Category Archives: dilemmas of teaching

Revisiting Predictions about Technology Use in Classrooms

In 2009, I tried to peek around the corner and predict what classrooms and technologies use might look like in 2020. That post forecasted a few changes that I then saw emerging. So there is nothing magical about that or what I predicted. The questions I asked at the end of the post, however, I still believe are most relevant in 2021.

I offer this twelve year-old post simply because re-visiting what I predicted can keep one humble. I have been way off on many earlier forecasts and laughed at how narrowly I looked ahead to the spread of classroom technologies, especially during the 2020-2021 pandemic–a traumatic event that appared in no one’s crystal ball.

However, on a few occasions, I was accurate. At least in part.

I just read a list of high-tech tools that have become obsolete in the past decade (e.g., floppies, fax machines). I used many of these myself and remember junking them, saying to myself: hey, these were highly touted, I bought the second- or third-generation version and now I am dumping them (of course, in an ecologically correct manner). Still the number of high-tech machines and applications that hit their expiration date so quickly stunned me.

Then I read another list of high-tech predictions for 2020 that was equally entertaining about the future of schools, well, not schools as we know them in December 2010. This list posted by a high-tech enthusiast who yearns for a paperless society and totally customized instruction with smaller, greener schools tickled me because while I do agree with some of the items, others are, well, dreams. I have been reading such lists (here) for years with high-tech devices having different names but a glorious future just around the corner. Last year, I posted my predictions for high-tech in schools in 2020. Here is, in part, what I said in 2009.

“Clear trend lines for U.S. classrooms in the next decade are hand-held mobile devices (iPhone, Blackberry, e-book variations) and online learning (distance education).”

HANDHELDS

Handhelds will permit the digitizing of texts loaded on to the devices. Student backpacks will lighten considerably as $100 hardbound books become as obsolete as the rotary dial phone. Homework, text reviews for tests, and all of the teacher-assigned tasks associated with hardbound books will be formatted for small screens. Instead of students’ excuses about leaving texts in lockers, teachers will hear requests to recharge their Blackberries, iPhones, etc.

Based on current Twitter and other future social networking traffic, shorter and shorter messaging will also become a mainstay of teacher-student communication. Some sample Twitter messages:

*In a college course on consumer sciences, the professor asked his 250 students to post questions on Twitter. On the topic of car insurance for those under 25 years of age, a student asked: ‘What happens if you get married and then get divorced at 24? Would your insurance go up?’ ”

*In the same course, during an exam, a student tweeted a fellow student and asked for the answer to a question. Teacher caught the student because although the software said “anonymous” on the handheld, the name of the student showed up on the teacher’s screen.

ONLINE COURSES

Proponents talk about how this form of teaching and learning as a powerful innovation that will liberate learning from the confines of brick-and-mortar buildings. Estimates (and predictions) of online learning becoming the dominant form of teaching turn up repeatedly and, somehow, fade. Surely, there will always be students and adults drawn from rural, home schooled, and adult populations that will provide a steady stream of clients for online courses. Nonetheless, by 2020, well over 90 percent of public school students will be in places called schools going at least 180 days a year to self-contained classrooms where a teacher will be in charge.

The error that online champions make decade after decade (recall that distance learning goes back to the 1960s) is that they forget that schools have multiple responsibilities beyond literacy. Both parents and voters want schools to socialize students into community values, prepare them for civic responsibilities, and yes, get them ready for college and career. Online courses from for-profit companies and non-profit agencies cannot hack those duties and responsibilities.

So by 2020, uses of technologies will change some aspects of teaching and learning but schools and classrooms will be clearly recognizable to students’ parents and grandparents. Online instruction will continue to expand incrementally but will still be peripheral to regular K-16 schooling. End of prediction.”

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Of course, I could be just another one of those benighted folks who predicted that automobiles, planes, and television were mere hype and would never replace horse-drawn carriages, trains, and radio. Here is a list of those failed predictions to chuckle over as you ring in the new year.

Whatever your guesses are for next year or for 2020, the questions that need answers are not about the rapid expiration dates of the next newest device –including the “revolutionary” iPad–nor to what degree technology will be ubiquitous in home and school nor even how new technologies will be used by the next generation of teachers and students. No, those are not the questions that need to be asked.

Instead, fundamental questions have to deal with matters of educational philosophy–what knowledge is most worth? Why? What are the best ways of teaching and learning? These questions, in turn depend on broader moral and political questions about what is the “good” life and how does one live a useful and worthy life. When these questions are asked and answered then, and only then, can new technologies play their proper role in schools and classrooms.

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Critical Race Theory and Classroom Practice

First things first. To most Americans, how teachers teach and what they include in daily lessons once the classroom door is closed remains as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle.

Well, not quite since every American knows from childhood and teen years what a classroom is like, what teachers typically do, and how schools smell. Yet beyond remembrances of classroom lessons–not many, however, since memories of particular lessons disappear swiftly–there has been (and is) little direct observation of what elementary and secondary school teachers do in any of the many lessons they teach over the course of a school day. Hard to believe that what we know about teaching daily often comes from our dredged-up memories, what our children and friends’ children recount of their days in school, and, finally, rumors of what is taught and how it is taught. Moreover, not too much comes from educational researchers, except for occasional surveys of teaching practices (see here and here)

I state all of this because of the recent brouhaha over “critical race theory” being taught in classrooms. Instigated by mostly Republican national and state political leaders (see here and here), there is no there, there. Largely because there are no data, past or present, on what content teachers do actually teach daily in schools, districts, and states. Statements about actual teaching of the theory are no more than hot air and excited panting.

Sorry, but I have to repeat that: there are no data, past or present on what content teachers do actually teach daily in schools, districts, and states.

Finding teachers who have taught “critical race theory” is nearly impossible not because of fear but simply because it seldom appears in actual lessons.

Surely, teachers refer to state and district curriculum guides, use textbooks, and assign homework that give clues to what content and skills they include in their lessons, but beyond that, all we know is what teachers say they are teaching, students recollect from lessons, and administrators aver is being taught. And “critical race theory” whatever it is (see here and here), rarely, if at all, enters teachers’ vocabulary much less the content of a lesson. In the hundreds of classrooms I have observed in the Bay area over 20 years, maybe one, perhaps two, came even close to mentioning or discussing it in a lesson.

