The “Curriculum

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If you are lucky the curriculum will be written to include behavioral objectives.  If not, rewriting them in forms of behavioral objectives including means of measuring accomplishment is the first step.  The following is only one way this can be set up.  It identifies the objective, provides individualization, collaboration, measures progress towards completion and final completion.

Each student has an index card (or on a spread sheet) upon which they are checked for each behavioral objective.  I prefer the index card as they may be given the card, but if your school has or allows smart phones or ipads they would work too:

(Date,    John Doe,   Objective,    Activity,     %Completed,    Completed,    Comments).

I prefer using index cards and then entering completion in the grade book if required. 

Eighth grade and above I give the students a list of all the objectives and allow them to choose the order of addressing them.  I discuss and help them decide how they will demonstrate completion or proficiency.  In addition I recommend they form a group who will be working on the same objective.  I paper clip the index cards together for those working in a group together.  During the class period I circulate among the individual students and groups providing guidance in achieving the objective so that I can evaluate percentage of completion or those completed. I explain that it is not a competition 

If the school district requires a letter grade on the report card, we as a class decide how many objectives completed will translate to an “A”, “B”, “C” or “D”.  There is no “F”.  Some districts have a mandatory curriculum calendar so that if a student moves from one school to another he or she will be in the same place in the curriculum no matter which school they are attending.   They then use standardized tests based on that calendar.  If you find yourself in one of these districts you will pretty much need to disregard individualized instruction, collaboration, and measurement based on progress.  If you are a seasoned experienced teacher, you might be able to use this method and then teach to the district test.

Sometimes you need to identify a district mandate as asinine and work around it.  In one district the administrators went to a conference and heard about the use of “word walls” to teach vocabulary.  They then mandated their use district wide k through 12.  In this system there were ten words posted on the classroom wall per week and each day prescribed lessons were to be used to teach them.  These lessons were to be identified in the teacher’s lesson plans.  Money was spent to purchase nylon cloth “flags” with pockets where the words for the week were displayed.  Part of the teachers evaluation would be on the appearance of word walls in their lesson plans and use of the flags in their classrooms.

A good system for elementary grades, maybe.  A high school economics teacher pointed out that it would hardly work with his classes where there could be twenty new terms a week and there would not be enough time to implement this system and cover the curriculum.  He was told there would be no exceptions.  He put up his expensive nylon flag with each of ten of his vocabulary words in their slot.  He left those same words up until he was observed.  He taught those words as part of the lesson as directed.  After the observation he displayed ten new words in their pockets on the brightly colored nylon flag till his next observation.  Sometimes it is necessary to bend the rules in order to teach.  Unfortunately that’s the way it is, and you will need to choose between teaching and doing what the administration dictates.

DAY 1 NEXT TIME

New Teachers Part I

 

IMG_0715You’ve taken the education courses, content courses, psychology courses, statistics courses and ESOL courses.  You’ve completed the practice teaching.  You have your certifications.  You have your first position.  You’ve gone through new teacher orientation.  You have your curriculum guide.  You have your curriculum calendar.  You’ve made your lesson plans. 

Within a month you will find yourself tempted to teach the way you have been taught by your teachers.  This will be a continuing temptation throughout your career.  Why?

You are facing the dichotomy of using what you know about the learning process versus the school district’s curriculum and curriculum calendar.  For example, we know that effective concentration for the brightest is about twenty minutes, and your class period is sixty minutes.  You will have twenty five to thirty students whose abilities and life experiences range the full spectrum, but you will be expected to individualize instruction or PLP for each.  You will be expected to follow district wide dictates to be applied K through twelve when they are only appropriate for k through sixth.  You will face learning objectives that are obtuse and don’t define measurement.

To survive, you will be tempted to teach the way you were taught because the system you are working under is unchanged from when you were a student.  To obtain that “exceptional teacher” designation, you need to teach the way you were taught.  You will find yourself the square peg in the round hole screeching silently as you are forced to fit.

SOLUTIONS beginning in part II..

Arthur C. Clark

said, “A teacher that can be replaced by a computer should be.”.

At first I was offended.  Then, I realized that he was talking about a teacher that was still using they paradigm that we as teachers are to fill our students with information like we were filling up a glass with water.

Teachers today must be mentors, guides, facilitators, and exploration leaders.  We must also be motivators.  This not the kind of motivation provided by giving out candy, or no homework passes.  This is the kind of motivation that comes from asking relevant and thought provoking qustions and projects.  These are the kind of questions and projects that piques children’s interes.  These are the kind of projects and questions that get them discussing and arguing enough among themselves  to send them to the computers and primary sources.  We cannot create the interest, but we can find that which interests them through what we have most to offer personal contact, interest and concern in, with, and about them.

