Sunday, May 21, 2017

So Crazy It Just Might Work!

Instead of spending so much teachers' (and prospective teachers') time on diversity and equity and hate whitey and "unconscious bias" and God knows what else, what say we focus on curriculum?
Slowly, slowly, a small but persuasive body of work is emerging which raises curriculum to an object of pressing concern for educators, and expresses long overdue appreciation for the idea that the instructional materials we put in front of children actually matter to student outcomes. A welcome addition to this emerging corpus is a new Aspen Institute paper by Ross Wiener and Susan Pimentel, which makes a compelling case—equally overdue—that professional development and teacher training ought to be connected to curriculum. A primary role of school systems, states, districts, and charter-management organizations, the pair write, “is to create the conditions in schools through which teachers can become experts at teaching the curriculum they are using and adapting instruction to the needs of their particular students"...

Practice What You Teach begins with a discussion of research demonstrating the frustrating state of teacher “PD,” which, like the sitcom Seinfeld, is a show about nothing. Next, they discuss curriculum materials, which “have a profound effect on what happens in classrooms and on how much students learn.” When average teachers use excellent materials, Weiner and Pimental note, “student learning results improve significantly.” The general disregard for curriculum as a means to improve teacher effectiveness and student outcomes is reflected in the observation that “many teachers do not have access to strong, standards-aligned curriculum; in fact, most teachers spend hours every week searching for materials that haven’t been vetted and aren’t connected to ongoing, professional learning activities in their schools.”
Honest teachers will tell you this is true:
...Ashley Berner of Johns Hopkins described how schools of education “turned from academic subject mastery to developmental psychology as the foundational resource for teacher preparation” a century ago. This relegated curriculum to a thing not just beneath the notice of teachers, but beneath their dignity. We are encouraged to “teach the child, not the lesson” and other empty platitudes: Education is not the filling of a pail, it’s the lighting of a fire. Students won’t care what you know until they know that you care. Ad infinitum.
I get so tired of educational platitudes.  Don't forget, "I don't teach content, I teach students!"  Sheesh.

And I like this line of reasoning:
It does not diminish our appreciation of the actor’s talent that he performs Hamlet but didn’t write it. No one expects their doctor to repair to the lab every night to prepare pharmaceutical compounds on the theory that she alone knows what her patients need. The master carpenter begins his day in the lumber yard, not in the forest.

We flatter teachers’ professionalism by telling them they alone can best determine what will engage and enlighten the children before them, but the price of that flattery is that we make their jobs impossible to do effectively, forcing them to spend fruitless hours on Google and Pinterest hoping to find materials that a well-run and coherent system would provide to them—along with training on how to implement it effectively.
True enough.

So yes, let's insist that teachers focus on their subject matter and curriculum, not on social engineering--which might be more fun and less work, but it's not what we're paid to do.


Auntie Ann said...

When I was helping my nephew overcome Everyday Mathematics in grade school, I used Singapore's curriculum. I don't know how many parents or teachers actually bother to read the teacher's manual, but I found it very valuable and I learned a lot going through it.

Ellen K said...

One of my biggest complaints about professional development is that it focuses on courses I don't teach using methods that would not just be impossible, but dangerous, in my classroom. I sat through a course a couple of years back where the administrator running the session advocated teaching advanced students less "because they don't need it." Seriously. So if anyone is wondering why our current crop of kids can't beat Russian and Chinese students, it might be because we are so busy concentrating efforts and money on special populations that the kids who will actually be running things might as well be in a box.