Once again this summer, I am teaching science teachers science. It's my second year helping with this program and it's something I enjoy (despite the crappy timing this year). There's no question that it is an eye-opening experience for me and I'm as interested in hearing what they are seeing as they are in what I can tell them.
If you've been following along on twitter (#teachingteachers) you will note that there is reason to be concerned with the state of our schools. Although this program is limited to my state, I doubt the situation is hugely different elsewhere. A few things that surprised me the most, included:
- An urban area high school biology teacher remarked that he didn't think his students had read 6 pages in a row. Ever. In their lives. Perhaps there was some hyperbole there, but the fact that he could make that statement without any of the other teachers (from diverse districts) looking surprised, made me concerned. He reported that the majority of his students voluntarily take a 0 on an assignment to avoid reading a few pages. Not because they couldn't do it, but because they didn't want to.
- School districts are constantly adjusting how they teach different groups of students. The definition of terms like "honors" and "low performing" vary from one year to the next, leaving teachers constantly trying to teach the same concepts to a different mix of abilities. As one 7th grade teacher put it, her students range in ability from 2nd to 10th grade.
- Perhaps part of the reading problem can be traced back to the fact that many school districts in the state have gone text book free. On the surface one could argue that text books may not be the most dynamic reference text, but they have replaced them with... nothing. Teachers are now supposed to be finding their own materials, but following from the above point, that often means two or three readings on the same material, geared for different abilities. Add the fact that copy paper budgets were not adjusted to compensate, and school districts are running out of paper in February. I guess the assumption was that kids all have computer access at home? I don't know.
Beyond the computer access issue, however, the move from text book to "the internet" makes me uncomfortable for many reasons. We want kids to develop critical reading skills and the ability to discern what are dependable sources. ESPECIALLY at the middle school level, I don't see how taking away a text book achieves this in any way. Rather, my assumption is that it will confound the problem. Is wikipedia supposed to be their source for all "dependable" material. I sure hope not.
Perhaps I'm just not grasping the benefits of this idea, but it sure seems short-sighted to me.