I’ve watched a generation of my peers…


Sometimes I worry that all the emphasis on direct instruction, comprehensive curriculum, and teacher-proof texts has beaten the last bit of initiative out of the latest generation of elementary school teachers. Here’s some background…

First, let me go into the way back machine to how things were in the old old days. When I attended school in the early 1970s, teachers were given text books, with lessons and workbooks. Some of my friends with parents of the hippie-dippy persuasion, went to alternative schools where the curriculum was both teacher, and student created. I was not greatly impressed with what they were learning, or how those schools were run at the time, but I imagine they were like a lot of charters of today, some fantastic, some mediocre, some awful. Now we move up to the old days. Some of those curriculum practices made their way to regular education. I can remember a principal musing about the difficulties of starting teaching in the 1980s when, as she put it, “We didn’t have textbooks, and were supposed to use Math Their Way to create our own curriculum,” she finished up with, “so these teachers today have no excuse for not teaching effectively, everything they need is provided for them with the curriculum we use.” She was wrong, and intuitively knew this because she later observed that there was no way our school would leave PI (Program Improvement) if we stuck to the scripted curriculum. She encouraged us to supplement, omit, and do our own thing, as long as the test scores went up.

I had a student teacher in my classroom for one semester, and will never have the opportunity again due to cuts in Elementary Education programs (who needs teachers when your cutting class-size), a change in demographics, and the fact I teach in an elementary specialty area, and all the candidates are working on a multiple subject credential.

I enjoyed the experience of being a master teacher, cooperating teacher, or whatever term of art they use in your neck of the woods. While I still feel I have a lot to learn about helping to develop the next generation of teachers, the experience did crystallize some concerns I have about the effects that Reading First, and other initiatives have had on teacher preparation and what is expected of people in this profession.

Where do I fall in that continuum? In my state I may have been in the last year of teacher candidates put out by the state university before the onslaught of scripted curriculum hit elementary education. I was expected to create my own study units that were not based on a text, even though the state was moving to a program where they would offer only two possible language arts text for school districts to adopt. It was not too difficult, but it wasn’t an easy task either. I was being prepared to create my own curriculum. This turned out to be a valuable lesson. My first year, we were in the middle of adopting a scripted language arts curriculum, but it was only being used in primary, and I was teaching fourth grade. I created a language arts based partly on the old basel, with workshops, and lit circles for the entire class. It was exceedingly ambitious for a first year teacher who had skipped doing student teaching. Later, when  I was asked to supplement, and change a scripted curriculum so that it better met the state standards, I could do that.

What about teacher who came after me? The student teacher I had was a really great teacher, and likely will exceed my abilities in a number of ways (her assessment skills,  informal and formal , were stronger) she did a great job of supplementing the curriculum to address standards, etc. But, I was frankly shocked when I requested that she create a science unit for the students as part of her work (we hadn’t yet adopted a science text in my district at that time), and she balked. She was fine with a text book, and she could add to it, but if she didn’t have that “structure” she didn’t think she could do it on her own. Eventually, she did a unit on science and did a great job, but if I hadn’t pushed that on her? I have seen other newer teachers since then. Some of them still read from the Teacher’s Edition script when they do direct instruction. They have had the initiative trained out of them. This is not good because while I believe you can be a good teacher with a scripted text, you have to do what Allington observed, and monitor and adjust your instruction (something my student teacher had very good instincts about, btw), otherwise, we might as well just train robots to teach. I also think that when we leave all the curriculum creation to others, we give up ownership of what we are teaching, and may lose our investment in it.

What do you think saps initiative in teachers?

Questions are good…



I have a “sister” post to this one, going out on In Practice.

A recent post in dy/dan» This girl is dangerous talks about the hard questions that need to be answered when you are talking about using technology in the classroom, and refers to another blog post (which I hope to discuss in the sister post on In Practice) about how we don’t make a good case for technology in the classroom.

Something keeps coming up in many recent discussions about avoiding teaching technology for technology sake, that is disturbing to me. First off, on that argument I usually come out on the side of teach the standard using technology (but being a Gemini, I’ve been known to take other sides of that argument too, I don’t like pinning myself down too much). I think there is a lot of ignorance about certain aspects of the standards that technology of various sorts can be really helpful in addressing.

At this session of the Classroom2.0 LIVE there was some discussion of not doing “podcasts” for podcasts sake. I pointed out that in the California English Language Development Standards , oral language development is a explicitly stated standard for all English Language Learners, which seemed like news to some of the participants. Oral language is also part of the state’s Language Arts standards for ALL students. I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that Podcasts, in and of themselves, meet this standard whatever the content. Frankly, just asking for oral response to your lectures unless you really structure it, will not suffice. That is not acceptable pedagogy in any classroom, digital or not. Podcasts, whether of “spontaneous” discussions, or scripted are oral language development, and students need both experiences. THINK BACK TO the language courses you took (I know anyone who got a California credential in the last 10 or so years, like Dan, had to take these classes). You recited dialogs where you were provided with a script, you devised your own dialog scripts and read them to the class, and as the course advanced you the teacher stopped using or letting you use English, so you had to respond in the language being taught. Podcasts are in that realm. They also provide an archive, that is otherwise very hard to obtain. In addition, if students are being evaluated using CELDT or another diagnostic tool for English Language Development, they will be tested on listening and speaking skills, so these need to be developed.

Web 2.0 tools and podcasting will help you meet these standards quickly, easily, and provide you with realia to assess students progress. Your other alternatives are class discussions, oral response to lectures, oral exercises, and oral reports, or use older tools that frankly are no longer supported and not worth the time to use, especially given the crude output quality (I can’t believe that those old Calfone cassette recorders are still being sold, but I guess there is a market someplace). You can do all of the former venues, but by adding recording (pretty easily done), you increase engagement and have a record of what a student has done.

