Friday, October 23, 2015

Teaching Students or Teaching the Curriculum?

As I understand it learning takes on a rather chaotic progression, yet there is some linearity to it. As an educator, I am constantly assessing where students are with regard to energy, attitude, knowledge, skill, concept, and thought, and nudging them forward with explicit teaching, projects, collaboration, and more.

Like many teachers today, I'm in favor of teaching students first and curriculum next.

This morning I found myself in a quandary as a colleague urged me to follow a set of steps to teach well. The colleague cautioned against moving ahead of the prescribed steps of learning, yet some of my learners have already mastered those steps. The colleague's words challenged my study and beliefs in education about continually moving children forward from where they are rather than waiting until the designated month to teach the skill. I try to teach as much as I can when the student is ripe for the learning even if the child's learning progression is not a direct match for the curriculum steps.

For example I have a student who has mastered the computation curriculum as it is stated until December. I don't want to wait until December to move that child forward. Instead I want to intersect the current curriculum with a good growth menu for that child. I know he's ready and he'll be delighted with the forward movement. On the other hand, I have some students who are far below the projections for fifth grade. For them, I want to go back to where they are strong and teach from there rather than continuing to push them toward learning they are not ready for.

My most current reading with regard to learning in general and good math teaching promotes the use of learning progressions and teaching the child where he or she is rather than teaching the curriculum first and the child second. Yet, when challenged, I had a hard time explaining my thinking since the colleague reminded me that our system expects us to be on a similar curriculum page for all students as that's what all the teachers are doing. Yet is that best for students? Who does that serve best?

I'm thinking about this challenge. I'm curious about what you think? What ideas do you have in this realm. There's nothing better than teaching a child at his/her just ready point of learning and moving them forward with enthusiasm, individualization, and care. That kind of teaching results in a great learning community who really know what it means to learn. Yet how are system leaders going to keep teachers in line if they are more focused on individual students than the curriculum program set forth? Can they ensure that all teachers will do what they are told if some choose to deviate from the planned path of teaching and learning, a path that I've noticed differs somewhat from system to system depending on the adopted programs, leadership models, and teaching structures.

I'm thinking about this question and will think more. I look forward to your consult.