As Arthur C. Clark also said, “If children have interest, education happens.

 

A Parable

   The Animal School: A Fable by George Reaves

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school.

They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

* * * *

This little fable completely changed my views of teaching. We all, each of us as individuals, have skills at which we excel and skills at which we, to use the vernacular, suck. And yet, all students are expected to excel in all skill areas.

Suddenly I realized why two thirds of my classes were bored or potential discipline problems.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were skilled in my subject, and yet they had to wait for the other two thirds to continue.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were unskilled in my subject, were always lost, and couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class.

The final third cruised along while wondering why the other two thirds were unhappy and causing problems.

The traditional solution is to give additional work to both outlying groups. No matter what you call it, additional work feels like punishment to a child/teenager. We are wasting our time and money as well as doing our children, society, and taxpayers a disservice when we try to improve our educational system in the United States.

Of Model Ts and Corvettes

Over my thirty plus years in teaching, I have seen many “fixes” forced on our educational system. You have experienced them also, whether as a parent or a student. Do you remember: phonics, new math, and new science grants? I particularly remember in high school getting new science lab equipment one year, and the school district not being able to fund the program over the long term. I loved science, and it killed me to see all that lab equipment setting idle because federal funding was gone.

Each of the programs above, and I would add the integration of technology, is like putting a Corvette engine in a Model T and expecting it to go ninety miles an hour. The car will destroy itself before it ever reached the the desired goal of ninety miles an hour. Isn’t that exactly what has happened to our educational system. The harder we have tried to reach our goals the worse the system has functioned.It’s time for an educational revolution. The system can not be improved without these basic changes.

REVOLUTION NOT EVOLUTION (A NOT SO MODEST PROPOSAL)

STEP 1

Make all education competency based; not based upon age or grade level. Currently, school is like a prison sentence      (twelve years without a chance of parole). Everyone does their twelve years, no less. I have seen schools where students have completed all the required courses and electives and still not be allowed to graduate until they have put in the whole twelve years.

Every student should take every course at his own pace until he completes the competencies required by the state or national government or employers. They may at the same time be in beginning reading, advanced math and biology. They may be taking one course at a time or they may be taking several courses at once.

There should be no age limit for people to begin or continue taking courses in public schools. If an eighty year old woman wants to study literature, she should be able to take the course.  After all, she is a taxpayer.  If a thirty year old man wants to take book keeping or accounting for his small business, he should be able to. If a six year old is interested in rocketry, he should be   able to study it.

STEP 2

The U.S. educational system is based on an agrarian society. Guess what? We haven’t been an agrarian society for decades, if not centuries. Being based upon an agrarian society, we only have school nine months out of the year. Name me a business large, small, service, manufacturing or agricultural that lays off its workers and shuts down down its facilities for three months out of the year. We need to make the school calendar be three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and we need to make the facility available twenty four hours a day. When rooms are not being used for classes, they may be used by community organizations for a small fee to cover utilities, janitorial service and security.  People who don’t have children will be more likely to support schools they can use.

Students may attend as many days a year as they want.  They could schedule their classes around outside jobs.

Teachers may teach as many days a year as they want. They would be compensated for the extra months they teach and wouldn’t need to find job(s) at minimum wage during breaks and the summer.

Parents would be able to better plan their work schedules and child care.

Step 3

Now that we are competency based and school and teachers are available all year around, lets use technology. Technology will allow students to proceed at their own pace. Teaches will be able to serve as mentors to the learning process instead of lock stepping students of varied abilities and interest through a one size fits all curriculum.

Let’s stop wasting money on textbooks which are out of date before they are published. Go digital. With the money saved provide every student with a laptop or tablet. If you are worried about getting them back, charge a fee. For those students or parents that cannot afford to either buy or rent, have a business partner step up. Don’t buy technology. Lease it. It changes too rapidly; and will be too expensive to update. Use free technology from the internet like Kahn Academy and Next Vista for Learning.

STEP 4

Get parents, grandparents, the business community and the general public involved. Get everyone involved. Get civic organizations to use the school facilities. Get adults using the gym for basketball, volleyball, community dances. Everyone should know where the schools in their community are. Encourage everyone to come to school to get involved in courses whether their eight or eighty. Find out what people want to learn and provide them with the opportunity.

