Disclaimer: This post is my personal opinion on teaching and "curriculum", that I have finally decided to share. The ideas do not reflect my district's stance, but my own.
Yesterday, I found myself saying the above quote multiple times...I said it in a staff meeting and later in two twitter chats. I have said it over the last few weeks in principals' meetings and even a job interview. For this reason, it has now sparked this blog post. Before I get to that phrase, here is another one I have been saying: "Children don't come to us in a box, therefore a box is not the answer." I will expand on this and the next phrase, in a bit. In last night's #G2Great and #Ditchbook twitter chat I said this: "We should teach students first, standards second. How we teach the second, depends on the first." I figure that since I have been saying these two phrases, I should explain them...
1) Children don't come in a box, therefore a box is not the answer: Children come to us in all different shapes and sizes, with all different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, passions, families, personalities and talents. No one student is the same, so how can we teach them the same? We can't do so effectively. I have heard many teachers who are afraid to take risks and be innovative in their classrooms. One of the things I hear most is "...but I need to finish the book." Do you? I don't believe any publisher could create curriculum that would meet the needs of ALL your students. It's impossible. It's best to look at the "box" of curriculum as a resource, another tool in your tool belt...not the bible. The more options we have available, the more possibilities we have to meet the needs of our students. It's best to evaluate ANY resource to see if it fits your students AND teaches (not covers, not brushes) the standards...it's the AND that will be the hang up. Invest the time...It's worth the time.
2) Teach students first: I truly believe that in order to teach students, to reach students. we first and foremost, need to know our students. Take the time to build relationships with those children who will be spending a majority of their day in your care. Get to know what makes them tick, and what doesn't. We can not meet their needs, if we do not know their needs. And that is what we need to do, meet THEM where THEY are, not the other way around. We need to know our students and offer a variety of opportunities for them to interact with curriculum. No longer can we "shoot for the middle" with students because there is no middle...there is no average. One of my favorite videos: The Myth Of Average; sums it up perfectly. We need to design to the edges because our students live in those edges. Invest the time...it's worth the time.
3) Teach standards second: Oh the standards! I believe that the Common Core Standards (or in my state: California Academic Standards) have been a game changer. They are forcing us to change our teaching; and I believe in a good way. We are being forced to create thinkers and creators. It has forced us to examine how we learned and how we have taught. For many, this is the great divide...sink or swim. We need to be diligent consumers when diving into the standards. We need to make sure that WE really understand them, first. Then we need to figure out how to teach them, effectively, in multiple ways. We then need to be able to assess them and know what to do after the assessment. We need to become adaptive and agile and turn on a dime because our students are going to come to us being more critical thinkers and more savvy learners. We also need to be able to assess if materials, resources, activities are actually aligned to the standards. Not "kind of", not "sort of", not "touching on", not "covering". The thing about these standards is that there is depth. Depth takes time. It is better to go deep, than wide. So "finishing the book" isn't as important as having students interact, think, create, share their learning. But we need to have a deep understanding, first. It takes time... it is worth the time.
4) How you handle teaching the standards, depends on the students you teach: The standards do not tell us HOW to teach, rather WHAT to teach. A guide to help our students navigate content. How we get them there...depends on two things. US and THEM. We, as professionals, should be armed with an arsenal of strategies, tools and resources to meet our students' needs. We must differentiate because our kids deserve it. We know our students, because we have taken that time. We know how to reach them, all of them (well most of them)...and it's not going to happen in one fail swoop. What works for some, may not work for others. We need to teach the standards in ways that are relevant and engaging for our students. We need to value students' voice and give them choice. Choice in how they receive, synthesize and show their learning of information. We want them to have that "stickiness" that I never had as a student, that my own kids don't have now. They have both said in the last week "I just learn something for the test, and then it's gone." Is that our purpose? To pass "tests" with no real learning? I hope not. Our kids deserve better. Are we really teaching, if the students aren't learning? It takes time... it is worth the time.
I hope these musings aren't too critical or taken the wrong way. I am not saying to throw the curriculum, the box, away. I am just asking that we re-examine that what we are doing, matches our purpose. I believe we all entered into the profession of education to help children. It is always good to reflect... to take the time to sit back and make sure we are doing what is best for OUR students. Everything should always point back to that...what's best for students, because in the end, they are what really matters.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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