“Here we go again….”
“That won’t work with our kids.”
“I can’t believe they spent money on this.”
Yes, I know. There’s at least one I’ve said, but I won’t tell you which. Most of what frustrates me about professional development and particular strategies being mandated is often educators are not given sufficient time to study the proposed strategy, to analyze the data behind the strategy, to practice with the strategy, and to reflect on the strategy. Too often new mandates in content delivery including the use of new curricula materials are thrown at teachers in a haphazard, hurried fashion and on the way out the door a manual a foot thick is thrown at you for you to digest “when you get a minute.”
What if we treated our students this way?
I don’t remember very many strategies being taught in my education school when I was a a candiate for my student teaching. I remember lots of information on Dewey, Piaget, the history of education in American (I lapped that up, of course), and unit after unit I had to plan. When I look back at those units I don’t see any variation for learning difficulties, learning styles, or any variance of strategy other than sit, get, and regurgitate. I would hope anyone who has read my posts regarding how I teach my classes understands that I do engage my students with relative content and meaningful learning experiences. This wasn’t always the case. Most of what I know today I’ve picked up in bits and pieces from those dreaded seminars, door-stop binders I’ve lugged home, and basically self-study.
So, are teaching strategies that important? Well, Socrates used a strategy. So did Plato and Aristotle, and they are educators who are remembered. I like to think of a teaching strategy as a plan…..a plan to meet the goal, and the goal, of course, is to meet the objective.
As I mentioned before the introduction to specific teaching strategies are often minimally accepted in a teaching community because of the manner in which they are presented. Teachers aren’t given sufficient time to practice, to plan, or to implement the strategies in their classrooms. Even with the advent of standards most state curriculums are still a mile wide and a foot thick. The ever present knowledge of “that test” looming in the spring inhibits teachers from using certain strategies that take a large amount of classtime. Also some teachers choose to ignore certain strategies because of the content itself. From grade level to grade level the content is fragmented which means a strategy that is high on the inquiry side might not be used if the teacher wants to lead students away from delving too deeply into content that won’t eventually be tested. Another factor that inhibits the use of various strategies is assessment. Like it or not paper and pencil assessments are still the norms in most school systems including “that” test. Unfortunately, strategies that employ sit, get, and regurgitate fit nicely with that type of assessment. Finally, supervision and evaluation of teachers inhibits the number of strategies that are used. Many districts are opting for content delivery models like Max Thompson’s Learning Focused Strategies that basically do the evaluation job for the principal. They come in and have a nice little check-list on which to evaluate the teacher. Does the teacher have a word wall? Check. Does the teacher have essential questions up on the wall? Check. Does the teacher begin the lesson with an activator? Check. Does the teacher employ one of the approved Learning Focused strategies for content delivery? Check. Are graphic organizers used in the lesson? Check.
Do you get my meaning here? Check.
I would like it to be known here, however, that the Learning Focused model is like any other model out there. There are good things and there are things that should cause concern as well.
If teachers know principals are looking for particular strategies then those are the ones certain teachers will use with no deviation.
In the book A Place Called School by Goodlad it was noted that in elementary schools only three or four different teaching strategies were ever employed. Middle school students rarely saw more than two different strategies, and by the time they reached high school only one strategy was used….the ever popular lecture.
Think for a minute. Can you identify at least five students in your class or classes that the current design of school is not working for them? I can. I know you can, too. These aren’t just the kids who disrupt and disturb our learning environments every day. These should be our bubble kids as well. What I mean by that is the kids that seem to hover right at the magic score on “that” test, but they never seem to break through the bubble. It’s obvious our past efforts with these children have not worked. What will?
While I strongly feel that there are extremely dangerous children in our schools mainly because I’ve witnessed them many of our unmotivated and uncooperative students simply aren’t being served to meet their needs. I guess you can think of it as the Leave It to Beaver or Family Affair generation meeting up with Wife Swap, Jerry Springer and Jack Ass. Children from my day are eons apart from children of today. Children today have more choices due to technology and a parenting style that isn’t June and Ward Cleaver. Mr. Sabastion would be aghast.
The world of work has changed as well, and we need to make sure students are ready to enter the workforce. Over a twenty year period the Hudson Institute did a study where they analyzed the tasks involved in various entry-level jobs accoring to Blooms Taxonomy. During the same twenty year period they asked high school teachers to provide assignments that they routinely gave their students. At the beginning of the study 20% of entry-level jobs required skills at the higher end of Blooms. By the end of the study in the 1990s over 65% of the entry-level skills required higher-order thinking skills. However, the high school assignments only increased 8% over that twenty year period regarding the use of higher order thinking skills.
It’s clear to me that we need to teach better than we were taught. We need stategies that will engage all learners not just a few. As educators we may not agree with the state our world is in today, but our job is to prepare our students to meet that world and be successful in it. A strong look at teaching strategies may be the answer