Follow Your Intuition
How Following What is Prescribed is Not Always Best Practice
As a teacher, you have to follow the curriculum, programs and the textbook series the corporation adopts. Most public corporations have adoptions of materials on a rotating basis. The year span between adoption depends on the state and money distribution. The number of years between subject areas can also vary widely. Corporations spend a large amount of money on these materials and the expectation is to follow them. As a coach, I agree with this ideal…mostly.
There is never one program that is a cure-all for your students. A teacher must constantly differentiate based on student needs. Teaching is an art where nuance is required. A knowledge base of your content is important but a teacher also has to synthesize info so others can learn it. Many factors play into a strong teaching strategy and most can be learned. Our natural tendencies can make certain aspects easier. There are fundamental skills such as conveying a proper objective, motivation techniques, the ability to give academic feedback and how to structure and pace a lesson. Methods for teaching problem solving and thinking is imperative as well. To accomplish these skills you must know how to develop relationships with your students.
The nuance enters when you must decide what you believe as a teacher. You have to have a philosophy you can use as a measuring stick to what you are willing to accommodate for and what you want to fight back on.
I believe that reading is the gateway to everything else. If you cannot read there are many obstacles that can be almost impossible to overcome. This is the overarching philosophy I always come back to. I need to know that what I am doing is best for kids.
I also believe that reading and writing go hand in hand. They need to be taught together which is how they both get stronger.
I have been required to teach with materials I had little to no confidence in. How did they get chosen? Committee. I know the intention of putting these materials in my classroom was not ill-fated or malicious but I had to reframe to be able to use them effectively.
One school I worked in believed students learned to read sittingin front of a computer. Ummm, no. Now as a tool on a wheel of instruction for teaching reading — okay.
In order to be successful in an environment where you may not agree with the status quo, you have to find an element of the program you can get behind and pursue that aspect.
In desperate times you have to shut your door and do what you think it right for your students.
Having said that please keep in mind that if you use the above line of thinking your students better show some results. You can do your own thing, but it has to make a difference to the learning of the students you are in the care of. If the results are not favorable from the data you are collecting then you probably need to go back to the program you don’t like.
If your students show no mastery then your method isn’t working either.
When I taught first grade I refused to use most worksheets. I consider them busy work. I had a reading basal — the new term is community text — the stories were fine but some were excerpts. There were tons of worksheets included in the program which just distracted the kids from actual reading. To be better readers, students need to READ.
My solution was to use the vocabulary page and the story. I supplemented with a curated text set. We did lots of writing connected to the stories and vocabulary and wrote extension books. I made sure the skills in the teachers manual aligned with my state standards. If they didn’t then I switched some of the skill work around and used a worksheet as a formative assessment to drive instruction.
I was also required to use a phonics workbook. What a waste of paper these were. The pages took longer to grade and put in the grade book then it took the kids to complete them. I taught phonics through shared writing charts. I taught the sounds correctly and showed kids how words go together. Dr. Richard Allinginton a highly respected educator in the specialty of reading says that the best way to check a student's phonemic awareness is their temporary spelling. It is true. You can tell from a child “sounding out” and writing down what they hear if they are connecting the correct sounds to letters.
When I taught first we still taught the alphabet at the beginning of the year (a LOOOONNNGG time ago). I chose to teach the vowels last. At first, it looked like my class was behind but then since they knew how words went together they began writing page long stories and essays. I displayed their writing in the hallway.
When I taught elementary in Central Indiana, our local library was open on Sundays. This is more prevalent now 15 years later but at the time it was novel. I would go on Sunday and check out 25 picture books about the theme I was embedding that week. The mixture of nonfiction and fiction titles were displayed on my chalk ledge. The kids knew the books had to be kept in the room and not in their desk. Students started showing up to see me at the library on Sundays and get a sneak peek of what we were learning.
Creative manipulation is a term I like to use as a coach. A vivid example where this applies is choice. Let's say on your agenda you have to cover math and science. You have to do them both. Ask the students what they want to do first. Take a vote. Then go with it. You still get both subjects competed but now the students are more engaged because they feel they had a say in what was going on in the classroom. It is a tiny shift that can make a big difference.
Speaking of choice, please let students choose their reading material. Yes, comics count. Yes, e-books count. LET THEM READ.
As a teacher, it is our professional responsibility to teach to our students where they are and push them forward. Sometimes that means closing the door and doing what is best for your kids. Just remember, there needs to be measurable results!
Tammy Breitweiser is a writer and teacher who is a force of nature and woman of honor; seer of nuance; an accidental inspirationalist; a keeper of the little red doors, and a conjurer of everyday magic who is busy writing short stories. A future Minnesotan temporarily hiding in Indiana, her poetry has been published in The Storyteller Magazine and her flash fiction in The Ninja Writers Monthly and Elephants Never. Her essay is published in the I Wrote it Anyway anthology. She is a writer for the publication The Noteworthy Journal. You can connect with Tammy through Twitter @TLBREIT.