The Curriculum Still Matters

We have a lot of teachers doing a lot of wonderful things in education right now.  As I’ve said before, through all the muck, we are making some amazing strides for our children.

Particularly in the realm of technology, where so many teachers are taking risks, learning new ways to teach content, and adopting new teaching strategies we couldn’t even imagine a decade ago.  I posted in early August after attending the ILE Conference in Ohio about my conversion to the belief in using technology to teach for the igeneration.  I still hold fast to my epiphany about the importance of technology and the ways in which the world is changing.  I still believe that if we continue to teach the way we always have, then we are teaching for a world that no longer exists.  Just a couple weeks ago, I commented on the question of research papers and their importance in this new digital age, and I’ve written repeatedly about the use of cell phones in the classroom.    So, yes, I consider myself a convert to the new world order.

Having said that, I have had some trepidation about jumping in to this inquiry-based Honors class.  In an inquiry-based classroom, the students get the opportunity to study topics that are of interest to them.  In my Honors class, the topics the kids choose must allow them to learn/know the content goals while showing that they know/can do the common standards.  This is where my anxiety derives–how can I make sure they are getting the depth of knowledge required of an honors student while studying their inquiry topics?  How can I ensure close reading when each student is reading his/her own choice of a text?  How can I make sure we are learning the curriculum with fidelity while exploring these inquiry topics?

The New York Times article “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores” argues that a classroom with all the bells and whistles fails to be a classroom when the curriculum is missing.  The sum of the argument is:

In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

I would agree that most schools are more willing to give up “special” classes (unfortunately, those like art and music) before they are willing to relinquish technologies.  When it comes to competition with other school districts and charter/private schools, having access to and providing students with access to modern technologies is a major selling point.  A parent is more apt to want his child in a school with 1-to-1 computing capabilities than a school with one desktop workstation per classroom.  When we follow the money (from state to district for per pupil spending), keeping and increasing the number of students is important to a district.

Sometimes, though, spending without the forethought for purpose and return on investment causes the problems discussed in the article.  What we have to keep in mind as we make changes in our schools is our purpose.  Is the technology a supplement to our curriculum, or is our curriculum a supplement to the technology.  Is raising our standardized test scores the center of our educational goals, or can the importance of those scores take a backseat to preparing 21st century members of society?

What I see as a result of new technologies, and the use of an inquiry-based approach in my Honors class, is students who are more engaged.  They are practicing skills that we, as adults, use all the time.  They are using tools that are familiar to them (or not, in which case, it is even more important to be exposing them to these tools), they are studying topics that are important to them, and communication with parents is already much easier than it has been for me in the past.  But it is still important to make the curriculum matter.  Throwing my kids on the Internet, telling them to research and figure something out with only guidance from me is not fulfilling the needs of a curriculum.  My job is not necessarily to “facilitate” (an all too familiar ideal these days), but to expose my kids to the necessary curricular materials and still work with them to meet learning goals.

What does this mean for my honors kids?  On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, when they have independent study time, I am making my way to each and every student to consult with them on their learning plans, read with them on texts appropriate to their study and reading abilities, talk one-on-one about reading the text closely, and raising the rigor expectation on an individualized basis.  I am not giving them a free-for-all class, I am keeping the curriculum and increasing engagement at the same time.

While there are so many amazing things happening for kids right now, we have to keep ensuring that our kids are reaching the basic expectations of their grade level counterparts.  Expecting technology and new strategies to do the work for us while we “facilitate” is a disservice to us as education professionals.

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