Many times in the past have deep cultural splits among Americans, in this instance about race, been fought out within the nation’s public schools (see here and here). Until evidence of teaching practices are collected about whether or not or to what degree “critical race theory” is taught in U.S. schools, the current hysteria about the theory being actually taught is no more than another instance of political bluster wrapped around another educational kerfuffle.

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A Year Behind the Mask: As This School Year Draws to a Close, Educators Reflect on Teaching without Face Time (Colleen Connolly)

Colleen Connolly is a freelance multmedia journalist. She interviewed a group of teachers about their classroom experiences using face masks. This appeared on Chalkbeat, Jun 4, 2021.

Heather Meier teaches band to students in 6th to 8th grades in the St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colorado

Band practice in Heather Meier’s middle school class looked quite a bit different this last year than it did in the past. First of all, she estimates that the class of sixth graders was about half the size it usually is. “There might have been some parents who were like, ‘no, that doesn’t seem like a good idea this year,’” Meier said.

Students and staff in the St. Vrain Valley School District in Firestone, Colorado, had to wear masks at all times while at school — including when they were playing their instruments. Luckily, scientists at the nearby University of Colorado Boulder conducted a study last fall about aerosols and instruments, and their findings helped Meier come up with ways to teach students in person safely.

Flutes could slide through the side of a mask, though it was a lot harder to play that way. For the rest of the wind instrument players, Meier cut small slits into surgical masks — just big enough to fit the instrument through. Bell covers were placed over horns or other openings to prevent COVID from spreading that way.

The safety measures worked out relatively well, but sometimes Meier had to revert back to video, particularly when it came to assessment. “So much of learning a band instrument is being able to see the way your lips and your mouth are shaped to make the instruments work, to make sure they aren’t playing it incorrectly or forming bad habits,” she said.

The school district hasn’t announced whether masks will be required next year, but Meier hopes it will be safe enough to go without — unless kids are feeling sick. Now that they have the bell covers and special masks, she wonders if they should keep them around for occasional use.

“I was in Japan a couple years ago as part of a band thing, and the culture of mask-wearing as a courtesy to others is kind of a nice thing,” she said. “I’d be OK if that stuck around. But I certainly hope that if enough people are vaccinated, and it’s safe to do so, it would be nice to teach band in a way that is more rewarding for the kids.”

Kathryn Vaughn teaches art to pre-K to 5th graders at Brighton Elementary in Covington, Tennessee

One of the only problems Kathryn Vaughn encountered from wearing a mask as an elementary art teacher was that her students couldn’t always hear her. The mask muffled her voice.

But early on in the pandemic, she had an exchange on Twitter with Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s daughter. The two started talking, and Cash ended up sending Vaughn supplies for her classroom, as well as a microphone and headset. Problem solved.

“I look like Britney Spears when I’m teaching, which is amazing,” Vaughn said.

Over the last year, the bigger issue for Vaughn has been the mask policy in her school district in Covington, Tennessee. At the start of the school year last August, all students and staff were required to wear masks. A few months later, they dropped the mandate. By December, cases were climbing rapidly, and it was reinstated. Then two weeks before the school year ended, the district revoked the mask mandate again.

Vaughn, who was vaccinated in January, said she wishes they would have kept the mask mandate the whole year. It would have made her feel safer, and it also would have given some uniformity to the rules for her students. As soon as the mandate was lifted, almost no one wore masks voluntarily in the school, she said.

“The kids were telling other kids, ‘you don’t have to wear that anymore, we’re not doing that,’” Vaughn said. “And I was like, ‘well, you could do that if you want to protect yourself because you’re not vaccinated. Let’s not judge other people’s choices.’”

The day after she received her first vaccine dose, Vaughn found out she was pregnant. She still wears a mask as a precaution and plans to do so at the start of the next school, even though she doesn’t expect the district to go back to requiring it.

“I don’t ever want to teach through a pandemic again, but my major thing was I knew I could keep myself as safe as possible by keeping my mask on and keeping my window open and ventilating my room with air,” she said.

Christina Sarraino teaches students with social and emotional challenges at Lorain High School in Lorain, Ohio,

Before the pandemic, Christina Sarraino was used to running up and down three flights of stairs at Lorain High School several times a day. But what was once moderate exercise between classes became almost “suffocating” in a mask, she said.

“(The mask) really does make a difference, but I don’t want to take it off and make a big deal about it because then they do,” she said, referring to her students.

Sarraino is an intervention specialist who teaches high schoolers with social and emotional challenges. Some of them have intellectual disabilities or autism, too. For Sarraino, one of the hardest parts about teaching in-person this year was enforcing mask use.

“We did have a couple meltdowns because of the face masks to be quite honest,” she said. “We had kids with sensory issues, and the mask irritates that. I would try to explain why we’re doing it: to protect you, to protect your family, to protect our families. Explaining all of that and trying to get to academics and their social and emotional needs, with everything going on, was difficult.”

Sarraino was diligent about keeping her own mask on at all times, but she found she had to make compromises with her students, allowing them breaks without the masks to eat snacks and drink water as long as they were at least six feet apart.

Her district has not made a decision about whether they will require masks next year. In the meantime, Sarraino is encouraging her students to get vaccinated if they are eligible and hoping that the possibility of a mask-free year next year will be an incentive.

“I teach science generally,” Sarraino said, “and we try our best through science to really dispel any of the conspiracy theories that we hear — and we hear quite a few — to try to get the kids to not be afraid of the vaccinations.”

Sharity Keith, 11th and 12th grade teacher, at Boca Ciega High School, St. Petersburg, Florida

After nearly 20 years of teaching, Sharity Keith planned to make a career change last year. But when the pandemic closed everything down, she decided to stay for one more year, teaching reading to 11th and 12th graders who failed Florida’s state assessment and needed to catch up.

Since the beginning of the school year, Keith has simultaneously taught students remotely on video and in-person in the classroom, which essentially doubled her work — to 70 and 80 hours a week at times. Talking so much through a mask every day left her voice permanently hoarse, she said. In the beginning, she was so fearful of catching COVID that she wouldn’t take her mask off at all at school, meaning she didn’t eat or drink water until she got home. Keith said she loves teaching and may come back to it, but this year left her exhausted.

