Sunday, September 21, 2014

Improving The Teaching Process

At our last board work session, the main agenda item was a presentation by a large group of HSD teachers on our implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  While I continue to have many reservations about CCSS, which you can read in earlier blog entries (such as this one, this one, or this one),  I was happy to see that this presentation mainly highlighted positive changes to the teaching process that are underway in our district.   Most of the practices presented were forward-looking reforms that look likely to result in solid improvements to education in HSD, regardless of their relationship to CCSS.   The enthusiastic group of teachers and principals who presented all showed a solid dedication to examining and improving their teaching processes.   The topics I found most interesting were:
  • Professional Learning Communities:   You may have seen occasional remarks on this idea in my past blogs, where teachers of related subjects get together to share successes/failures and plan improvements.  This seems like an excellent idea to me, and marks a major shift in teaching culture over the past few decades.   Contrast it with my experiences as a student teacher at a New Jersey public school back in the early 90s-- one of the "master teachers" actually told me to expect that the majority of my colleagues would only be marginally competent, so the key to teaching success was to close my classroom door and ignore the rest of the school!  
  • Learning How To Read and Understand Texts.   A Social Studies teacher spoke about how she is now focusing on teaching students how to interpret nonfiction texts, rather than simply presenting them with readings.   This sounds like another good reform, filling in a gap an explicitly teaching a skill which students were formerly expected to pick up implicitly.   I think this will probably help some of the students who were struggling in this area.   We do need to be careful though, that this 'learning to understand' doesn't completely replace the memorization of relevant facts, which I believe also has a critical place in preparing a successful citizen of 21st century America.
  • National (Voluntary!) Lesson/Curriculum Sharing.   Our teachers will be connected to a national online community of fellow educators, all developing lessons relating to the CCSS topics, and shared in an open-source manner.   This will enable our district to effectively make use of successuful lessons developed elsewhere, as well as share our own successes with other districts across the country.   As increasing amounts of quality materials become available, this may actually be able to reduce our long-term spending on textbooks.
While this session did not turn me into a CCSS cheerleader, I'm happy to see that as a result of the reexamination of our general curriculum and teaching practices, we are making many positive improvements.   You can see more about HSD's implementation of CCSS at this district website .  As always, I'll be hoping to hear from you about your own children's experiences with these new standards-- please email me or stop by one of my monthly coffees to share your perspectives!