14 November 2011

A new set of words I hate

I know that I've talked about the most dangerous words in education before.

I'm pretty sure I've yapped about misspelled words.

I even managed some poetry every once in a while. 

However, I don't know that I've ever written about words that make me angry. In fact, I just spent three or four minutes skimming the BlazeBlog, and I can't find any place where I talked about pet peeves. I haven't really ranted very much about my co-workers, since a lot of them read this blog. (Hi Vista! Go Wolves! etc! etc!) But now, I have to explain the question that I get asked by some of my co-workers that just makes my blood boil.

They ask (and I quote), "what chapter are you on?"


I don't know what chapter I'm on. If you were to ask me what topic I'm covering, I would be able to answer. Indeed, you could ask me what themes I'm working on. I could answer that, and would probably talk your ear off for 30 minutes about it. But what chapter I'm on? Nope, can't tell you that.

Why not, you logically ask. You think that I should be following the book. After all, the book was written by experts, the teacher should just be a presenter of that information, in the order that the book presents it.

That's just the problem, as I see it. The book was written by a committee. Hell, in my U.S. History book, there are 5 pages of authors and contributors. If you've ever written anything in a committee, you know that it tries to do everything, and really does nothing very well. For an example we can all relate to, the U.S. tax code was written by several committees. As for the book authors,  I'm sure they're all very smart and earnest people. You know who else is smart? Me. Better than that, I even know what interests my kids right now. I can adjust what we cover, and how I cover it based on that.

I feel that when a teacher gets too married to the book (especially in the social studies, where I teach), they sacrifice that ability to adjust. Also, they really stop "teaching". I understand in math and the sciences, where teachers are teaching more skill-based courses, that the book is full of examples, and that those go in an order that increases difficulty as they go, and that those examples are hard to construct on your own. However, when you're teaching ideas, and concepts, and facts (as we do in history, especially) tying yourself to the book is, in my opinion, lazy.

Additionally, I think you're just demonstrating that you don't think you got a very good education and/or you don't think you're very smart. If you defer to the book, aren't you in fact telling your kids that the book is smarter than you? Aren't you breeding a belief among the students that you aren't the expert? I think that you are, and I think that kids deserve to have teachers that they can honestly believe are the smartest person in the room. The smartest person in the room doesn't read out of the book. No child is inspired to learn more by a teacher that just walks in, opens the book, and has kids work out of the book. Teachers spend a lot of time learning their content, why should they give that up to a person who writes books? At the maximum, the book author is your peer, not your better. (as an aside, if you think that the book author is that much smarter than you, I don't want you teaching. You're part of the problem. Go greet people at Wal-Mart)

Being married to the book also breeds this idea that we should teach to just what's in the book. The book is full of good information, but there is so much more out there that we can use in the classroom. My geography class would be flat if I stuck to the book, but I can bring in information about blood diamonds or the civil war in Libya. These are topics that are in the news, that parents can talk about their kids with over dinner. In short, they make connections, and connections cement facts and ideas in the brain. That's right, connections=learning and learning=good.

I can already hear the objections. The biggest one is the Test. The Test material is covered by the book. We must teach to the almighty Test. That's fair, but when I look at my test scores, my kids scored best on the topics we covered without using the book at all. Why? Because those were activities that they connected to.

This problem gets even more exacerbating when teachers are writing their own tests.  Too often while building common assessments (teacher-talk for a test that all kids take, so that we can get "data"), people simply look at the book test bank and pick out questions. When you ask them why they pick those questions, they answer with a fairly blank stare and tell you that it's what's in the book.


No teacher would accept that as a defense on an essay question (imagine the AP reader who gets the DBQ that says, "Nixon's effect on American society was largely to create the modern distrust of politicians, ironically cementing a nation willing to elect far more radical Republicans that himself. The facts supporting this are clear, David Kennedy wrote them all in The American Pageant.). If I wouldn't take it from a kid,  why should I accept it as the reason to put a question on a test?

Teachers and test writers need to pick questions to assess whether or not students learned. I'm not talking about if they can recognize the most familiar answer or spit back trivia facts, like how many nations are in Europe, either. I want a test question that makes students think and judge between the possible answers. Now, in the modern era of reliance on multiple choice questions, that means that the questions are A) harder to write and 2) often might have multiple answers which are technically correct.

For those teachers who rigidly adhere to the book and the test bank, this is a crisis. Students will pick the basic answer, and then, when it is wrong the teacher will have to explain that it wasn't the best answer. This is hard, because it requires personal attention and thinking from both the student and the teacher. There might not be time to get all of the grading done in class. Some of it might have to come home. I hate to quote former co-workers, but the teacher might have to "do the job right".

Listen, I'm not saying that textbooks are bad. In fact, in my interviews this summer I always said the same thing when asked about the use of a text book. I said it was a nice tool. But that's all I think it should be. It should be alongside the Internet, a book of simulations, films, and writing assignments.

But when you get married to the book, when you refuse to write your own questions, or write first-level questions, and then fight for their inclusion on a test not because of the quality or importance of what they cover, but because they are from the book, I begin to lose respect for you.

So, in the future, person not reading this blog because you don't know that guy with the meshed up desk has a blog, don't ask me what chapter I'm in.

p.s. also don't defend the map points you want on the test by saying "But those are the points that are already on the map!" YOU ARE THE TEACHER. YOU DETERMINE WHAT IS IMPORTANT! (well, you and the standards, but definitely not the guy who made the map in the workbook!

also, if you didn't click that "smartest guy in the room" link, and you're affiliated with D49, I think you'll get a chuckle out of it, but I could be wrong.

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