as is, I know that, usually, my students will not accept it in the same way.
I thought I’d give Khan a try. Watching the video from my students’ perspective, though, it was obvious that there was no way it was going to work in my classroom (a self-contained special education class of 100% ELLs at intermediate or beginner levels).
For starters, the amount of text in the video would be overwhelming. I am guilty of sometimes having too much going on at once in my class, but at least I’m there to help filter out the extraneous information (or erase it!) and help students refocus. In this multiplication video, Khan writes the word “Multiply” and puts “2 x 3” on the left, but then reviews addition (2 + 3) for about a minute on the right.
I'm concerned with the amount of text on this screen, as well as the lack of visual delineation between mathematical concepts.
There is no clear designation about what concept is what. The potential for confusion is too great, in my opinion, for this to be effective for many students.
It’s not only the text in the video that concerns me. It’s Khan’s delivery. Clearly, he is a well-spoken man with great depth of knowledge. However, delivery of that knowledge in a way that is too dense for students to understand means he might as well be speaking a different language. And for many ELLs, I imagine when they hear sentences such as the following, English all of a sudden does sound like a different language:
And this is probably the first time in mathematics that you’ll encounter something very neat: that sometimes, regardless of the path you take, as long as you take a correct path, you get the same answer.
Say I’m eight years old. I’m a beginner or intermediate ELL, or I’m fairly new to the country. I just heard all these crazy words: encounter, neat, regardless, path, and as long as. I’m totally lost. I need someone to help me understand the context and meaning of those words. I need someone with a little more sensitivity to my needs than Sal Khan.
Khan, shortly after that long-winded statement, says that, in considering other representations of multiplication, he will continue by drawing rows of lemons so he can continue, “our fruit analogy,” (he referred to raspberries and blueberries previously). Then:
An analogy is just when you kind of use something, as, as an – well, I won’t go too much into it.
After a while, it becomes uncomfortable – and inefficient – to listen to Khan’s colloquial manner of speech and his many verbal pauses. His video is neither concise nor succinct, and therefore it enables the mind to wander, rather than be inspired.
More verbal garbage from Khan can be found. He draws an array of lemons to talk about why multiplication is useful as an expedited form of counting. In my class (as in any class of ELLs), the critical point of arrays when they are introduced is learning what a row is and what a column is.
Khan begins to introduce what a row is:
A row is kind of a, the side-to-side lemons. I think you know what a row is. I don’t want to talk down to you.
Yet, unfortunately, with a statement like that, Khan is talking down. Because he assumes that everyone knows what a row is, he cuts off populations with his pomposity and makes it difficult to access the information.
I think if I made a list of all the words and phrases Khan uses in the video that would be stumbling blocks for ELLs and/or students with disabilities, I would come off as a whiner. However, in my estimation, it’s a fairly long list.
Look, there is some value to what Khan is doing. Just watching the video gave me some ideas of ways I could approach multiplication with my students. However, the mission statement of the Khan academy is not to help teachers teach. On the web site’s about page, it says:
We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.
Hmm. Well, if “anyone anywhere” means kids who are fluent in English and have the ability to follow dense text peppered by colloquial speech, then these types of videos will be fine. However, if “anyone anywhere” means, truly, anyone anywhere, then Khan has quite a long way to go.
I am sharing the video I analyzed so that you may do the same, if you choose. Would this video work for ELLs? Do you know students with disabilities who would be overwhelmed by it? Does it serve the needs of all students? See for yourself and determine your own answer!