Thursday, March 17, 2011

It Doesn't Work For Everyone

I'm continuing to enjoy Ravitch's The Death and Life of the American School System. As I read today, she discussed a district in which all teachers were expected to do the exact same thing (in her example, it was Balanced Literacy and constructivist math). This got me thinking about how our district does this as well.

You see, right now in education, we are all about finding the silver bullet. What will close the achievement gap? How can we fix education for good? Well, we can't. There's no magic button. There's no silver bullet. There's no all perfect fix. That doesn't stop us from trying things out and thinking that they are magic fixes!

Take our math curriculum for example. All of our Algebra I classes are meant to do group work for the majority of the class. About 25 of our kids failed, and failed hard, last trimester. The math teacher on our team put together a repeat class and got rid of the group work in favor of his old teaching style. Do you know what the kids tell me from his repeat class? "Oh my God! Math is SOOO easy now! Why didn't he do this before?! I get it so much better now!" Yeah. I bet you do. That's probably the teaching style you needed in the first place!

See, the problem with magic, fix all buttons is that nothing works for everyone. Someone is going to be left out. The problem could be on either side. From the teacher's side, teaching in a style that isn't your own can be awkward and full of trial and error. From the student's side, that just might not be how you learn! I would never have been able to learn math in group work and I was an International Baccalaureate math student who went on to take AP Statistics! But group work for Algebra? I never would have made it as far as I did.

Part of the problem is trying to standardize everything, but part of it is also trying to fix what ain't broke. Some teachers need help. Some teachers need new teaching styles. Some teachers need new ideas. That is not everyone. Unfortunately, great teachers get lumped in with everyone else and we all have to embrace the changes made to our curriculums.

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