“I wouldn’t say the pandemic is why I’m leaving,” Keith said, “but I think the pandemic has highlighted for me what I already knew, which is that teaching is simply not valued by the community.”

Boca Ciega High School in St. Petersburg, where Keith teaches, required students and staff to wear masks all year. Keith was grateful for that, but the masks added another layer of challenges. Many of her students are English language learners, and the masks made it harder for them to understand each other. Some of them eventually stopped showing up, she said.

Keith also teaches phonics to some students, and she found it difficult to enunciate through her mask and exaggerate the sounds: mmmaaa, bbbbaaa, pppaaa. “For a lot of my kids, it was like, ‘this is embarrassing,’” Keith said. “‘Here I am at the age that I am and this is what we’re doing.’”

Keith did her best to keep up their spirits by making jokes and celebrating when they passed their tests, but motivating them was a constant challenge. Caring for herself was, too. By the end of the year, she was comfortable enough to take her mask off to eat a little bit at school, but her voice is still not back to normal, despite regularly using throat spray to soothe it.

“I don’t think I’m going to talk at all this summer,” she joked.

Yvette Andino is a bilingual school counselor at two public schools in Queens, NY

One of the biggest parts of Yvette Andino’s job as a school counselor in Queens is showing kids what emotions look like as facial expressions. This last year, Andino worked with some students virtually and others in person, where masks were mandatory.

“There are some emotions I couldn’t show with my mask, like anger and sadness or the surprised feeling or shocked feeling,” Andino said. “You kind of form your mouth like an ‘O,’ like ‘oh, shoot’ or ‘oh, man.’ That was really hard for them to learn.”

Andino works primarily with elementary students who speak English and Spanish. Some of them are on the autism spectrum or have speech impairments. For these students, she had to get creative. Working with them in-person, Andino showed videos or drew pictures. If that failed, she stood 12 feet away from them in her office and briefly lowered her mask to show her own facial expression. She tried using a clear face shield in the beginning, but they gave her tension headaches and weren’t as effective as masks at stopping the spread of COVID.

For many of Andino’s students, it took three times as long as it normally would for them to learn how to recognize and understand certain emotions, but they eventually got there, she said.

In New York City public schools, face masks will still be required at the beginning of the next school year, officials have said, but guidelines are changing all the time. If given the choice to wear a mask, Andino is not sure what she would do.

“I would love to live in a world without masks,” she said, “but if it is for safety and it’s an option, I think I would ask the students. Some will straight out tell me they prefer masks or they prefer I show them my facial expression. They’ll tell you if they’re comfortable or not.”

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Teaching in Charter Schools (Part 2)

I observed a math classroom at another Summit charter school. Here is what I recorded in my notes.

The Precalculus class began at 10:40 and ended at 12:15. Ethan Edwards is in his third year of teaching at Summit. He was a math major at University of California, Santa Cruz and got his credential to teach at the University of California, Davis before coming to Summit. He, like other Summit teachers who have been at the high school beyond one year float to different classrooms in the building; first-year teachers have one classroom the entire day. So at the beginning of the block 2 class, he and a few students are shoving tables into rows facing the front to get ready for his class. Four tables sitting two students each in three rows accommodated the 24 students who arrived. Like all Summit classrooms, there was an LCD projector and screen at front of room that showed slides as the teacher clicked keys.

The agenda for the day is on the screen.

“* Warm Up Analysis

* Essay Overview

*Independent work time + workshop

*Goal: finish paragraph

*Reflection”

Since the class will be visiting University of California, Davis for the next two days, Edwards flashes slides of buildings at Davis that they will see. He asked students to turn in forms for trip later in the day. He explains the housing arrangements–4 students to a room. There were ripples of excitement and nervousness about the trip, especially after he announced that there will be four students to each car in driving to Davis. Students look around, start signaling one another to share same car. Edwards says:  “I can feel the tension in the room over who I will be with in car for the trip.” That lowers the murmuring and tension. There were a few questions from students. He reassures students by saying that it is a short car trip to the university. Teacher then segues to lesson.

“I want to talk about how we are going to predict tuition increases through 2020 from the data set I gave you. We will be doing scatter plots and writing different regression equations.” Edwards proceeds to explain the making of regression curves (linear, exponential, and polynominal)–the central point of the lesson–using the white board as he writes down key concepts. He goes over “key features” of such data and equations and how it gets displayed as outliers, intercepts,slope, rate of growth, and residuals. In every instance, he defines them and brings into the explanation particular students who respond to his choral questions (these are questions directed to the entire class and have no student name attached either before or after the question is asked).   Students do contribute. Teacher draws on the white board examples of each concept thereby defining the terms for class. He brings the explanation of what students will work on to a close, saying: “So, I just talked a lot about some high level stuff.” He asks, “Are there any questions?” No one asks a question.

Teacher then turns to spread sheet of data on tuition costs for two schools. “So you are going to look at how to use this spreadsheet to come up with functions to predict increases in tuition costs through 2020.” He passes out data set and asks students to pair with partner to go through the data.

Before students open their Chromebooks to look at spreadsheets and begin work, Edwards goes over with whole group, step-by-step, how they are to create a linear regression equation. Does same for exponential and then polynominal equations. During his explanation, he asks choral questions of class to check for understanding. A few students respond to each query. When hearing one or two responses that match the question, he picks up on the answer and continues the explanation. After he finishes going over the three regression equations, he asks: “are there any questions about how to use the data spreadsheet to create these equations?”

No student asks a question.

He returns to explaining where students should input data. He then directs students to open their Chromebooks.

“I am going to give you guys 30 minutes to start to work in pairs on spreadsheet to make proper equations.” He discusses due date for when they will turn in their work.

For next 30 minutes Edwards moves up and down aisles to answer questions, check on what each student is doing, and help individual students who are having trouble with task. At this point I had leave the classroom because of another appointment elsewhere in the school.