BubbleShare – Earth – By A. Mercer: Here is a multimedia project created with students in my fifth grade ELD class last year. Students created pictures to talk about a natural space they enjoyed, then added audio narration to their pictures. It was based on a project outlined by Cristina Igoa in her work, “Inner World of the Immigrant Child“. This post from Rick Scheibner has a discussion with, Dr. Igoa, where she outlines the project she did to have beginning level ELLs tell their stories using photos that become filmstrip images, and then their stories are recorded on cassette tape.

The filmstrip concept is more complex. Let me tell you what all is involved and see if today you can find new technology.
1.The filmstrip stories were exactly as you see them in the book, the children hide themselves behind images of wolves, tigers, lonely bears etc.
2. The children tell their stories on tape.This is done after they have learned to read in English. They have built up vocabulary, they write, they learn to spell, and grammar is included.
3. Their voices are heard, but they are not seen.
4. The children select their own music and ask peers to do the sound effects. They learn collaboration
4.When the strip stories are done and they are satisfied with their artwork, they get the Dukane projector ready for viewing. This projector looks like a television. Filmstrip is inside, the tape cut with music and story in place and the drama of their lives unfolds.

She seems to unconvinced that new technologies would be better than this method in a later comment, which may be more a testament to my poor skills of persuasion. I would hope that anyone with some smattering of knowledge about PowerPoint can see how much EASIER this sort of project is with newer technologies. I can think of four ways to do this on a computer off the top of my head.

Have the kids do a drawing with paper, pencils, markers, crayons and scan in the results; OR have them create a drawing online with a paint package. BOTH have merit, I did it with crayon because it’s more tactile. Scan and upload the images.

  1. Use PowerPoint for the images, and create sound files to add in using Audacity. Audacity has higher quality audio than PP’s built in narration tool, and with multiple tracks lets you add music background, and edit the narration.
  2. Use Movie Maker for the images, add narration and a soundtrack. I still prefer doing the sound in Audacity because of the better control and quality. If you wanted, you could then upload to YouTube or TeacherTube.
  3. Use Bubbleshare and have the kids narrate with background music playing.
  4. Use VoiceThread, same as in #3

I may not have convinced Dr. Igoa to give up her filmstrips and cassette tape (really, what would most teachers prefer to learn, Audacity or how to cut and splice audio cassette tape?), but I hope this makes a case for standards based instruction using today’s technologies for people like Dan who already have some tech skills. If you don’t believe me, noted ELL/EFL instructor and tech skeptic, Larry Ferlazzo, uses these and even cruder viral marketing tools with his students. He got an award for his work from the International Reading Association. Dan can argue with the aesthetics of some of these tools (heck I do all the time), so use the higher end tools (Audacity, iMovie, etc. not the PowerPoint narration tool), and teach kids about visual literacy, but for goodness sake make sure you are developing students oral language skills, and documenting what they are actually saying, not just doing a rough estimate of what they’ve learned!

Dr. Igoa may not see the need to give up her older technology, BUT she does see that creating presentations that involve art, narration, and music so that students can tell their stories, helps them adjust to and learn English. For those of us more familiar with newer technologies, I think we can all begin to appreciate how they will make that easier, and more effective. It’s what led me to podcasting and blogging with students, things I was already doing in my personal life.

Schools 2.0 Meme


The post by Will about the conference he is at on the future of schools got me thinking. There is a lot of talk about, new thinking and old thinking, and arguing about where the problem is. I’m proposing a new meme about this to try to suss out where we’re at. The questions are:

  1. Is School 2.0 about technology or pedagogy (teaching methods)?
  2. What were 1-3 things you had to”unlearn” to become an effective teacher?
  3. Did you learn these poor practices in your teacher preparation program, or somewhere else? If so, where?
  4. Describe the philosophy of your teacher preparation program in 25 words or less.
  5. What age/grade level do you teach? When did you attend school at that level?
  6. When were you in your teacher preparation program?

I’m tagging folks who started this argument:

Will Richardson

James Farmer

people who have commented on this:

John Calvert

Matthew Needleman

and a few others just for the heck of it:

Nancy Bosch

Glenn Moses

Dan Meyer: Hey Dan if you look at Will’s link according to this conference, you should still be out there getting a “variety of experience” you wet behind the ears kid, and leaving the job of learning facilitation to older second career types like myself. Are you as bothered by that as I was? Trying to picture a world without Mr. Meyer. It was a sadder place, let me tell you.

Rules are answer the questions honestly; tag it with: teacherprep20; pass it along, I don’t care to how many people.

Here are my answers:

  1. Is School 2.0 about technology or pedagogy (teaching methods)?
    Pedagogy, but the tools do create some new and interesting connecitons.
  2. What were 1-3 things you had to”unlearn” to become an effective teacher?
    How I was taught (sit in your seat silently to learn).
  3. Did you learn these poor practices in your teacher preparation program, or somewhere else? If so, where?
    I learned them as a student in elementary and other grade levels.
  4. Describe the philosophy of your teacher preparation program in 25 words or less.
    Emphasis on Vygotzky and meeting students where they were at, scaffolding them to where to where they need to be. Multiple input modalities and standards based instruction.
  5. What age/grade level do you teach? When did you attend school at that level?
    Grade 1-6 or age 6-12; I attended elementary in the first half of the 1970s
  6. When were you in your teacher preparation program?

Links of Interest


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