Tuesday, September 09, 2008

[TIPS] Warning! This is NOT a tip

This is an editorial comment that was sparked by a discovery. This discovery has saddened/angered me to the point that I just HAVE to write about it.

There is a large school district in the Eastern part of this country (no further hints as to where it might be) that is undergoing a curriculum overhaul in its English (aka language arts) department of the high school. It has spent a LOT of money to have this rewrite done. We’re talking six figures. No chump change here.

But this new, so-called “cutting edge” curriculum (I’m serious – they used those words to describe it) which is designed to take its senior high students into the 21st Century, flat world of global competition.... This expensive curriculum makes NO MENTION of a computer whatsoever.

Not a word.

It DOES, however, require that each teacher have an easel, a large tablet on that easel, and a supply of smelly markers.

I kid you NOT.

It’s all about charting. Charting their way across the English curriculum. And posting large pieces of paper around the room.
This “cutting edge curriculum”:

It doesn’t mention that the teachers might want to use a word processor to help dissect their writing. (A VERY basic skill, wouldn’t you agree?)

It doesn’t mention that the students could be blogging about what they are reading, or blogging their essays and receiving comments from people who MAY be around the world. (Remember this video: http://plethoratech.blogspot.com/2007/04/42.html)

It doesn’t mention that the students could be skype chatting with kids from around the country or various places of the WORLD (time factor notwithstanding) to discuss how, say “1984” is interpreted by kids from another country.

It doesn’t mention that they might consider live blogging with some other classes and then writing to their discussion forums about the experience afterwards.

It doesn’t mention that they could be ustreaming a class discussion to which parents are invited to attend and contribute virtually (via password).

It doesn’t mention that they might even consider live blogging with the author of a book they’re reading. ( http://tipline.blogspot.com/2008/01/tips-something-very-cool-student.html)

It doesn’t mention that the students could be plotting the path on Google Earth of a writer’s travels to places around the world. Of course, it would not even consider that this activity could be tied into their social studies curriculum. Instead of large pieces of paper on the wall they could have placemarks in google earth files and bookmarks in delicious.

It doesn’t mention that those @#$%^& large tablets are for the TEACHER’S use, not the student’s use. The students will still be sitting there, passively (MAYBE patiently, as well) trying to absorb enough to be able to pass that retched class.

It doesn’t mention that there is NOT ONE transferable skill that those kids will take away from that class, save for how to survive.

It doesn’t mention that kids like those who write this blog ( http://students2oh.org/2008/08/31/innovate-or-die/) are SICK TO DEATH of that kind of approach.

Nor does it mention HOW ON EARTH ANYONE could have listened to a pitch for this curriculum and thought it was good enough to purchase for six figures and require two days of precious professional development time to learn.

Am I alone here in thinking that this is appalling? SOMEONE needs to go into that district, take the curriculum folks aside and show them what’s going on in the world.



Bill said...

I often wonder how most "innovations" in curriculum and teaching evaluation get sold. For example, "Learning Focussed" methods... also crock.

J Allen said...

I think this reiterates how difficult it can be to properly integrate technology into your curriculum. It truly is a way of thinking. It's not something you can just "do." It's a process. Having said that, this group apparently are the same admins who never visit a building to see what really is going on. Working in a district admin office, I HATE it when we sit around a table and say what "teachers think." You don't know until you ask or observe. If you don't know what 21st century skills are, don't say you are going to do them. It's all right if you don't. Hold your kids back.

Carl Anderson said...

What does innovation in curriculum look like? I have no idea what this language arts program you are writing about is really like so I have to suspend judgment but for me it is not the lack of new tools that bothers me about what you describe but rather the apparent teacher centric approach and the ghastly huge amount of money.

Does this curriculum omit the possibility of integrating tech tools to support it or is this an approach to teaching and learning that actively divorces the content from new media?

Sometimes innovation does not come in the form of new hardware or new software, it comes in how we do things. Wikis were invented in the early 1990s but Wikipedia did not start until 2001. Wikipedia does not use any new technology in the sense of software or hardware but was an innovation in application. Perhaps the innovation in this new curriculum is pedagogical and not technological. That said, if what they are selling is a teaching strategy then I can hardly see the justification of $600k.

Whatever this strategy is, if I were on the curriculum development team in this district, I would take a hard look at the research that backs this strategy up. If something is so innovative it has to cost $600k then it probably has not been field tested enough and not enough reliable research has been done to make it worthwhile. The best teaching methods have always been well documented by research done by educators both in the field and at universities. In that case, their findings are always readily available for those who want to read them (professional journals, doctoral dissertations, etc.).

I for one don't believe schools should be spending any money on curriculum except to pay staff for developing their own and evaluating free resources to bring into the classroom. There is enough open source learning out there that spending this money is no longer necessary. Also, if the teacher develops their own curriculum, or has their students help them develop it, they become far more knowledgeable of it which in turn makes them better teachers. This strategy also models learning for the students and places the teacher in the role of lead learner instead of benevolent dispenser of information.

Technologies change fast, learning theories don't.

mrsdurff said...

I seriously doubt sad situations like these will change until there is a learning revolution - I mean a mass walk-out by every teacher and student. If everyone leaves maybe, just maybe, school boards will see that their ludicrous curriculum teach exactly no one. I am so thankful that i do not teach in a public school! I would have been fired long ago.....