How typical are these two lessons of charter school teaching? Reviewing studies of charter school teaching over the years, I do believe they are typical of the range of lessons I have observed. Were there awful lessons (e.g., teacher had little control of the students during the lesson, the content of the lesson was well below what students could achieve, much incoherence in and ill-organization of lesson)? Not at all. I did see a few such lessons but overall, the level of competent teaching I observed was about the same as I have observed in regular public school classrooms. Keep in mind, however, that charter school teachers have a much larger band of autonomy in which to author and implement lessons in their classrooms. That increased discretion available to charter school teachers surely appeared in some instances but, overall, given my limited observations, less than I would have predicted.

What evidence there is beyond my observations says that with even more teacher autonomy and flexibility in charter schools there is little difference between their classroom practices and peers in public schools. Researchers who examined studies of pedagogy across charter and non-charter schools concluded that:

as charter schools implement innovations in governance, management, and other organizational practices, charter schools are embracing curricular and instructional approaches already in use (original italics)in other public schools that are considered as traditional ‘basic’ approaches to instruction (Goldring-Cravens_2006).

Such findings leave holes in the ambitious theory embedded in charter schools. Like their counterparts in regular public schools, charter school teachers mainly use teacher-centered classroom practices such as lectures, scripted lessons, textbooks, worksheets, homework, question/answer/evaluation exchanges seasoned by certain student-centered practices such as small group work, student discussions, project-based learning, internships, and independent learning.

Keep in mind that when I use the phrase “teacher-centered” and “student-centered” instruction I do not infer that such teaching practices are either appropriate or inappropriate, effective or ineffective. I am reporting what many researchers, including myself, have documented in classrooms.

When one looks at Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) where all 109 elementary and secondary schools in 20 states serving over 30,000 students are charters, teaching approaches are  unmistakably teacher-centered. KIPP is not, of course, representative of all charter schools in its teaching practices. Aspire, Green Dot, and other charter management organizations have schools in their networks where teaching practices vary considerably but still work within the tradition of teacher-centeredness.

Note that these elementary and secondary school charters are geared to preparing children and youth for college. That is their unvarnished mission. College prep begins early in these charter elementary and secondary schools; frontal teaching, direct instruction, extended day, and no-nonsense approaches to student behavior are the norm. So any variation among teachers in different networks of charter schools falls within a narrow band of teacher-centered practices—again when I use that phrase I do not suggest that such practices are neither appropriate nor inappropriate, neither effective nor ineffective.

Until more evidence comes from direct observation of lessons in charter schools, teaching practices in charters and public schools appear more similar than different. To the degree that teaching practices shape student achievement, such results throw doubt upon the effects charter schools have upon students.

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I Taught Online School This Year. It Was a Disgrace (Lelac Almagor)

Lelac Almagor (@MsAlmagor) is in her 18th year of classroom teaching; she teaches fourth grade at a public charter school in Washington, D.C. This essay appeared in the New York Times, June 16, 2021.

Our prepandemic public school system was imperfect, surely, clumsy and test-crazed and plagued with inequities. But it was also a little miraculous: a place where children from different backgrounds could stow their backpacks in adjacent cubbies, sit in a circle and learn in community.

At the diverse Washington, D.C., public charter school where I teach, and which my 6-year-old attends, the whole point was that our families chose to do it together — knowing that it meant we would be grappling with our differences and biases well before our children could tie their own shoes.

Then Covid hit, and overnight these school communities fragmented and segregated. The wealthiest parents snapped up teachers for “microschools,” reviving the Victorian custom of hiring a governess and a music master. Others left for private school without a backward glance.

Some middle-class parents who could work remotely toughed it out at home, checking in on school between their own virtual meetings. Those with younger kids or in-person jobs scraped together education and child care — an outdoor play pod or a camp counselor to supervise hours of Zoom classes. With schools closed, the health risks and child care hours didn’t disappear. They simply shifted from well-educated, unionized, tax-funded professional teachers to hourly-wage, no-benefit workers serving only those who could afford to pay.

The families with the fewest resources were left with nothing. No child care, only the pallid virtual editions of essential services like occupational or speech therapy.

If they could work out the logistics, their kids got a couple of hours a day of Zoom school. If they couldn’t, they got attendance warnings. In my fourth-grade class, I had students calling in from the car while their mom delivered groceries, or from the toddler room of their mom’s busy day care center.

Home alone with younger siblings or cousins, kids struggled to focus while bouncing a fussy toddler or getting whacked repeatedly on the head with a foam sword. Others lay in bed and played video games or watched TV. Many times each day, I carefully repeated the instructions for a floundering student, only to have them reply, helplessly, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” their audio squealing and video freezing as they spoke.

Even under optimal conditions, virtual school meant flattening the collaborative magic of the classroom into little more than an instructional video. Stripped of classroom discussion, human connection, art materials, classroom libraries, time and space to play, virtual school was not school; it was busywork obscuring the “rubber-rooming” of the entire school system.

Some educators sneered that the parents who complained just wanted free babysitting. But I’m not ashamed to say that child care is at the heart of the work I do. I teach children reading and writing, yes, but I also watch over them, remind them to be kind and stay safe, plan games and activities to help them grow. Children deserve attentive care. That’s the core of our commitment to them.

I am still bewildered and horrified that our society walked away from this responsibility, that we called school inessential and left each family to fend for itself. Meanwhile nurses, bus drivers and grocery workers all went to work in person — most of my students’ parents went to work in person — not because it was safe but because their work is essential. Spare me your “the kids are all right” Facebook memes. Some children may have learned to do laundry or enjoy nature during the pandemic. Many others suffered trauma and disconnection that will take years to repair.

I don’t know the first thing about public health. I won’t venture an opinion on what impact the school closures had on controlling the spread of Covid. What I do know is that the private schools in our city quickly got to work upgrading HVAC systems, putting up tents, cutting class sizes and rearranging schedules so that they could reopen in relative safety. Public schools in other states and countries did the same.

More of our public school systems should have likewise moved mountains — repurposed buildings, reassigned staff, redesigned programming, reallocated funding — to offer consistent public schooling, as safely as possible, to all children.

Instead we opened restaurants and gyms and bars while kids stayed home, or got complicated hybrid schedules that many parents turned down because they offered even less stability than virtual school. Even now, with vaccinations rising and case rates dropping, some families remain reluctant to send their kids back to us in the fall. I can’t help thinking that’s because we broke their trust.

