This evening my 7th grade daughter worked on an assignment for one of her classes: Copying verbatim an entire chapter of her textbook. This is not acceptable.
I’m emailing the teacher to meet with him, to discuss this and some other issues, and I’ll meet with him face-to-face (I’m sure) in the next two weeks. I’ll also likely share this concern in writing with the school administration. I really like this teacher, who taught my son last year. The class my daughter is taking with him is a new course for him to teach this year, and I know there are some challenging circumstances surrounding it. (He learned just before school started he’d be teaching this course.)
No matter what the circumstances, however, simply making students copy entire chapters of their textbook (re-writing them in their own handwriting) is a terrible assignment and shouldn’t be acceptable at ANY school.
Our transition to Common Core State Standards as well as changes in textbooks at several grades are laying bare some BIG problems we have in our classrooms with basic instruction, lesson design, pedagogy, assessments, and assignments for students. Many teachers consider the textbook to be their curriculum. That is not the case and shouldn’t be the case, but for many teachers it is. That’s why in some cases, when the textbook changes or is no longer available, teachers freak out. “What am I going to teach?” “I don’t know what to do now that we don’t have a textbook!” These are common refrains in many Oklahoma classrooms today. In the situation I’m depicting with the image in this post, the teacher and students DO have a textbook, but unfortunately it is (apparently) the exclusive academic focus.
In Yukon Public Schools, where I’m working again this semester (on a contract) as an “Innovative Instructional Coach,” principals and teachers are studying Robert Marzano’s book, “The Art and Science of Teaching.” I’ve started the book but haven’t finished, so I can’t share a complete review of it, but I do like the focus on essential questions and lesson objectives. This is a fundamental starting point for classroom lessons. Saying “Our objective is Chapter 2 in our textbook” doesn’t cut it.
We have important and challenging work to do in our schools to improve the quality of instruction and provide engaging learning opportunities for our students. We have lots of work to do both in pre-service teacher education as well as in-service teacher ed. I deeply regret that as voters, we’ve allowed our elected representatives to focus teacher, student, parent, and administrator attention on unproven and (in many cases) destructive educational policies like high-stakes accountability. Please take a few minutes to read Diane Ravitch‘s February 2012 post on NiemanWatchdog.org, “Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education? Anything?” Unfortunately most don’t.
The fact that recent and current educational reforms (sadly continued under President Obama’s “Hope for Change” administration) aren’t productive does NOT mean the status quo in education is good or acceptable, however. We DO need to improve, and as professional educators who do our research we CAN ascertain the strategies and changes we need in our classrooms. The most basic ingredient we need in each classroom is a GREAT teacher who is a LEARNER and is continually working to improve. I’m betting that’s the case with Sarah’s teacher who had her copy a textbook chapter for homework tonight. The resources available to him to teach this class and teach it well are very limited, I’m sure, but hopefully we can figure out some ways to make the situation better together.
Telling students to “copy chapter 5” for tonight’s homework is as bad as saying, “page 20, 1 through 21, odd” and pretending like we’ve taught. Neither assignment by itself constitutes “teaching” or providing an educative experience for students. Hopefully the schools where you teach and work, and/or where your children or grandchildren attend, aren’t facing challenges like the ones I’ve described here. More than likely, however, they are… at least to some extent.
Testing isn’t teaching. Making students copy entire chapters out of their textbook as “a regular weekday assignment” isn’t acceptable teaching, either.
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