Change Issues in Curriculum and Instruction/Final Assignment Links/Tiffany Hall
Rather than rank ordering what I believe to be the five most important change issues in curriculum and instruction, I’ve created a hierarchy wherein one level supports and/or leads to another in an effort to reach the ultimate goal—making America competitive in a “flat” world. For the sake of this assignment, if I absolutely had to rank order my chosen change issues I would do so as follows:
1. Curriculum and Instruction Reform: Making America Competitive in a “Flat” World
2. Believing that Change Can Happen: Becoming Comfortable with Risk
3. Teachers as Learners and Learners as Teachers/Learning How to Learn and Teach
4. Standards Based Testing as the Ceiling Rather than the Floor
5. Isolation and Differentiation
The change issues most important to me are discussed below in ascending order as they would appear on a hierarchical graphic organizer.
- 1 Believing that Change Can Happen: Becoming Comfortable with Risk
- 2 Teachers as Learners and Learners as Teachers/Learning How to Learn and Teach
- 3 Isolation and Differentiation
- 4 Standards Based Testing as the Floor Rather than the Ceiling
- 5 Curriculum and Instruction Reform: Making America Competitive in a “Flat” World
Believing that Change Can Happen: Becoming Comfortable with Risk
We as teachers have far more power than we realize. To utilize this power, we must become risk takers. Teaching is a profession that requires years of training, demonstration of basic competencies, and continuous learning to maintain certification. There are few other professions that require a similar level of ongoing professional development and evaluation, yet of all professions teachers have the least input into what actually happens in their field. Many times this is because teachers aren’t given a seat at the table, but what is wrong with demanding and taking that seat? Teachers are in the trenches and see first hand how students respond to instruction. Good teachers know what works best for students. Knowing what works best isn’t good enough. Teachers have to be willing to stand up and fight for what works best for students. In my third year of teaching I was a member of a kindergarten team required to use Breakthrough to Literacy (BTL), a computer based reading program, for all of my students regardless of reading or writing ability. I had three BTL stations in my classroom and each child was assigned a station with a total of six students assigned per station. A student spent a 15-minute session on BTL and upon completion of the session, would tap the next student assigned to complete fifteen minutes on BTL. This cycle was required to go on all day long with each student completing at least two BTL sessions per day. Out of my eighteen students, I had only four that I thought could really benefit from the type of instruction BTL provided, so I didn’t require the others to complete the sessions. That year, my students were reading so well that they were allowed to take Accelerated Reader (AR) tests that were reserved for grades two and above and their hallway writings rivaled the writings of the second graders. My students also served as math tutors for the fourth graders having difficulty with algebraic concepts. Because of this, I really saw no reason for them to have to sit in front of a computer and pick out the letter tile that matched the sound heard at the beginning of the word ball. My colleagues warned me that the students were expected to spend a certain amount of time on the computer each quarter and that the time was being monitored and reported to the principal. I approached my principal and let her know that I was not going to meet the time requirement and I showed her why. I sat down and shared with her my students’ monthly reading logs and their journal writings so that she could see the quality of their work and what they were capable of. My argument against BTL for all was similar to my previous argument against lock step grade level planning with exactly the same experiences for all students in all classes. That year I was the only kindergarten teacher not required to use BTL as intended and the only teacher in the building not required to be on the same exact page as every other grade-alike teacher. My students benefited from my willingness to take the risk and buck the system and what was so funny is that the district level BTL monitor agreed. Upon visiting my classroom to download my BTL time sheets, she had the opportunity to see my students in action and read some of their writings. She disabled BTL on two of my computers and added word processing software so that those BTL stations could then be used as publishing centers, which was far more appropriate for and of a far greater benefit to my students. I am sure that my students weren’t the only kindergartners in the building for whom BTL was obsolete, but because their teachers never did or said anything to challenge it, they were forced to complete those 15-minute sessions all day every day. Yes, those students earned certificates and one dollar for completing 100 lessons, but my students got so much more—learning tailored to their needs, readiness, and interests. Until we as teachers raise our voices and become comfortable with taking risks, many students will go without what is truly best for them.