Does virtual learning work for some kids, in some circumstances? Sure. So does home-schooling, or not attending school at all. But I am profoundly relieved that most districts, including my own, plan to shut down or restrict the online option.

I hope this means that we are renewing our collective commitment to true public education. Just as before, we will have to fight to make our schools safer, more equitable and more flexible. Just as before, coming together will be messy and complicated. Children, families and teachers will all need time to rebuild relationships with our institutions.

But we’ll be back together, in the same building, eating the same food. We’ll find that the friend who helps us in the morning might need our help in the afternoon. We’ll have soccer arguments at recess and patch them up in closing circle. We’ll sing songs, tell stories, plant seeds and watch them grow. That’s schooling in real life. That’s what public school is for.

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Whatever Happened to Teaching Grammar?

Like cursive writing, the formal teaching of grammar was a mainstay in elementary school language arts and secondary school English programs since the founding of tax-supported public schools in the early 19th century. The history of teaching grammar rules and how students should talk and write go back to ancient Greece and Rome and subsequent centuries in Europe and, of course, the 13 colonies under British rule in the 17th and 18th centuries.

No more.

While many school districts in the U.S. have teachers who continue to teach grammar and syntax in connection with writing, especially in those districts committed to following Common Core curriculum standards, grammar instruction, especially memorizing rules and diagramming sentences, has faded from classroom lessons over the past half-century. How come?

This post provides a partial answer to that question.

When did grammar instruction in public schools begin?

Even before the colonies shed British rule, grammar instruction was a staple of private academies and the earliest “public” schools in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the Revolutionary War, schools relied upon grammar instruction as a key part of the school curriculum. One survey, for example, of texts used in New York state schools in 1804 showed:

13 spelling, 28 reading, 16 grammar, and one composition textbook were being used in the state’s schools. By 1832, there were 45 spelling, 102 reading, 48 grammar, and five composition textbooks in use. Of these, five spellers, ten readers, and three grammars were thought to be in general use by significant numbers of teachers

What problems does grammar instruction seek to solve?

For centuries there have been rules for how children and adults should speak and write. Speaking and writing incorrectly, that is, breaking the formal rules, were signs of poor child rearing and inadequate education. Acquiring the knowledge and skills of appropriate speaking and writing became a mark of both a superior education and social class standing. It was the job of public school teachers to teach the young standard ways of speaking and writing as solutions to inexorable changes in the labor market, culture, and society. Language was always a social marker and getting labeled as speaking and writing improperly was for many Americans in the late-19th through the 20th century, a stigma. Knowing and using mainstream grammar rules helped many move up the socioeconomic ladder.

What does grammar instruction in elementary and secondary schools look like?

One teacher uses a pizza design to get at parts of speech for seventh and eighth graders:

For those schools implementing Common Core curriculum standards, there is emphasis on writing, say, narrative, argumentative, and information essays. Then there is familiar kinds of grammar rules lodged within these standards. Here is a sampling of ninth grade standards for grammar instruction:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1.a
Use parallel structure.*

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1.b
Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2.c
Spell correctly.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3.a
Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual (e.g., MLA Handbook, Turabian’s Manual for Writers) appropriate for the discipline and writing type….

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9-10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4.a
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence, paragraph, or text; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4.b
Identify and correctly use patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or parts of speech (e.g., analyze, analysis, analytical; advocate, advocacy).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4.c
Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning, its part of speech, or its etymology….

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5.a
Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5.b
Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

A brief look at the elementary school worksheets teachers used to teach grammar suggest the thrust of grammar instruction during these decades.

Does grammar instruction work?

While grammar continued to be taught formally in elementary and secondary schools, scholars and professional organizations often published studies and statements that made clear how teaching grammar in of itself had little to no effect on students’ use of language and writing.

See, for example, the 1963 statement of the National Councilof English Teachers:

In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms: the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing (p. 37).

In 1984, George Hillocks published a meta-analsis of studies on the teaching of grammar. He concluded:

The study of traditional school grammar (i.e., the definition of parts of speech, the parsing of sentences, etc.) has no effect on raising the quality of student writing. Every other focus of instruction examined in this review is stronger. Taught in certain ways, grammar and mechanics instruction has a deleterious effect on student writing. In some studies a heavy emphasis on mechanics and usage (e.g., marking every error) results in significant losses in overall quality. School boards, administrators, and teachers who impose the systematic study of traditional school grammar on their students over lengthy periods of time in the name of teaching writing do them a gross disservice that should not be tolerated by anyone concerned with the effective teaching of good writing.

Nonetheless, with the inclusion of grammar in the English Core Curriculum standards since 2010, instruction in the rule driven content, downsized and harnessed to improved writing, continues.

To what extent does grammar instruction continue in U.S. schools?

The isolated teaching of grammar rules for writing and speaking has declined greatly (e.g., diagramming sentences).

But the integrating of grammar into writing in elementary school lessons in language arts and secondary school English classes continues, spurred by the Common Core curriculum standards and the huge amount of research findings on the futility of teaching grammar rules divorced from writing.

I wanted to close this post with a survey of teachers who continue to incorporate grammar into their lessons but I have yet to find any recent poll of U.S. teachers and the degree to which they teach grammar.

If any readers know of such surveys of teaching practices in elementary and secondary classrooms, please contact me.

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Why Has Teacher-Directed Instruction Largely Remained Stable over the Past Century? (Part 4)

This series of post examined the remarkable stability over time of certain teaching practices that I have labeled, teacher-directed instruction. What I offer is an explanation, not a verifiable fact, about this dominant pattern of classroom teaching in public schools over the past century. I ended the previous post with a question:

Do these schools and teaching practices, shaped as they are politically, culturally, and educationally, meet the needs of the larger society which initially established and have continually supported tax-supported public schools?

No surprise that my answer is yes. After all, since the beginning of tax-supported public schools in the early decades of the 19th century, taxpayers and voters (once only white males but in 2021 inclusive of anyone meeting the age requirement), public schools, criticized as they have been decade after decade, nonetheless remain a prized community institution in rural, suburban, and urban America. In this post, I want to elaborate why I answer ” yes” to the question. I lean heavily upon the work of historians of education, David Tyack and David Labaree.

