I never liked attending in-service trainings as a classroom teacher. It felt like they all had the same message: “Here’s a clever way to trick your students into learning!”
Sometimes it involved using rap music, one time it was about “anticipation” games—there’s always a new strategy that’s supposed to help teachers “connect” with students. And I guess using rap music is better than worksheets, but I’m not sure students actually learn more. That is, class may be more fun. The energy in the room may be positive. But that’s a long way away from students internalizing a new idea or concept and holding it forever.
California is looking at adopting “open source digital textbooks,” which contain changeable material that can be shared between teachers. An article I read today suggested “inserting a football team’s name into a word problem . . . can help engage students’ attention.” One teacher was quoted in the story as saying open source digital textbooks are “exactly what we need.”
I think this attitude stems from the belief that the problems we face in education are about content delivery. If only we can deliver the academic content with more pizzazz, then students will start passing our standardized tests.
The irony here is that in our quest to help students learn, we ignore the students. If a student is not interested in the plight of Willy Loman, then all the razzle-dazzle in the world is not going to make reading Death of a Salesman a profound experience. In a competition between a charismatic teacher with state-of-the-art technology teaching 30 uninterested kids versus an average teacher with a chalkboard and 30 kids genuinely curious about the material, I’ll take the latter every time.
Transforming our schools does not require millions of dollars of technology. It starts by simply asking kids what they’re interested in learning.