Monday, May 14, 2012

Teacher manuals and passive instruction

Until this year I don't think I'd used a teacher's manual since my first year when I didn't work at the Think Tank. Even then I only used one for math. As long as I've been teaching I've been taught to teach reading through the Literacy Collaborative model. It relies heavily on teachers being able to make informed decisions about their students' progress and what to do next. The idea is that your instruction should be based off your children's needs, your observations, and your teacher knowledge instead of a manual that does not know your children. (That's a very crude explanation. There are much better explanations out there).

This puts a lot of faith in the teacher. It requires us to be on our A game, constantly being aware of what the students are doing, what their needs are, what their strengths are, where we want them to go and how we think we should get them there. It means we must be engaged and constantly watching our student and ourselves. It means we must be truly knowledgeable in how children learn to read and adapt our instruction accordingly. It means our administration needs to hire awesome teachers who are prepared for this, and that we have reading coaches that work with us and train us to be able to make informed and thoughtful decisions about instruction. We have to frequently reflect- video taping ourselves, asking others to observe us, reading professional books, taking classes- all making sure we are doing our best for our students.

I love it.

This year however, I've used 2 different reading series and am getting ready to use a 3rd. All 3 have manuals.  As the year draws to an end I realize how different using a manual has made my reading instruction. 

Using a manual does not necessarily make me lazy, but it certainly un-engages me to a certain extent. Since I don't have to plan a brand new lesson the next day based off of my observations from today I'm a little more relaxed. I hate to admit it, but I'm not watching the kids as much as I am flipping through the manual trying to see what we'll do tomorrow. Before the kids were my manual so my attention had to be on them. What words were they having trouble with?  Should we do a word study lesson on 'ing' words or continue with sorting 'at' and 'it' words? 

Now my attention is on what the book tells me to teach next. Since I no longer have to make tough decisions I find myself being a passive deliverer of instruction. The buck doesn't really stop with me- I'm simply doing what I'm told to do by the book. If it doesn't work I can shrug and say, "Well, I was using X series so I don't know what went wrong."  Before if a child didn't get something it was because I hadn't taught that skill. I needed to make the decision to go back and re-teach it. I had that power because, frankly, I had all the power.

If you are a long time reader you know (I hope) that I am not a passive teacher. I do not sit down and think "while these kids read I'm going to make my plans for tomorrow." But I found it happening and shocked myself. 

It takes a lot for a school system or administrators to trust their teachers to make informed decisions about instruction. They have to have faith that they hired qualified, intelligent, perceptive individuals who are able to consider long-term objectives and individual students needs all at once. But that trust makes us better, more invested teachers. 

It's the difference in a doctor flipping through a medical manual and saying, "Oh, well statistically speaking this is what is wrong with you." and a doctor taking a thorough examination before concluding, "Well, I'd like to run x test because I'm detecting something abnormal that might not be showing up right here."  (Ok, I don't know enough about medicine to make a fabulous analogy- everything I know is from House.)  

The current trend in education is sending us back to our teacher manuals. In order for everyone to cover their rear-ends when accountability time comes the push is for giving us manuals that statistically should get our children to read. "Research based" programs with fuzzy research that asks us to passively deliver instruction to our students so that everyone can say "well, we did X." 

I miss delivering thoughtful instruction based on my knowledge as a well-informed professional. It's what I thought I was hired to do. 

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This being said I love one of the current programs I am using. Early Literacy Skills Builder has done amazing things for my emergent readers with intellectual disabilities.  If you tried to take it away from me I may beat you with Moe, the stuffed frog that comes with it.  

1 comment:

magpie said...

A woman says on the radio that they know how to fix education.

I listen intently.

They start talking about something that relates to a child about to sit for their leaving exams! I yell at the radio..."That's just a infinitessimal part of Education Lady!!!!"

Keep at it Mrs Lipstick ♥☺♥