What David Tyack called the “Grammar of Schooling,” that is, the combination of the age-graded school organization shaping both teacher and student behavior and what the larger society expects of its public schools–a point that David Labaree stresses–explains the long-term practices of teacher-directed classrooms–which can also be called the “grammar of instruction.”

I want to unpack the above sentences.

Because it is taken-for-granted, as common as the air we breathe and seemingly as essential to schooling Americans as solid sleeping is to decent health, few reform-minded policymakers, practitioners, donors, researchers, and parents challenge the age-graded school organization and its daily grammar of instruction including teacher-directed instruction. Let me explain.

Since the late 19th century, the age-graded school (e.g., K-5, K-8, 6-8, 9-12) has become the mainstay of school organization in the 21st century. Today, most taxpayers, voters, and readers of this blog have gone to kindergarten at age 5, studied Egyptian mummies in the 6th grade, took algebra in the 8th or 9th grade and then left 12th grade with a diploma. In proceeding through their student careers, Americans experienced teacher-directed instruction as the way to teach lessons.

If any school reform–in the sense of making fundamental changes in organization, curriculum, and instruction–can be considered a “success” it is the age-graded school and its grammar of instruction. In providing access to all children and youth, longevity as a reform, and global pervasiveness, the age-graded school is a stellar success.

Think about its longevity–the first age-graded structure of eight classrooms appeared in Quincy (MA) in the late 1840s. Within a half-century, it had begun to replace one-room schoolhouses in urban and rural schools.

Or consider access. Between 1850-1913, over 30 million Europeans crossed the Atlantic and settled in the U.S. The age-graded school and its underlying grammar of instruction have not only enrolled millions of students over the past century and a half, assimilating immigrants into Americans, sorting out achievers from non-achievers, and now graduating over eighty percent of those entering high school, but also been the accepted way that a school must be.

Why have most U.S. school reformers, donors, and educational entrepreneurs been reluctant to examine an organization and its enduring ways of teaching generation after generation that influences daily behavior of nearly 4 million adults and well over 50 million children or one-sixth of all Americans in the early 21st century? Surely, habit and tradition play a part in the longevity of the age-graded school and its accompanying teacher-directed instruction. The lack of recognizable and durable alternatives that have been around sufficiently long to compete with the prevailing model is another reason for its spectacular stability.

What is too often ignored in explaining the durability of the embedded grammar of schooling in the age-graded organization, however, is the widely shared social beliefs among parents, educators, and taxpayers about what a “real” school is. After all, nearly all U.S. adults—save for the tiny number who are home schooled—have attended both public and private age-graded schools. Learning how and when to take turns, listening to the teacher, following the prescribed curriculum, reading textbooks, doing homework, taking tests–all of that abides within the grammar of schooling. Adding, subtracting, and multiplication are learned in primary grades, the nation’s history in 4th, 5th , 8th , and 11th grades is what a school is and does. Teacher-directed instruction and age-graded schools are American as apple pie and the Thanksgiving holiday.

This scaffolding of tradition–nearly two centuries of age-graded schools–powerful social beliefs among policymakers and parents about what “real schools” should be, and multiple public and private goals for tax-supported schools combine to make the “grammar of schools” and its teacher-directed instruction seemingly invulnerable to alternative ways of organizing schools and teaching lessons.

Consider the spread of charter schools in cities (e.g., New Orleans, 93 percent of schools; Detroit, 55 percent; Washington, D.C., 46 percent),  where charter advocates are free to organize the school, governance, curriculum, and instruction, nearly all are age-graded (see here for one exception).

The grammar of schooling with its teacher-directed instruction as the norm, then, is historical, ubiquitous, and thoroughly accepted by Americans as the primary way of schooling children since the late-19th century. It does (and did) meet two essential requirements of the U,S, system of schooling. First, the age-graded school and its grammar of schooling achieved the social aims of tax-supported schools, that is, fulfilling American ideals of individual liberty, equality and merit) and, second, providing a practical and efficient way of moving millions of students through a system that supports the larger economy by signaling which students in school can go on to higher education and which enter the job market upon graduation (see here and here).

So this is why I believe that U.S. age-graded schools, their grammar of schooling including teacher-directed instruction, shaped as both are (and have been) historically, politically, culturally, and educationally, have met (and continue to do so) the needs of the larger society on being legitimate and eminently practical in achieving American social aims. And that, to me, explains the extraordinary stability of teacher-directed instruction.

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Why Has Teacher-Directed Instruction Remained Largely Stable over the Past Century? (Part 3)

The answers I provide for why classroom practices have remained largely stable over decades, even when counting modest changes teachers have made in routine activities, are hardly exhaustive. Nonetheless, these answers cover the major ones offered in the literature on school reform.

*What keeps teacher-directed instruction largely stable are teaching traditions dating back centuries that are reinforced by those who enter and stay in teaching, supported by popular social beliefs, and fortified by the age-graded school structure.

Moreover since the nature of teaching is conservative—i.e., transmitting knowledge, skills, and values to the young—the occupation has attracted people who believed that such practices were not only socially responsible but also worked for them when they were students.

Historical traditions of teacher-directed instruction to transfer knowledge, skills, and values from one generation to another stretch back millennia.  Former students who decide to become teachers pick up instructional habits they saw in their teachers and then incorporate them into their teaching the next generation. Traditional forms of teaching persisted not only through habit but also because teachers and parents viewed these practices as both efficient and effective. Furthermore, district and principal authority curb teacher authority outside the classroom.  No teacher, for example, can tell a student that the class is too large and must go to another teacher. 

Thus, the age-graded school with self-contained classrooms, a curriculum delivered to students chunk-by-chunk, annual tests, and yearly promotion to next grade governed teachers and students. This structure arose during the industrialization and urbanization of the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries and remains the dominant form for organizing schooling in the 21st century.

Once teachers close their doors, however, district and principal power over the teacher wane. While the age-graded school structure surely limits teacher discretion, self-contained classrooms permit teachers to exert a constrained autonomy. Teachers rule over their classrooms.

For example, teachers determine how to manage a crowd of students; they decide on which lessons they will continue to teach and which they change; they choose to use old technologies and try out new ones; they experiment with new materials while using ones that had worked in earlier lessons; they engage students in familiar activities and switch to different ones they discovered or learned about. This age-graded structure does permits limited autonomy for both stability and change to co-exist in the same classroom but at the same time isolates and insulates teachers from one another hampering collaboration across grades and departments.