Step 5

We must have two education systems.

The states can keep their state schools, but there will be federal “charter” schools which adhere to common core principals. I have long heard about how the federal government should stay out of state issues. I agree wholeheartedly.

The federal government would have the right to run federal charter schools any way it wanted. The federal government would fund their charter schools with federal tax dollars.

The states would have the right to run their state schools however they wanted. The states could fund their schools however they wanted but without federal tax dollars. No state monies would be used to fund federal charter schools and no federal funds would be used to finance individual state public, private or state chartered schools.

Parents would be able to choose whether to send their children to federal charter schools which were funded by federal tax dollars or state schools funded by state tax dollars. At last the hue and cry against big government involvement in education would be addressed.

States could have all the charter schools they wanted. States could write whatever curriculum they wanted with or without creationism. The states could teach that climate change is not backed by science. States could teach that the earth is six thousand years old by counting the begats.  States could once again manipulate who goes to what state schools because the parents would have a choice.

I am looking forward to your comments, particularly questions, suggestions, criticisms to help improve our educational system.

Educational Revolution

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The Animal School: A Fable by George Reaves

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying.

To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming.But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

* * * *

This little fable completely changed my views of teaching. We all, each of as individuals, have skills at which we excel and skills at which we, to use the vernacular, suck. And yet, all students were expected to excel in all skill areas. Suddenly I realized why two thirds of my classes were bored or potential discipline problems.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were skilled in my subject, and yet they had to wait for the other two thirds to continue.

One third were bored and potential discipline problems because they were unskilled in my subject, were always lost, and couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class.

The final third cruised along while wondering why the other two thirds were unhappy and causing problems. The traditional solution was to give additional work to both outlying groups. No matter what you call it, additional work feels like punishment to a teenager.

We are wasting our time and money as well as doing our children, society, and doing taxpayers a disservice when we try to improve our educational system in the United States.

Of Model Ts and Corvettes

Over my thirty plus years in teaching, I have seen many “fixes” forced on our educational system. You have experienced them also, whether as a parent or a student. Do you remember: phonics, new math, and new science grants? I particularly remember in high school getting new science lab equipment one year, and the school district not being able to fund the program over the long term. I loved science, and it killed me to see all that lab equipment setting idle because federal funding was gone.

Each of the programs above, and I would add the integration of technology, is like putting a Corvette engine in a Model T and expecting it to go ninety miles an hour. The car would destroy itself before it ever reached the the desired goal of ninety miles an hour. Isn’t that exactly what has happened to our educational system. The harder we have tried to make reach our goals the worse it has become.

It’s time for educational revolution. The system can not be improved without these basic changes.

REVOLUTION NOT EVOLUTION

(A NOT SO MODEST PROPOSAL)

STEP 1

Make all education competency based; not based upon age or grade level. Currently, school is like a prison sentence without a chance of parole. Everyone does their twelve years, no less. I have seen schools where students have completed all the required courses and electives and still not be allowed to graduate until they have put in the whole twelve years.

Every student should take every course at his own pace until he completes the competencies required by the state or national government or employers. They may be in beginning reading, advanced math and biology. They may be taking one course at a time or they may be taking several courses at once. There should be no age limit for people to begin or continue taking courses in public schools. If an eighty year old woman wants to study literature, she should be able to take the course. If a thirty year old man want to take book keeping or accounting for his small business, he should be able to. If a six year old is interested in rocketry, he should be able to study it.

STEP 2

Get rid of the nine month school year.  The U.S. educational system is based on an agrarian society. Guess what? We haven’t been an agrarian society for decades if not centuries. Being based upon an agrarian society, we only have school nine months out of the year. Name me a business large, small, service, manufacturing or agricultural that lays off its workers and shuts down down its facilities for three months out of the year. We need to make the school calendar be three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and we need to make the facility available twenty four hours a day. When rooms are not being used for classes, they may be used by community organizations for a small fee to cover electric, janitorial and security. Students may attend as many days a year as they want. Teachers may teach as many days a year as they want. They would be compensated for the extra months they teach and wouldn’t need to find another job during breaks and the summer. Parents would be able to better plan their work schedules and child care.

Step 3

Use technology to its fullest.  Now that we are competency based and school and teachers are available all year around, lets use technology. Technology will allow students to proceed at their own pace. Teaches will be able to serve as mentors to the learning process instead of lock stepping students of varied abilities and interest through a one size fits all curriculum. Stop wasting money on textbooks which are out of date before they are published. Go digital. With the money saved provide every student with a laptop or tablet. If you are worried about getting them back, charge a fee. For those students or parents that cannot afford to either buy or rent, have a business partner step up. Don’t buy technology. Lease it. It changes too rapidly; and will be too expensive to update. Use free technology from the internet like Kahn Academy and Next Vista for Learning.

