Friday, June 25, 2010

Different Schools Different Styles

Different Schools Different Styles

I wonder.

I wonder sometimes about how we go about teaching. I, personally, am a very student-centered teacher. This isn't a single style of teaching, but rather a collection of styles that generally tend towards allowing students to actively learn through exploration and discovery. On the other hand a teacher-centered would be a collection of styles that generally tend towards giving instruction to students and then giving them time to practice the skills that were explained. Neither style has to be absolute. With that in mind I like to think of myself as a student-centered teacher, I may not always be good at it, but if I teach anything I want to teach my students to think and reason, and hopefully discover. I want their curiosity to guide their learning.

I guess you can say that my goal is always just beyond what I actually accomplish. I like to be a student-centered teacher, but I know there have been and always will be times when I am a teacher-centered teacher. I will lecture, I will explain, I will try my darnedest to pour information into the heads of my students. Sometimes it will work better than others. Sometimes if will fail miserably. Usually it will fail when I am falling back onto teaching the way I was taught. Too often I do this because I am losing control of my room and I want it back. This is a classroom management issue, usually. Sometimes it is just pure laziness, but we won't mention that.

Of course sometimes I use a direct instruction by planning. Just because I believe in a student-centered approach to teaching doesn't mean I don't think there are times when it would be better to use direct instruction. In general my lessons plan will include 5 minutes of direct instruction, followed by a long period of exploration, with a teacher directed summary of what is learned to finish things off. No, I don't tell them what they learned I attempt to guide them through explaining what they learned.

So here I am getting off task again. I have one simple point for this blog post: Why do all schools in a district have to use the same textbook? Let's face it in many schools the curriculum is dictated by the textbook that is bought. We can have curriculum meetings, and hire curriculum directors, but in my experience, (yes limited to just a few schools) at the end of the day too many teachers grab the book and follow the curriculum they set forth. (yes I did it too.) Of course some teachers refuse to be bound by the dictates from the publishing company, but for the most part the average teacher doesn't have the time or energy to create their own curriculum. After all they don't have an advanced degree in curriculum and instruction, they don't have a team of curriculum experts, they don't get paid extra, they aren't given time during the day and must work on their own, and the district has created a curriculum for them. Starting over from the beginning might just be a waste of time.

When a teacher does deviate from the planned curriculum most of the time it is because they feel the need to improve the curriculum. Sometimes this means making the lessons more student-centered, as I usually did, and sometimes this means making the curriculum more teacher-centered. (please, let's try to keep this simple)

In my current district we use Connected Math. I for one like the Connected Math textbook series. I haven't taught it for a while, and if I taught it again I would probably try to find or create better lessons or activities, but I would likely follow the basic structure they developed. By better lessons I of course mean more realistic problems to explore along the lines of the famous Dan Meyer WCYDWT idea (I hate the fact that this blog is blocked at my school). In the end though that's just making the classroom more student-centered. On the other hand I know a lot of teachers that would do the exact opposite. They would take away the student discussion and exploration time and add more skill practice and direct instruction. They would consider that making an improvement.

I would disagree and suggest that those other teachers are actually making the instruction less effective, but that is a discussion for a different post. Right now I want you to imagine yourself in this situation and ask these questions:
  • What if a school district supported both types of teachers?
  • What if, as in my district, there were 5 different middle schools and we taught math using a different philosophy in each school? (Um editors note, we have 5 schools not 5 different philosophies of education) The teachers, and administration, could choose to teach in the school that most closely matched their philosophy?
  • What if instead of a teacher refusing to use the textbook imposed on them they moved to a school with a textbook they liked better? Quickly and easily without leaving the district, without repercussions.
  • What if the students or parents could choose the school that they thought most closely matched their learning style? Yes I know that means buying more than one set of textbooks, on the other-hand with more and more online learning management systems we are building more and more individualized content. It will not be long before many schools will have a complete curriculum online that teachers can use, edit, and share at will, there will be little need for new textbooks all the time.
  • What if school choice meant choosing the school not based on test scores, but based on your philosophy of education?

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