With An Apology to My Students…..

This is a tumultuous time to be a teacher – many, many new mandates are arriving this year making for a lot of teacher discomfort as we try to make sense of things.

My own personality is that I am an early adopter – not always a good thing I’m sure, but I do tend to try new methods and materials out fairly readily. We have been struggling with Interactive Read Alouds (IRA) and Writing About Reading (with the unfortunate code name WAR in this district – just saying).  The changeover to a more strategically envisioned IRA lesson seemed like a natural extension of the Making Meaning  program we’ve used in our district for about 10 years.

Writing About Reading (sorry, can’t say WAR – I grew up in the 60s) also feels like what our students need. But the message we’re getting, whether intended or not, is that we need to have our students up and proficient for their grade level expectations nearly immediately.

In the rush to get our students performing at higher levels, it is far too easy to forget that the students may not be prepared to be successful. So sometimes they are not. Even with pressure on educators, whether perceived or real, can make for a tricky mix – we want our students to do well, we want them prepared for the new and increased demands on them, and we feel like it should happen NOW.

Last week, I needed to submit an independently produced written response so my grade level could practice applying the district rubric with consistency. So I did and the writing was AWFUL. I had been explicit with students about how to plan for the writing and then set them loose. Bad!

What I didn’t do was about as devastating as what I did do. I didn’t gradually release the responsibility for writing to my students who had not had this writing experience before.

So I did what most teachers do – I backed up, apologized that I hadn’t shown them or given them what they needed and started over.  We took a short text from Gouvdis and Harvey about animal adaptations, posed the essential question (“How do different animals adapt to hear in their environments?”), and went to work with a shared modeling. We talked – this is a 75% ELL classroom so we talk first – we made notes together on our planners, we shared our ideas for a topic sentence and a closing sentence, we found the (required) 3 pieces of evidence supporting the topic and then we turned our notes into sentences and paragraphs.

The take-away from this is that asking kids to do something for which they are unprepared is wrong. I now realize that I had been asking my students to do something they didn’t yet know how to do; something we needed to work on so that gradually the responsibility could be released to them.

Sorry kids. I promise to do a better job of teaching you from now on!

Are we the Borg?

I have to touch the third rail: is education today more assimilation into a one-size-fits-all or is it about reaching a baseline of standards for learning? 

I ask this because lately it seems that there is an underlying expectation that we plan or are given one lesson and asked to apply it to every student in a grade level or a district or state. Sometimes even the teacher’s dialogue with the students is scripted.

But my teacher self – the skeptic that I sometimes am – says this makes no sense. How can a lesson applicable to one set of students work flawlessly with another? The students who make up my classroom change from year-to-year. so shouldn’t the instructional delivery also change? The ability to assess where students enter a lesson and how I deliver the instructional supports those students need – shouldn’t that be as student-driven and tailored as possible? Wouldn’t the teacher in front of those students be the best at reading the room and knowing what to do — isn’t that what you pay me to do?

Levels or distrust, disrespect, demonization. Those trends in our popular culture seem to drive the rush to a scripted, and lock-step curriculum. Silly me, I thought a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and a 25-year career might provide me with the tools to at least figure out how to move students from point A to point B.

Students deserve more than a scripted curriculum, one that is often developed by profiteers lurking on the edges of education ready to swoop in and make a profit by manufacturing a crisis in education that often is not real.

Resistance may be futile – for now. But as long as I’m allowed to teach, I will covertly or overtly continue to resist those one-size, scripted curricula.