Can we teach all electives and no “subjects”?

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

I know that this is a concept that will be shut down by “education professionals” nationwide, and I have neglected to show my support for the idea until I have been able to support the idea more thoroughly. However, I must begin talking about it with this article about Finland to stop teaching “subjects” and start teaching “topics.”

Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.

More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union – which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.

There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.

How archaic is it to teach “English” “Social Studies” “Math” and “Science”? The new common core standards allow for much collaboration between skills and topics. Teachers are already working together on teams to collaborate their lessons.

Not only does it make sense to teach “electives” instead of “core subjects” it will be more engaging, interesting and fun for students!!!!

Why is Model UN or Model Legislature only an after school activity? Can’t that incorporate history, writing, public speaking, group work….etc. In college I had a class called Model UN and we used law texts and literally created a UN in our classroom week after week. Why wouldn’t that make sense as a K-12 class?

Why not an astronomy class? Or Gardening class? Or any other number of science explorations that would be fun, instead of dull science class trying to teach you everything in 4 classes. You can learn math and science topics and writing and possibly some history all in one fun “elective” style class.

The best part is, you can even intermingle grade levels. If one room school houses can teach all grade levels, then you can have different levels in your elective style class and have the older students do harder work and younger ones the easier work and they can even teach each other.

I learned so much more in my elective history classes where instead of reading the text book, we read biographical novels. Psychology class, current events – were all more interesting. We need to start incorporating business education into classes – so let’s do math and history and writing in that too.

I’ll bet you teachers would be more excited about teaching these electives all day and not teaching to a text book.

“There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s – but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century.”

The reforms reflect growing calls in the UK – not least from the Confederation of British Industry and Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt – for education to  promote character, resilience and communication skills, rather than just pushing children through “exam factories”.

We should be focused on teaching and developing skills, not drilling subject matter.

Teachers were naturally a but resistant because all they know is what they have done all their lives.

Even in Finland, the reforms have met objections from teachers and heads – many of whom have spent their lives focusing on a particular subject only to be told to change their approach.

Ms Kyllonen has been advocating a “co-teaching” approach to lesson planning, with input from more than one subject specialist. Teachers who embrace this new system can receive a small top-up in salary.

About 70 per cent of the city’s high school teachers have now been trained in adopting the new approach, according to Mr Silander.

“We have really changed the mindset,” he said. “It is quite difficult to get teachers to start and take the first step… but teachers who have taken to the new approach say they can’t go back.”

 

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You know what is on its last legs? Status quo education

My search to find articles to refute has bound upon a plentiful pile at “Living in Dialogue” blog.

Here goes Anthony Cody, yet again…

There is growing evidence that the corporate-sponsored education reform project is on its last legs. The crazy patchwork of half-assed solutions on offer for the past decade have one by one failed to deliver, and one by one they are falling. Can the edifice survive once its pillars of support have crumbled?

No. You may wish it so. But it is not true. Saying it doesn’t make it true. But you know what is on its last legs? Status quo education that your folks have been defending for so long, that is still failing children nation-wide.

Teach For America: This project had as its central premise the idea that what was wrong with the teaching profession was that not enough really smart people were becoming teachers. So we will recruit some high flyers and fill the gaps in high needs schools. And because these folks are sooo smart, they do not need the year or two of preparation that regular old teachers needed – they could learn to crunch data, manage a class and prepare for tests in just five weeks. And if they leave after a couple of years, that’s ok too. They can transform education as the next generation of leaders and policymakers, because they will have brains that classroom experience, and TFA’s no excuses philosophy to guide them.

As Cody continues with his selective history, I pulled this off the TFA website:

Wendy Kopp proposed the idea for Teach For America in her Princeton University undergraduate thesis in 1989.  In 1990, a charter corps of 500 committed recent college graduates joined Teach For America and began fueling the movement to eliminate educational inequity.  Since then, nearly 33,000 participants have reached more than 3 million children nationwide during their two-year teaching commitments. They have sustained their commitment as alumni, working within education and across all sectors to help ensure that children growing up in low-income communities get an excellent education.

Given the magnitude of the educational inequity, we have aggressively worked to grow and deepen our impact.  Our corps members and alumni have helped accelerate the pace of change as teachers, principals, elected officials, social entrepreneurs, and leaders in all fields.  Alongside many others, they have proven that classrooms, schools and now whole communities can transform the life trajectories of all students, regardless of background.

We are energized by the progress we have made over the past 22 years and more hopeful than ever before that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

From this excerpt, I can see that TFA was started to commit recent college graduates who believed in eliminating educational equity to serve as teachers in low income communities. TFA is working the make sure that poverty doesn’t write  a child’s future but that their education does. But because the union movement and it’s friends like Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody are just now trying to tackle poverty, they can’t admit that anyone else is, because it takes away from the success they can produce. How selfish. That doesn’t sound like its about kids. Sounds like it is about adults.

What is really the difference between a recent college graduate who took 30 more credits in education and a TFA teacher? Only the quality of their instruction. We already know there is a movement to transform schools of education because the teaching profession is lacking a true leader in that field. So, a lackluster 30 credits (which split up over a couple days a week for a couple of hours a day over two semesters) or 5 weeks of intensive training? Sounds like they could be pretty equal to me.

