This evening, everyone in my critical friends group is sharing an “existential” dilema we’re struggling with about our practice. Here’s mine:
This is the question I’ve struggled with since I began planning my Government/Economics course last summer: How do I choose/balance between the following modes of praxis in a course where I’m not concerned with a massive amount of content for a state exam?
- Teaching through inquiry, which best develops students’ ability to think critically and to learn how to learn. In true open inquiry, learning a specific body of knowledge is limited or sacrificed.
- Teaching through extensive reading, watching, and research to gain the necessary cultural literacy to enter adult society and assume the responsibilities of citizenship. Given the tremendous amount of information students need, this limits the emphasis on skill development.
- Teaching students to do authentic intellectual work (which often, but not always, is through Project Based Assessments), which emphasizes the practical skills of communication and production, as well as have students engage with specific content.
Some notes towards an answer:
I recently re-read Horace’s Compromise, where Ted Sizer writes that schools should only really focus on four things:
- Helping students develop understanding, which is done by questioning.
- Helping students to gain knowledge, which is done by telling.
- Helping students develop skills, which is done through coaching.
- Helping students obtain decency
There seems to be a strong correlation between Sizer’s first three duties of an “essential” school and the three modes of praxis I struggle to balance. At the school level, I think there is a clear need to balance all three, along with ensuring all students are decent people (and given that most of my thinking right now is about macro-curriculum planning for the school I’m helping to open next fall, having that clarity is a huge help). My feeling is that a thoughtfully and intentionally structured school would be filled with classes that allow students and teachers to primarily focus on one of the three areas, to make sure that the course’s transfer goals are clear, and to decrease the cognitive load on students, allowing for maximum development.
In the overwhelming majority of schools though, there is little attention to how the entire curriculum works together. At best, there is some alignment vertically within subject areas, or horizontally across grades. It then falls to the thoughtful teacher to make an independent decision on how to address these three goals…
I’m very curious to hear how teachers, parents, and students would respond to this question.
I’m part of a roundtable on teachinghistory.org on the question, “What do the Common Core State Standards mean for history teaching and learning?” My take:
I am pretty sure I am supposed to be against the Common Core Standards…[but they] offer us an opportunity to broaden the conception of our discipline from one that focuses on helping students acquire an established body of knowledge to one that emphasizes the historical thinking skills that are central to constructing this knowledge. What the standards do in a simple and elegant fashion is clearly articulate the disciplinary skills necessary not only for reaching the relatively low bar of “college and career readiness,” but also for the much greater calling of creating an informed and critical citizenry.
Seven years ago I fell in love with two wonderful woman named Bernice Robinson and Septima Clark, who founded the Citizenship Education Program, the little known backbone of the Civil Rights Movement. Without these two, I am certain we would not be celebrating Martin Luther King Day this Monday. We in education have much to learn from them:
The primary goal of the Citizenship Education Program was to teach and develop first-class citizens. And every aspect of the program was grounded in this goal—from teacher training sessions to day-to-day practices to the rhetoric of staff correspondence. Dozens of adult literacy programs had targeted African-Americans in the South—but none were as successful as the CEP, because too many narrowly focused on the skill of literacy, rather than its application in citizenship.
In my opinion, we have made a similar mistake with skill-based competency testing under No Child Left Behind. A curriculum and testing regimen that only focuses on skill development outside of meaningful and relevant application cannot prepare students and communities for 21st-century success. I hope that with the implementation of the Common Core standards, we will not make the same mistake again. As teachers, we need to develop a clear sense of our own purpose—and make every effort to ensure that how we teach each day aligns with that purpose.
Read the rest at Education Week Teacher. It’s an honor to share part of their story.
Frank McCaughey and I will be presenting tomorrow morning at 8am sharp at NCSS. Hope you can join us physically or virtually. For those who can’t, our presentation and a link to our materials are below.
I submitted a piece to the New York Times SchoolBook section that was submitted today on Regents Grading:
To any outsider, this seems like a simple decision. However, like too many educational decisions, it is actually a reactionary decision to a relatively small problem that will hurt a large number of students.
Read the rest here, and please join in the conversation in the comment.
My new school has an school-wide interim assessment process for all classes where students are assessed on the same skills three times a year to track growth and inform instruction. Unlike most “data-driven” initiatives, teachers at my school collaborate together to design the assessments and determine levels of performance. The “data” we get from these assessments then is actually valuable in identifying areas where students need support. The Social Studies assessments focus on creating arguments using evidence from documents. My first essay in my government & economics course asked to students to agree or disagree with the statement, “Identities are created by marketing.” The documents I used are here. My reflection follows, with some of the data below it.
Based on the students’ essays on marketing and identity, there is a range of development on different skills. The majority of students write in a way that shows they are college ready, and most of those who do not are close. However, students are showing they are not ready to make valid arguments. Most students know to make arguments, but their generalized claims need to be supported by concrete and specific evidence. They also need to recognize that making a good argument involves recognizing shades of gray and opposing opinions.
The largest area of growth for my class is in sourcing information. Nearly all students presented all or most information carelessly as facts, rather than showing that the information represented perspectives, or worse, came from advertisements. Additionally, students need to learn to group evidence from multiple sources to support their claims, rather than letting the sources dictate the organization of their arguments.
Both needs are already being addressed in my class. We are now practicing sourcing together with every single piece of information that is set forth, be it reading or video. As this concept seems to be entirely new to students, I expect quick improvement. In order to help students learn to group relevant evidence together, I am having them write individual paragraphs where they need to use multiple sources to answer a question. These sources offer differing views, so it also helps students get in the habit of recognizing the multiple complexities or sides of issues we discuss. Just for one example, students this week saw a video showing how direct democracy is being used to make decisions as Occupy Wall Street, but also read an op-ed decrying the state of California’s ballot initiative process.
As we move into looking at politics, students will have even more practice with looking at issues from various sides. The class will rarely focus on what is the right policy stance, but rather, how a policy should be “sold” to different constituencies. Students will participate in a couple of simulations from the Buck Institute where they take on the role of politicians trying to appease various groups on both sides of the aisle.
Notes: Standard areas are in all CAPS, followed by the indicators of that standard. 4=Excelling, 3=Succeeding, 2=Developing, 1=Beginning
|ARGUMENT||Controlling Idea||Supporting Evidence||Multiplicity||USING EVIDENCE||Connections||Quoting||SOURCING||CONTENT||Outside Info||Validity||WRITING||Organization||Intro/Conclusion||Thesis|