Readers who have been with me from August 2009 know that I have mentioned writing a book on the linkages between policy and practice in technology, curriculum, and accountability; I posted pieces of my research, for example, on laptops in a school fictitiously-named Las Montanas (see here, here, and here). And there have been other posts as I have drafted and revised different parts of the book.
In this post, I quote from the Preface and some thoughts I had about writing Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice.
From the Preface:
I have written a great deal over the past 30 years on teaching, curriculum, school organization, technology, and reform. The topics are all interconnected. After all, reform-driven policymakers have sought to alter classroom practices for at least two centuries in the U.S. They have used structural reforms from the age-graded school to the non-graded school; from pushing new technologies into classrooms as the 19th century slate blackboard to the 21st century “smart” whiteboard. The same holds for curricular reform; late-19th century reformers established one academic curriculum for all students and then dumped it a quarter-century later for a differentiated curriculum tailored to their estimates of whether high school students would go directly into industrial and commercial jobs, take up white-collar occupations, or attend college. Then, yet again, 21st century policymakers returned to the Common Core standards for all U.S. schools. All of these and many more structural reforms in school governance, curriculum, organization, and technology aimed to change teaching practices and teacher lessons so that students would learn more, faster, and better. Then those students would complete college, get jobs, and make the nation a better place.
Over many years, I have developed these themes independently in books, articles, op-ed pieces and now in my twice-weekly blog. What I do in this book is draw together these separate themes about structural reforms, societal changes, the role of public schools in a democracy, and teaching in what I call the black box of the classroom. In my career as a teacher, administrator, superintendent, and scholar I have seen up close these connections between policy and practice; top-decision makers making policy decisions and first-grade teachers implementing those decisions; and societal conditions of poverty, inequality, and race influencing school practices and classroom lessons again and again.
I lay out the tangled nature of these reforms, analyze successes and failures, and offer my thinking on why the black box of classroom instruction has been largely impervious to structural reforms aimed at moving teaching practices from teacher-centered to student-centered, students from absorbing subject-matter to critical thinking and problem solving. Classroom lessons, however, have been, paradoxically largely stable, seldom fulfilling reformers’ ambitions.
In this book, I synthesize and connect my thinking about reform-driven policy making and classroom instruction; at the same time, I try to break new ground in understanding the contradiction of enormous structural change in U.S. public schools amid stability in teaching practices.
From the Acknowledgements section of the book:
I have found that no matter how many books I have completed starting a new one still gives me the jitters. Writing is both satisfying and frustrating, filled with surprises and disappointments. None of my books has come easily to me.
As I have gotten older, however, I have discovered that revising and crafting words, sentences, and paragraphs has become as satisfying as creating the questions that drive the book, formulating the arguments, collecting and analyzing evidence, and drawing conclusions. Although I still get a kick out of ensuring an internal consistency between questions, arguments, evidence, and conclusions what has surprised me is how much pleasure I get from finding the right word, fashioning vivid phrases that capture accurately an image or idea I want to convey, and rewriting paragraphs a third and fourth time. All of these and more I have experienced in writing this book.
Some additional thoughts. When I was younger, spilling words on pages that capture ideas I had and my experiences in teaching and administration–the creative part of writing–were the highs of writing that I savored. Organizing the sentences and paragraphs were, of course, necessary but it was closer, at least in my mind then, to mopping a dirty floor and cleaning up an untidy room: important but lacking adrenalin-rush of ideas and experiences spilling over page after page. That has changed.
This affection for the craft of the writing has developed slowly over the years and while I need the creative rush, it is artistry of composing and ordering language that now gives me the most satisfaction. I do not know if this is a pattern among aging writers of nonfiction but this is what I have noticed in my writing books over the decades.