Historic traditions of teaching renewed each generation by those who learned those traditions as students and now teach in age-graded classrooms are further fortified by popular beliefs held by large proportions of taxpayers and voters about teaching and learning in a “real school” (Metz real schools). Most Americans believe that a “real school” is where teachers teach in age-graded, self-contained classrooms (e.g., first graders learn to read; 8th and 9th graders take algebra) and where children and youth do what they are told. That is how students learn. Such beliefs sustain traditional forms of teaching, grant a limited amount of autonomy to teachers, and keep a complex system of many interacting parts working day in and day out.

Thus, traditional teaching, the people who enter teaching, the age-graded school, and pervasive social beliefs about what “real” teaching and “real” schools are combine to explain perennial stability in classroom practice periodically seasoned by teacher-crafted changes.

*What has kept (and keeps) classroom practice largely stable has been teacher resistance to reform.

Teacher resistance can be both active and passive: (1) many teachers actively prize what they do daily in classrooms and believe, for example, that teacher-centered instruction is more effective than student-centered instruction and judge efforts to use a new technology or curriculum to transform one to the other as uninformed. (2) Teachers resist by being minimally compliant and making small changes or do as little as possible short of insubordination because altering classroom routines substantially demand far too much teacher time, energy, and skills, given the onerous workplace conditions—class size, schedules, support staff—and the predispositions of those entering teaching. Active or passive teacher resistance keeps classroom practice on an even keel.

* What keeps teaching stable are fundamental errors in policymaker, beliefs, thinking, and actions in designing and converting policies into classroom practice.

The fundamental error in thinking policymakers make is two-fold. They believe that redesigning, dumping, or replacing key school structures—governance, organization, and curriculum–will alter teacher instruction and student learning. Secondly, they believe that public schools and classrooms are complicated not complex systems.

As a result of these beliefs, many policymakers approach structural change like mechanical engineers in designing solutions to solve system problems in schools and classrooms. They see systems as complicated structures that can broken down into discrete segments and re-engineered through algorithms and flow charts to perfection—like piloting a Boeing 737–rather than as a complex, dynamic, and yes, messy, multi-level system—structure of the aircraft, air traffic controllers adapting constantly to varying weather conditions, aircraft downtime, and daily peak arrivals/departures of flights.

Surely there are structures and patterns of behavior in helping professions such as medicine, social work, and education. And just as surely these complex systems contain much uncertainty and unpredictability as hundreds of interacting and interdependent relationships and events at each level of the system (e.g., classroom, school, district) respond in varying ways to an ever-shifting environment. Unintended consequences (e.g. the accumulation of individual teacher decisions about new science lessons across the district meant that only 55 percent of teachers used newly-prescribed materials) lead to unexpected outcomes (e.g., science test scores go down). Re-engineering complex organizations like schools to alter classroom patterns of teaching and learning is doomed to failure.

Policymakers treating school system structures like clock-work gears and cogs issue directives seeking school and classroom reforms. They believe that administrators and practitioners will carry out these marching orders as directed in flow charts and policy manuals. Too many loose connections, unmapped but interdependent relationships, unpredictable events, and ambiguous directives combine into a web-like complex system confounding what policymakers seek, what administrators request, and what teachers end up doing.

So even within the complex system of K-12 schooling where much remains unpredictable and interdependent, one oasis of stability remains in practices that classroom teachers have used for decades constantly adapting these practices to each generation of students that sit at their desks and listen to person in charge.

Even these photos plus the above explanations leave a deeper question unanswered.

Do these schools and teaching practices, shaped as they are politically, culturally, and educationally meet the needs of the larger society which initially established and have continually supported tax-supported public schools?

That question ties together the history of change and stability of teacher-directed classroom practices and the persistence of a grammar of schooling to what society expects from and is willing to pay for mass public schooling. Part 4 answers that question.

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How Has Teacher-Directed Instruction Changed over the Past Century? (Part 2)

Yes, even traditional teaching in public schools has changed. Incremental alterations in teacher-directed lessons have occurred over the past century. In the technologies used during lessons, managing student behaviors in large to small groups, crafting in-class assessments, and many other instances of common teaching practice, teachers have adapted and adopted innovations that have altered their teaching.

These incremental changes, however, are not the fundamental shifts in teaching that Progressive, constuctivist, and student-centered learning boosters have sought over the past century. Except in scattered classrooms and schools across the country, some teachers and principals have created fundamentally different classroom practices, say, from teacher-directed to student-driven (see here, here, and here), but most classrooms in the U.S.–or anywhere else in the world, for that matter–continue to have teacher-directed lessons.

Why is that?

Some researchers look at the constancy of teacher beliefs over time to answer the question. Those researchers point to novice teachers’ experiences as elementary and secondary school students coming through a system where teacher-directed lessons were standard fare. Much as their parents had experienced when they were in public school. These researchers reason that newbie teachers’ perceptions and judgements but most important their intentions of what to do, thereby shape the classroom practices they use during lessons. But disentangling a teacher’s knowledge, experience, intentions from core beliefs is extremely difficult for researchers to do, especially when it comes to potentially clashing beliefs (see here).

Take for example, when a teacher believes in her heart-of-heart that her lessons have to be rich in content and skills that lean on what her low-income students of color bring to the classroom from family and neighborhood. Delving into the community and family become lessons. Her teacher-education courses and prior beliefs about differences among students emphasized the importance of being responsive to differences in students’ cultures. The teacher wants to teach lessons that include students’ cultural differences in language, beliefs, and behavior.

Yet that very same teacher may deeply believe that many of her low-income children, for example, bring to school academic deficits that need careful attention and ultimate erasure. Her job is to bring children up to school standards regardless of students’ background. These beliefs clash within a teacher’s mind and only gets resolved as that teacher creates lessons that outflank the conflict. Not an easy task but many teachers do exactly that in teacher-directed lessons.

In addition to the constancy of teacher beliefs shaping their lessons there are the social expectations that parents and community have about what and how teachers should teach. The idea of a “real school,” one where teachers are in charge, expect students to obey directions, prize academics, assign homework, and give tests regularly continues to be the core idea that most parents and tax-paying citizens have about schools. They expect schools to stick to the familiar script of schooling as they knew it.