But this year TFA is hitting some serious headwinds. They are finding that recruitment has dropped for some reason, and the organization is even closing its New York training instituteoffice. Perhaps students have been finding out some of the problems with the program, discovering in advance that five weeks is not adequate preparation for the challenge of teaching in a challenging school. Perhaps potential recruits have encountered TFA alums sharing their experiences, or even some of those organizing to resist the program. And word may have leaked out that TFA is not the best vehicle for those concerned with social justice – given that corps members are sometimes being used to replace veteran teachers.

Ok Cody, where is your data, your research to support the crumbling? So what they are closing an office and there are fewer applicants. Those statements say nothing about the quality of the work TFA teachers do, or the success they have with their students. Where is your data proving that students with a TFA teacher perform worse than traditional public school teacher taught students? Unless you can back your statements up with some data, you are just crying wolf.

Since you mentioned veteran teachers….Some are very good. Many are not – either they haven’t kept up with the times, their classroom discipline/management style doesn’t mesh with today’s youth, they haven’t had a professional, thorough evaluation to determine where their professional development needs are (the subsequently they did not receive professional development to meet their needs, which not their fault, but a reality), they won’t learn new education strategies, or the worst, they are just collecting a paycheck and passing out worksheets all day long.

This may not be a majority of teachers – BUT THEY DO EXIST!! and every single moment a student spends with these ineffective teachers is a wasted moment that the child is expecting to receive a quality education and simply is not. Children, parents and the community expect and are paying for high quality education. When are kids aren’t receiving a quality education we are all wasting our money, might as well be flushing it down the toilet. Or, Like in DeKalb County, GA where I live, as long as all the friends and family have a high paying job at the school department, all is right with the world.

How do anti-reformers blatantly ignore success?

Joel Klein’s new book, “Lessons of Hope: How to Fix our Schools” is on my holiday gift request list so I have not read it yet. However, after reading two opposing book reviews I am more at a loss than ever.

How is it possible that two different people have these two views of the same book?

Here is a segment from

Upon Klein’s departure in 2010, scholars from Harvard, the University of Virginia, and Research Alliance for New York City Schools weighed in on Klein’s tenure. They concluded that his reforms had significantly improved teacher quality in high-poverty schools, and had significantly improved student academic performance compared with a control group of students elsewhere in the state.

The benefit of distance makes results under Klein look even more impressive. Within the past month, two rigorous, gold standard studies showed that Klein’s controversial decisions to close failing schools and experiment with new approaches delivered gains in poor kids’ college enrollment and compensation for individual teachers.

Here is a segment from John Thompson:

In perhaps the most inexplicable passage in his book, Klein cites Anthony Bryk’s finding that school improvement requires trusting relationships. Because each person or group involved in school improvement is dependent on the actions of the others, Bryk explained that teachers, principals, parents, students and administrators must work together and build trust in each other. How that principle is compatible with Klein’s brass-knuckled approach is beyond me.

… Inevitably, Klein’s accountability system would reward some schools merely because they did well with the lucky hand they were dealt. Others would be punished for low performance and further damaged because bureaucrats were incapable of recognizing the full set of challenges that they faced.

My question as a public citizen and a person looking to advance education to ensure every student has a quality education is – Did Klein’s strategy work? Dmitri gave specific examples as to where Klein’s practices worked and John performed a literal research report on Klein’s book but didn’t tell me anything about the results (or even lackthereof) of Klein’s approach.

John also seemed to glaze over these tidbits that were certainly impactful for me, as I saw absolutely no mention of the havoc that union-sponsored behavior takes on school, teachers, parents, students & the public.

From Dmitri’s post:

Klein experienced bureaucratic inertia early in his career, when he taught sixth grade mathematics in Queens. Klein asked for permission to work with the students’ parents after school to help them understand what their children were learning. The response back was: “If you do it, the parents will expect the other teachers to do it, and they won’t want to, so they will resent you.”

This same deadening impulse met Klein decades later when he became Chancellor in New York. As he recalls, “The guiding principle was that rules, rather than trust, were the best way to run a school.” On his first day, Klein asked about a light on his phone. A secretary from the previous administration answered: “Oh, ignore that. It’s just an angry parent. If we leave it on hold long enough she’ll go away.”

Schools in poor neighborhoods did poorly under this regime. They suffered thousands of violent crimes, atrocious dropout rates, and decrepit buildings with major plumbing problems.

More, unspeakable truth from Dmitri’s post:

Wealthy New Yorkers asked for specific student, teacher, and principal placements, and reacted with rage when Klein demurred. For example, Klein met early in his tenure with three principals from the East Side (where Fariña had served as a principal).

These principals told Klein that the worst thing he had done was “sent us excessed teachers from another school.” When Klein responded that the contract required him to give those teachers jobs, the principals said: “In the past, we never got the excessed teachers, because everyone knew our community wouldn’t tolerate them.” Klein asked whose kids deserved those teachers, and the principals answered: “That’s your problem. Just don’t send them to us.”