Teachers as Learners and Learners as Teachers/Learning How to Learn and Teach
This requires a certain level of openness and risk taking on the part of the teacher, as well as the students. I believe one goal of education is to foster a love of learning in students that encourages them to be lifelong learners. What better way to foster this love of learning than demonstrating to students that no one, not even a teacher, ever knows everything and therefore, must continuously learn? This love of learning can also be developed by giving students opportunities to teach. We hear so much about collaborative teaching between teachers, but why can’t collaborative teaching include students? One school year I had a student that came in with a wonderful lesson on leaves. I used her idea and let her co-teach the lesson. That helped the other students to realize that yes, there are certain things they had to learn, but how they learned it could be influenced by them. After that experience, students were more willing to share their ideas in their areas of expertise. That year in science when the class learned about things that sink or float in water, I allowed one student who was a Titanic fanatic to share the story of the Titanic with the class. These teaching opportunities gave the students a chance to share their interests and also taught them how to gather information to make a presentation before an audience of diverse learners. What a wonderful skill to begin exercising in kindergarten. That type of experience prepares students to function in a world wherein they have to communicate ideas to people of varying backgrounds and levels of understanding with different beliefs in addition to allowing the students to connect with themselves as teachers and learners and take an active role in the teaching and learning processes.
Isolation and Differentiation
We have talked a great deal about different types of isolation in education, but the most important in my opinion is isolation of content. In an increasingly interdependent world where what happens in India affects what happens in America, it is so important for students to be able to make connections and see relationships. This is difficult to achieve if subjects are always taught in isolated chunks of time never to intermingle. The challenges that may someday be faced by today’s youth will be nearly impossible to approach without the knowledge of a variety of disciplines and understanding how everything works together. Just having the ability to tap into those disciplines and see how knowledge from one can assist in the resolution of an issue that on the surface seems irrelevant to that discipline will be an invaluable 21st century skill. Differentiating instruction is just one instructional strategy that can provide opportunities to develop this 21st century skill. According to Mary Frances Briley, differentiation is a journey, not a destination. No teacher will ever be absolutely perfect with differentiation; however, there are some teachers who are truly masterful in their differentiation of product, process, and content and those teachers know how to skillfully differentiate across the disciplines providing students with very rich learning experiences that require them to tap into knowledge and skills learned in a variety of subject areas. My brain does not store information in neat little compartments never to be opened unless I am thinking about that specific topic. The brain does not work that way, so why should teachers teach that way?
Standards Based Testing as the Floor Rather than the Ceiling
Standards based testing has dumbed down the American education system. Rather than providing students rich, meaningful, and respectful learning experiences that will prepare them to maintain America’s position as a world power, schools are now creating a citizenry highly adept at bubbling in a circle without very much thought. Although the world is round, I doubt that any of its most critical issues can be addressed and/or resolved via the filling in of a slew of little round bubbles. Unfortunately, many do believe that success on a standards based test means that students are well prepared for bright, productive futures. This is only true if the future is devoid of complex issues requiring complex thought. I do believe that testing has its place in education because it is very important for student competence to be assessed; however, the assessment must be authentic. I advocate for the use of more portfolio based and problem based assessments.
Curriculum and Instruction Reform: Making America Competitive in a “Flat” World
This is the ultimate goal of education. All a person has to do is pick up the phone and attempt to get assistance with anything to realize that the world is flat. To produce graduates capable of competing with a workforce that will include the entire world, American education as we know it must change. As shared in a previous class discussion, the jobs that will be available for today’s students haven’t even been created yet. So, what are we preparing students for? I truly believe that the traditional nine to five job is on its way out the door and that the jobs of the future will be more unique and specialized in nature and will require levels of creativity and collaboration to which the average American student is not accustomed. What can we do about this? How can the American education system be improved to prepare students for future success? It starts with teachers taking the risk to challenge the powers that be in an effort to give students what they need—a quality education that provides students with the necessary knowledge and skills to compete in a flat world.