In my book “Confessions of a 21st Century Math Teacher”, I described my experiences as a long-term sub at a middle school in California. I filled in for a math teacher who was put on a special assignment for reasons never fully explained. (Or at least explained why her special assignment occurred with little notice; i.e, why the principal had two days to find a sub who had a math teaching credential.)
The principal at the time was in his first year at this school so things were in a constant state of transition. It was also during a time when California was about to implement Common Core the following year, and schools were also transitioning to the new standards.
He scurried around the school with a wide grin on his face and was always outwardly friendly and optimistic. He presided over staff meetings with messages of the future; i.e., what it would look like next year when Common Core went into effect. “No more teacher at the front of the room telling students to open their books to page X and work on the problems.” The Superintendent of that particular school district had a distinct philosophy of education that he outlined in a paper he published on his web site that was strictly constructivist. Students construct their own knowledge. Since we now live in an age where facts/information can be Googled, facts were no longer as important as they once were. Facts in the Superintendent’s vision were “low level” and his aim was for “higher order thinking skills”. I.e. teach students how to learn, and they’ll get the facts on their own.
The new principal was and has been an adherent to such philosophy. Although I didn’t give him a name or nickname in my book, he has stayed in my mind and acquired the name of Principal Gladhand. Gladhand writes a weekly newsletter to the parents, available at the school’s website. I read it every week to see what the current level of thinking is. The most recent one summarizes his last “principal’s coffee” in which he chats with interested parents (i.e., those who don’t have a 9 to 5 job and can take the time for such activity) about their concerns and his vision(s) for the school. I reproduce his latest here and offer an occasional translation, but am interested, of course, in your reactions.
We had a good turnout at our principal’s coffee on Thursday. For those of you who couldn’t make it, [i.e, those who have to work during the day] our casual conversation covered a broad range of topics. Up first was high school- many of our 8th grade parents are looking ahead, and rightly so- we’re only a few months from our students transitioning to their next step. We discussed student concerns and the fact that our students go to the high school well prepared.
We had a lengthy discussion about the topic of Powerschool, students turning in work on time, and how we communicate student progress to parents. This has been a challenging topic for our staff of late because our focus and our curriculum have shifted significantly from when parents were in school. One fundamental shift in curriculum is that students are not only expected to know facts, but are expected to be able to use or connect them in new and novel ways.
A bit of confusion here as to the difference between a novice and expert. Sweller has written about this, but in short, expert’s are able to make connections in new ways through experience and much practice which novice’s are still in the process of acquiring. At the novice stage, such connections are usually guided by the teacher, but in the ed reform world, if a student can’t do that it’s because teacher’s have failed to teach students how to learn and acquire the cognitive skills which apparently exist independent of any prior knowledge.
To truly master a concept takes time and all students learn at a different rate.
See above; difference between novice and expert
In the classroom, this has impacts on how we teach. More teachers are allowing students extra time on assignments, retakes on tests and re-dos on assignments.
Ah, so that difference is accounted for by allowing for extra time, and retakes on tests, etc. Then how is this preparing them for high school; he did say students left the school well-prepared. Could it be extra help via tutoring and learning centers? They are doing a burgeoning business where this school is located.
This shift does not mean students aren’t expected to do the work. In fact in most of our classrooms, lessons are structured so students do more of the thinking work than the teacher (as it should be). In class, this looks like students talking, questioning, challenging and defending answers, and looking for novel approaches to problems rather than simply answering comprehension questions or worksheets.
The standard dictum of ed reform: Worksheets-bad; discussion and talking-good
What it does mean is there is less focus on deadlines (though they are still important) and “one and done tests” where students don’t have an opportunity to ever go back and show they learned the material, and more focus on students actually understanding what they are supposed to. As you can probably guess, then, our old, easier “do this and get the points, then that’s your grade” methods don’t show well enough where our students are on their path to mastery in the way we want.
Does he think that maybe if teachers taught in a more explicit and direct style with important topics emphasized and procedural skills mastered that there wouldn’t have to be so many test re-takes?
Many of our teachers have a foot in both worlds- trying to make our old ways of reporting fit a learning philosophy that embraces deep understanding and allowing for more time and attempts.
This is likely true; some teachers are trying to teach in a traditional manner because it has been shown to work; at the same time, they need to show they are toeing the party line. A difficult situation for any teacher.
Parents need good information to help their kids achieve. Teachers want parents to partner with them. I will be bringing this issue back to staff to work on ways where we can meet the informational needs of parents while providing a clear understanding of progress towards standards. I will be bringing this topic back to our staff to work on ways we can more clearly communicate student progress to parents.
In other words, parents do what we say, and don’t question it. Though we will pretend we’re interested in what they have to say.
Your reactions on this are welcome as always.