I do not criticize such views; they are what I have encountered in my experience as a teacher, administrator, superintendent and researcher. And also as a parent of two daughters (see here and here).

Thus, teacher beliefs and social expectations are factors that keep teacher-directed lessons as common fare for students past and present. Yet for some teachers those beliefs and expectations are not iron cages imprisoning teaching practices. There are teachers who do have different beliefs or shift in the ones they have, bend social expectations, and alter their traditional teacher-directed lessons.

Elizabeth Mack , high school science teacher:

When I first began teaching, I literally taught from the book. This is not the most engaging way to teach science. As a science teacher I wanted to do at least one lab per week. However, I was struggling with everyday classroom management, keeping up with grading, and trying to develop lesson plans.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough time in the day. Instead of doing one lab per week, I was lucky to have students complete one lab per unit. I am not proud of this. I should also mention that I took my first teaching job while still earning my credential. Basically, I was working full time, going to school full time, and was a full time mom and wife. Needless to say, my plate was overflowing. With that said, I believe my students did learn and were as engaged as they could have been with the lessons I was able to put together.

As a lifelong learner, I will continue to change what I do as my student population continues to change and as curriculum changes. Some strategies I will always use, like a daily warm up activity. Others were useful to me once, but I got tired of doing them or found them to be less effective than I had hoped. One such strategy that I loved for a long time, but gave up when I switched to high school is an exit ticket system. At the middle school I worked at, it worked great. I found that I just do not have the time for it in high school. I still believe it is an effective strategy.

Nyree Clayton-Taylor, elementary school teacher:

[Clayton-Taylor] … feels lucky that her school’s administration supports her use of hip-hop in the classroom, but she says it wasn’t always that way.

When I first started 19 years ago, I did encounter some backlash; some principals didn’t like it.” Clayton-Taylor recalls one principal who asked her to take down a display she had set up with posters featuring hip-hop artists that were designed to motivate her students. The display also featured the covers of hip-hop books and poetry that related to academic subjects her students were learning. Undaunted by her principal’s request to remove the posters, Clayton-Taylor left them up and invited the principal into her classroom to observe her lessons. “When he saw what I was doing with it, he understood that I was teaching the standards.

Despite early push-back, Clayton-Taylor found success with her approach, saw her students thrive and continued using hip-hop in her teaching. Others have taken notice of her work. In fact, Clayton-Taylor has received widespread recognition for her teaching and was selected as the 2019 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year. But the problem of opposition—whether from colleagues, school or district leaders, parents or other members of the community—is familiar to many educators who seek to adopt new approaches and practices.

Both of these teachers add another reason beyond teacher beliefs and social expectations explaining why teacher-directed classes remain so stable. The classroom is part of the school and the school is part of a district and both create an organizational context that strongly influences what kind of teaching occurs.

The next post takes up the power of the organization in shaping how teachers teach.

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An Enduring Puzzle about Teaching in the U.S. (Part 1)

Historians of education often pose puzzling questions about the past. Sure, some historians answer narrow but important questions such as: How and why did Head Start become a national early childhood program in the mid-1960s? Or why did platoon schools spread across the U.S. before World War I?

Answering these questions are not the journalistic five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. No, such questions as: why the standards, testing, and accountability movement to reform schools surged in the 1980s?–require revealing the context of the locale and the times and by documenting both changes that occurred and continuity of ongoing patterns of schooling.

In my career as a historian of education, I have delved into, skittered around, and tap-danced my way through various answers to questions about policymakers trying again and again to alter what teachers do in their lessons, how teachers changed their teaching over time, the continuity of classroom practices, and school and societal factors that touched teachers’ daily lessons. I do confess that I am a Johnny one-note when it comes to classroom teaching and teachers.

So now that my next book, Confessions of a School Reformer (Harvard Education Press) will appear this year, I am returning to, yet again, a puzzling question about teaching that I have bitten into many times but have not yet been satisfied with the answers I tasted.

That puzzling question is: While classroom teaching has changed since the 1890s yet with all of these changes teaching has remained relatively stable How come?

Why is this question puzzling?

Count the changes that have occurred in teaching. First, consider the dramatic shift that occurred in the upgrading of standards for training and certifying teachers. From needing a high school diploma to teach a century ago to the requirement of a master’s degree and courses in education, subject specialties, and teaching methods, teacher expertise has grown. How teacher dress, how they moved from formality to informality in classroom lessons, how teachers group students, the expanded sources available to teachers to incorporate into lessons–I could go on but the point is clear that who teaches, what is taught, and how lessons unfold have changed over the past century. Yet not enough to satisfy many school reformers.

Consider that critics of schooling who believe that the best form of instruction is student centered rather than teacher-centered have argued for many years that teachers have hardly moved their dominant practices to more learner-driven approaches. Project-based teaching and practices that allow students to make classroom decisions, and curricular content that touches, no, impinges upon their lives, critics have argued, need to be part of daily lessons. Observers of classrooms, surveys, videos, and first-hand accounts by teachers continue to make clear, however, that teacher-directed instruction remains front-and-center in most teachers lessons (see here and here).

Yet, many teachers assert that they use student-directed approaches in their lessons and observers have documented such approaches in their classrooms (see here and here).

So there is some evidence drawn from teacher surveys and observations that teachers, have indeed, slowly and decidedly altered how they teach, albeit seldom to the satisfaction of reformers pressing for student-centered instruction (see here, here and here).

That there has been movement in changing how most teachers teach, especially since the 1960s, that movement–more often occurring in elementary than secondary schools, in some academic subjects (e.g. English and social studies) but not others (e.g., math)–is undeniable. Nonetheless, classroom observers who visit post-pandemic classrooms would continue to see that most classroom lessons are teacher-directed.

What explains this remarkable stability in teacher-directed lessons across time and across grade-levels and schools enrolling children from both affluent and poor families?

Both practitioners and researchers identify specific individual and organizational factors that shape teaching behaviors and account for the constancy in classroom instruction: Teacher beliefs, social expectations, and the age-graded school structure.

I take up each of these in subsequent posts.

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