Friday, June 20, 2008

Doing A Disservice To the Profession: Put Down Those Textbooks

What is the most important subject in a student's elementary education (and no, I'm not talking about their ability to test)? What I mean is, which single subject is most important to that child's development as a lifelong learner, with the ultimate goal of them graduating high school and either landing a nice job or going off to college?

Different schools of though obviously exist, but there seem to be two sides primarily to this. On one side, we have the math/science, and on the other, liberal arts (social studies mostly)/literacy (reading/writing). Now, I know that these subjects can all be seamlessly interwoven by the master teacher, but I'm obviously not quite there yet, so I do see these two sides of the coin.

From what I have seen, I have to believe that literacy is primary at an early age. Yes, math is important, but without those reading and writing skills, students will struggle all around, with math too. The weak math student can be a good reader, heck, that basically sums me up, I've learned the math that I need to know (which is increasing now that I'm pushing myself into the upper realms of my own education), but it never came naturally to me.

So there's my side of things, which in part explains why this blog exists. I work in a department (grade level) that has four teachers. I teach one of the general ed classrooms, along with two other teachers, and we also have a bilingual teacher that has a dual language classroom. My general education counterparts are both very new to the elementary classroom, one just completed their first year of teaching, and the other their first year at the elementary level.

It was very encouraging, what I saw from the new teacher. This person underwent a similar undergraduate education that I did, although at a different university. This person understands student choice, critical thinking through authentic literacy, and the importance of teacher read aloud, student read aloud, and silent reading all taken together.

The other teacher, the one with prior experience, but none at elementary, showcases a problem to me. This teacher went to college around 15 years ago, and teaches basically from textbooks all day every day. In fact, I gave this teacher each and every one of my reading textbooks, because I stay as far away as I possibly can from them. Textbooks symbolize a crutch to me in many ways. The material is there, just follow it, and you'll be fine.

That may largely be true, but are you truly doing your students justice by following a basal series? It was quite obvious that in the case of this teacher, no. Not only did various diagnostic data show much slower growth from that class as compared to mine, it was severely low in comparison, and I had the group of 'lower' readers.

I think I could go on for hours here, because I'm very passionate about what I do and have spoken out against the practices of my colleague and others who also teach this way. It's cheapening to the profession, if we wanted everyone to teach from textbooks, we could just hire some schmo from off the street and tell them to follow the script. I'm going to stop now, and just be happy that I got this out there.