Change in Teaching PracticesHow have recent reforms in education altered your teaching practices?
A major change my school went through in the years I worked there was turning the entire school into a "Professional Learning Community." The concept seemed so obvious that it was a little aggravating sitting through workshop after workshop discussing methods of implementation, but overall the need for it was so great that I think it did help our entire school.
One of the key principles in this idea was the fact that all teachers, students, parents, and community members are working together to help kids learn. This didn't necessarily mean fully integrating subjects and subject matter, however, it did encourage teachers to work with others a lot more. It got our staff talking about what was going on in our classrooms more, sharing ideas across the curriculum, and giving and receiving feedback from completely different subject areas, utilizing various teaching strategies that were successful in other classes.
The students noticed immediately that teachers were coming together on the same page. Even in high school, many responded to the similarities in organization of binders and schedules, for example. As teachers began to use similar disciplinary vocabulary, students responded quicker. I actually was surprised to see how many positives came from it.
There is no doubt about it. Changes in education have impacted everything that is done in the classroom, and have certainly changed my approach to it. The need to address high stakes standardized testing and to understand how national policy can steer teaching and learning has been something that over the last decade that has changed things. Yet, I think that one of the largest teaching changes that I have undergone has been speaking to students and parents about how scholarship and how important this pursuit is to one's education. I think that I have adopted the idea that while high stakes standardized testing is here for some time, it is dangerous to presume that this is the sole measure of learning. I recall a time when my principal addressed our student body and said to them, "Based on how well you did on the recent state exams, you must be learning a lot." After hearing that, I spoke to my students about whether or not this is what constitutes learning was powerful. I think that recent reforms have changed my teaching practices by opening discussion about how students take ownership for their learning and what that exactly entails.
Although we as teachers have always collaborated on an informal basis, for the past two years, a more structured type of collaboration has been the school's focus. Faculty members been placed in collaborative teams in which we plan lessons, develop assessments, and discuss our successes and failures. In spite of all the paperwork documenting that such meetings are taking place, I have found that I have benefitted greatly from such teamwork. I have gain new ideas about teaching and assessment, while receiving much needed affirmation for some of the practices that I had been using.
It does help that my collaborative team members are all flexible and open minded. During my long teaching career, I have seen many innovations come and go, but this simple practice of sharing ideas with those who teach the same or similar subjects and grade levels has proved to be most beneficial.
I haven't ever been really great at making lots of long-range plans besides having clear objectives of what we are trying to get to by the end of a semester or a year. So my practice changes constantly, but "reforms" certainly play a role. I think constantly about the things that are always changing, and have been doing a lot of research lately about grading and the positive and negative effects of competitive grading as well as the new high stakes tests that are coming out for our state and trying to work out how I will approach those things because they are inevitable. Soon we will be changing our reading list to match the goals of those tests, so these "reforms" will always be forcing modifications but if it weren't for the reforms, I think we ought to always be changing things and trying new stuff.
One of the biggest changes in education, at least where I live, is the attention to RtI -- Response to Intervention. This is system of teacher attention to approach interventions for students who are failing to meet mastery on standard skill assessments. There are three tiers and various responsibilies with each tier. The system requires a lot more documention of teacher methods and strategies, especially with the failing or near failing students. While I have always changed my classroom approaches to best meet the students I have in front of me at any given time, this is now a more formal requirement. We are still in the early stages of understanding what are legal NCLB responsibility, and it seems rather daunting.
I think high stakes testing has done more than change teaching practices. High stakes testing increases the stress level of many teachers, and as such the stress level of students is increased. This stress can manifest itself in positive ways, but for many students it simply reinforces their ideas that they will never be able to achieve what their teachers or the states want them to achieve. Consequently, high stakes testing could be leading to the low effort to achieve of many of our students.
Learning about Response to Intervention made an impact on me. I had of course been doing the basic practices on my own, but the idea that an entire school could rally around the principle that every child can learn and has a right to learn is monumental. I have always done whatever it takes to help every child I can reach. Imagine the possibilities if everyone had that attitude.
One of the big pushes we are under taking right now is determining our "power standards" or the essential skills at each grade level in each subject area. We are trying to merge what we think our students really need to know in order to be successful in life and also to score well on state tests.