STEP 4

Everyone needs to be involved.  Get parents, grandparents, the business community and the general public involved. Get everyone involved. Get civic organizations to use the school facilities. Get adults using the gym for basketball, volleyball, community dances. Everyone should know where the schools in their community are. Encourage everyone to come to school to get involved in courses whether their eight or eighty. Find out what people want to learn and provide them with the opportunity.

Step 5

We must have two education systems. The states can keep their state schools, but there will be federal “charter” schools which adhere to common core principals. I have long heard about how the federal government should stay out of state issues. I agree wholeheartedly. The federal government would have the right to run federal charter schools any way it wanted. The states would have the right to run their state schools however they wanted.

The federal government would fund their charter schools with federal tax dollars.

The states could fund their schools however they wanted but without federal tax dollars. No state monies would be used to fund federal charter schools and no federal funds would be used to finance individual state public, private or state chartered schools. Parents would be able to choose whether to send their children to federal charter schools which were funded by federal tax dollars or state schools funded by state tax dollars.

At last the hue and cry against big government involvement in education would be addressed. States could have all the charter schools they wanted. States could write whatever curriculum they wanted with or without evolution. The states could teach that climate change is not backed by science. States could once again manipulate who goes to what schools because the parents would have a choice.

I am looking forward to your comments, particularly questions, suggestions, criticisms to help improve our educational system.

 

TEACHING FOR DUMMIES CONTINUED

So, as teacher as artist, you are perfecting your individual techniques. Don’t forget to explore other ones.

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

Schools do not necessarily want teachers as artists. I would go so far as to say they hate them. School administrators would like you, as well as your students, to proceed in lock step. Success, they say, can only be obtained in one way. That way changes with the textbooks they have selected to match the tests the district and state have adopted. Currently in our state, the company who develops the tests is also the company that sells the course materials. Do you suppose there may be a conflict of interest?

School districts cannot even differentiate between teaching techniques that work with elementary students from those that work with high school students. I was talking with a high school teacher today who related the content of a mandatory in-service video. This video taught the technique of having students wear their vocabulary on head bands. Can you imagine high school students doing that? Can you imagine how many headbands students in biology or chemistry would have to wear?

Another favorite technique, supported by school districts, is the use of “Word Walls”. The teacher puts the vocabulary terms for the week on the classroom wall and then develop different techniques and games to facilitate the learning of these terms. This has merit in elementary school. However, in an Economics class, it would be silly when there are twenty to forty new terms a week.

Be aware that If you point out “the emperor has no clothes”, they will say that you are absolutely right. However, the principal will be evaluated on these techniques and so will you. What does one do?

BIFURCATE!

You must bifurcate. If you don’t do what the school district wants, they will either fire you, or you will have your contract non-renewed. (Non-renewal is how schools fire people without cause.)  Don’t be shocked; it happens all the time. Reasons for non-renewal vary from not having word walls to organizing or supporting a teachers union. Administrators love non-renewals. They don’t have to have a reason to get rid of a teacher, and they don’t have to follow the union contract. This is why school districts prefer to give one hear contracts. This is also why they dislike tenure. Tenured teachers are protected by their contract and can only be dismissed for cause. The choice is yours; teach or follow their insanity.

How do you bifurcate?

First, keep your door closed.

Second, make a check list of the techniques and methodology you are to follow.

Third, be sure to have everything posted and visible that you are supposed to. I.e. “word walls”, “vocabulary head bands”, etc. (Be sure to use the buzzwords of the day. I know a teacher who was marked down on her evaluation because she had her Word Wall labeled as vocabulary.

Fourth, practice using these techniques with the students.

Fifth, always appear to support the new techniques. Make sure your administrator know that you are on board. In faculty meetings be supportive. At the very least don’t question the new methodology. Teachers who object to new methodologies are the ones who get monitored first and most often to see if they are in compliance,

NOW, close your door and teach your students with your best techniques that work with your students. When the administrator shows up, go into a dog and pony show with your students.

EXTRA CREDIT – During an evaluation, try to get the evaluator involved with the kids and lesson. Ask the evaluator to share experiences that would relate to the lesson. Ask the students if they have any questions for the evaluator. More about the evaluation process later.