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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Plea to Teach Creatively and Responsively

In years past I have taught all the standards using multiple approaches. Some of this work is visible on my youtube channel. I've adapted the scope and sequence topics and tests creatively to meet students' needs in multiple ways. That is the spirit of the common core. Overall the students have done well and families and students have been happy with this creative and responsive approach.

Now that I've been directed to give all the topics and assessments in the order noted in the scope and sequence, I find that my program is far less creative, responsive, meaningful, engaging, and empowering. There's no room for the rich project base, tech-integrated, scaffolded, and multi-modal programming I've done in the past, programming that reflects the modern world of teaching and learning, and programming that reaches deep to the concepts and knowledge that underly the math standards.

To keep up with the order of the current scope and sequence program and number of assessments means I am teaching in mostly old fashion, uninteresting ways. And what's most disconcerting is that I'm having to teach some students at a rate and level that's far ahead of where their skills and abilities are, hence they are discouraged. In the past I scaffolded the tests to help students so that everyone was learning with a good reach, not a reach that is discouraging. 

How can I not speak up when I'm asked to teach in ways that represent a world that no longer exists. A mostly paper/pencil program that is not scaffolded to reach the multiple interests, needs, backgrounds, and potential that exist in a classroom is not a modern approach that takes advantage of the amazing resources and pedagogy possible today. Yes, there's still room for paper/pencil tasks and learning, but this is only one of many ways to engage and educate today's math students. 

I realize that curriculum leaders desire that all teachers present similar programming, but this too is not a modern approach as we all teach different students and bring different personalities, experience, and outlook to the job. Yes, I believe we should all embed the standards set into our programs, but teachers are not robots and I believe we should all bring our unique personalities, skills, and vision to the work we do too. Good collaboration will help us to integrate each others' ideas as we all share the common interest of giving our students the best possible programs and efforts.  

In the best of circumstances, I desire autonomy with regard to time, resources, and pedagogy in order to teach the standards with as much skill and experience as I'm able to give. If I could do that I'd employ Minecraft, more hands-on problems and projects, greater scaffolding and differentiation, coding, more integration of other subjects/topics, and greater meaningful tech integration. I would follow Jo Boaler's research and results with regard to the need to build strong teams, employ meaningful, scaffolded projects, and empower each learner.

I will continue to follow the directives set unless I hear otherwise, but I truly hope that you'll consider giving me the freedom and autonomy to teach the standards with the creativity, sensitivity, and care possible. I believe the current approach, in many ways, is not supported by new cognitive research and modern needs related to successful learning and I believe there are better ways to teach and learn rather than our heavy focus on paper/pencil assessments and the scope and sequence tasks. Instead, a more balanced, creative, and modern approach will result in students who are excited about learning math and more successful at that task.

Yesterday a former parent came to me to thank me once again for inspiring her child. Her child was an average learner in fourth grade, yet a student who came to me with wonderful creativity and curiosity. I knew that with inspiration he would be very successful. That year I was given the freedom to teach creatively and did so with many, many creative projects all year long. I wove the standards into the many projects creating wonderful class community and success. That's the way I'm able to teach well--for me, teaching is as much a science as it is an art. For me, teaching is not a step-by-step, paper/pencil task, but instead a creative, multi-modal activity. Cognitive science supports this. That boy is very successful today and just received a tremendous scholarship as depicted to the right.

In all, I just want to be able to teach in the ways I know to be engaging and empowering for every student. I want to be able to create the "magic" possible, and I want to be freed from a strict scope and sequence and so many, many assessments in order to teach all my students well. Additionally, I want to continue to learn and collaborate with colleagues so that we bring forth our richest, shared ideas and efforts. I hope you will reconsider the strict directives related to the math program for me and allow me to teach with greater freedom and autonomy. Thank you for considering my plea.