Sunday, March 30, 2008

textbook evaluation

When looking at textbooks and discussing their use in class, I began thinking about my previous experience with textbooks. As a student, I loved textbooks. They provided new and interesting information. They were places to look up information that maybe wasn't covered directly in class. And I especially loved English textbooks. I always flipped through them (often in class when I was bored) and read all sorts of things that weren't assigned readings. Yes, they were heavy and cumbersome, but I don't remember that really bothering me or being a huge issue. So it's a little strange that now, as a teacher, I don't really like English textbooks at all. I don't feel that the textbooks I have seen are not very high quality. There are not enough contemporary texts. The multicultural texts are not very representative - just the standards that are pretty much canon, like Langston Hughes' "Dream Deferred" or Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" or a couple Emily Dickenson poems. I also don't feel that a lot of the selections really appeal to students, and student interest should be a huge factor in text selection. Also, the additional activities provided with the textbook are not always the most interesting and may not reach a high level of Bloom's. Plus, students hate carrying textbooks around and complain whenever I say they need to bring their books to class. Or they forget their books, which can make classwork tricky.

Part of the reason I think the textbooks are so "blah" is because textbook companies must try to appeal to a wide range of interests, especially those of administrators and policy makers, and therefore include only texts and activities that will be noncontroversial and acceptable to everyone. A majority of "the people in charge" represent the dominant culture, which is more traditional and conservative. So multicultural texts and contemporary texts may not be valued and thus not placed in the textbook.

I do think that a high quality textbook would be a great tool and resource for teachers and students. But what would a high quality English textbook look like? First of all, it would include more contemporary (and yet still high quality) text that students could relate to language-wise. It would showcase a truly multicultural selection of texts that breaks out of the traditional canon to show the viewpoints, experiences, beliefs, and traditions of other cultures. It would also include activities and assessments that appeal to higher levels of thinking and are aligned with state standards, suggestions for content integration, problem-based learning, connections to prior knowledge and common student misconceptions that should be addressed. Maybe I should look into creating such a textbook...

Monday, March 17, 2008

technology reflection

When we discussed technology in the classroom during the last class period, I started thinking about the necessity of teaching technology skills in the content areas and not just in a computer or technology course. However, at this point, although teachers are encouraged to use technology to aid teaching, I don't feel they are equally encouraged to teach technology. Technology skills are not part of content area standards, and so teachers are not pressured to teach or assess these skills. In the TN Technology Standards, teachers are only expected to use technology as a teaching aid to improve student learning. I think this ignores the responsibility teachers should have to teach technology skills that are relevant to different disciplines. The fact that teacher education includes learning about technology as teaching aids is an example of the way disciplines on the college level take responsibility for teaching the technology skills that are needed in each discipline.

In my previous teaching experience, I admit that I rarely taught technology skills explicitly, although I did expect students to use technology to complete various activities. Students created PowerPoint Presentations to show their learning, used Word to type papers, used computer programs to practice skills for the state test, and navigated the Internet for research and learning. In none of these cases did I explicitly teach students how to use the technology. I assumed they already had some knowledge or that they would gain greater knowledge just through experience of using the technology. Clearly there were some students who knew the technology well and did a good job and others who did not. In retrospect, I think it was unfair of me to expect students to proficiently use the technology without giving them instruction in how to use it. This put students on an un-level playing field based on whether or not they had previous exposure to technology.

I did explicitly teach technology skills in one case when students were required to create a resume. I teamed up with the computer teacher to teach students how to use the templates in Word. But other than this, I mainly only used technology as an aid to my own teaching, such as the overhead projector, LED projector, iTunes, etc. I think now that technology should be incorporated into the standards for each discipline in order to make sure that all students are able to master required skills for the discipline, rather than just assuming that students will gain these skills elsewhere.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What now?

This past week, I have been working more on my scope and sequence and feeling a little overwhelmed. Deconstructing the state standards has not been too difficult, once I got the hang of it, but it's only helpful if I feel the state standards encompass what I want to teach, which I don't. I'm having difficulty seeing how everything fits together. I think I still don't have a clear idea of what is meant by a scope and sequence. I mean, I know what it means by definition, but I don't know what one looks like or what process I need to undertake in order to create one. After I have deconstructed each standard and written several scope and sequence statements for each, what do I do?

I decided to put aside the standards and just create my own mission and purpose of education, which I decided would consist of 5 things I believe education should accomplish:

1. Create life-long learners
2. Cultivate an appreciation of others (people, places, customs, beliefs, etc)
3. Moral/spiritual development
4. Develop and hone skills needed to be successful in a versatile career path or paths
5. Enable students to become agents of change

Then I broke down what would be needed to achieve each of these goals. The skills part was the hardest, because that's when I needed to decide not only how to teach the skills but what skills I felt were important. The skills that I chose for the most part overlapped with the state standards for English, although in several cases I am interested achieving higher levels of critical thinking than what is asked for in the standards.

So now I have an idea of what students should accomplish in a general sense as well as specific skills, but I need to know the degree of achievement that is appropriate for each grade level (or at least my focus grade and grades immediately above and below). And if that all encompasses the scope, now I need to figure out the sequence, which to me is most difficult because most English skills I believe should be taught concurrently. Also, although there is a certain degree of achievement expected of each grade level, reality dictates that not all students will have the prerequisites necessary to reach this level, so how do I build into the curriculum ways to help teachers fill in gaps in student knowledge?