Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Adopt or Adapt: A Relection

Yesterday model classroom teachers from around our large county met for an overview of the county's new Core Reading Series. The county has tried hard to use the Core Series in a way that respects the America's Choice reform that we implemented eight years ago using Readers' and Writers' Workshop. For many years, the county has had schools in all kinds of different designs and programs, so it is trying for the first time in many, many years to truly unify the county. I Don't envy their job.  There is plenty of push back!

As I listened intently I was thrilled that the county has adopted the same three-part format that we have spent so many intensive professional development meetings and demonstration lessons refining with our teachers as they use the Readers' and Writers' Workshop. The new guided reading books and the 500 book library are welcome additions to our depleted classroom libraries.  The county has developed a learning schedule that shows teachers how to use the resources day-by-day and is allowing teachers to customize the lessons with their own unique resources as long as they keep the same content.

The only problem I see is that the county is mandating that everyone in the county be within 10 days of the day on the calendar which means no more than 10 days behind or ahead of the specified learning day. While I understand the mobility rate in the county (students moving from one school to another) is the driving force for unification and consistency, that's the rub. In a school that had 97% of it's students last year working at 3.0 (proficient) or better, it would be educational malpractice to abandon the things that have been working for us in lieu of any new program. Of course, the new program is "research-based" and on the "approved" list for Florida schools but because the county is picking and choosing what to emphasize from the Teachers' Edition, we are not implementing the program with the same fidelity that any original research might have supported. In some ways the program is still "new" and untested. Don't get me wrong. In schools or for teachers that want or need intensive support this program is scripted. For teachers that really like the assurance of knowing exactly what they are going to teach each day, this program provides that kind of support - and does it well - especially with the explicit learning schedules supplied by the county on-line. However, if I walk into my first grade classroom on Monday and pre-test my children to find that 90% of them already know all of their letters and sounds (which will probably be the case), I cannot believe that anyone would suggest that I continue reviewing those letters and sounds for 9 weeks, because of what the Skills Block lessons suggest in the Teachers' Edition or Learning Schedule. Certainly that 10% of students who are not at mastery will continue to get small group instruction, but I would normally continue to move forward with the continuum of skills for the majority of my students - possibly even looking at the activities to challenge children. If children happen to move into our school, who have been at a slower pace, we would assess them immediately and provide small group safety net instruction until they catch up - just like we have been doing for years.

It is certainly our intent to do everything we can to implement the Core Series in a way that makes best use of the resources that we have been provided, to continue rolling out skills in the researched sequence that has been established and to continue to cover at least the scope of skills in each grade level, but I do not think we can in good conscience stay within 10 days of a given directive for the majority of our students if the results in our classroom do not support that pace. This, of course, will continue to be a conversation in our building as we adapt the new series to our present schema. It would be educational suicide to simply adopt any curriculum without deep and meaningful conversation and thought. We have spent eight years teaching our teachers to think deeply and critically, to analyze the data and to use the depth and breadth of their knowledge to prepare the lesson for tomorrow. This new series will, once again, give us cause to reflect on our practice and to improve our understandings.

We applaud the district's sincere attempt to provide what we need in order to teach our children and welcome them into our continuing conversations and discussions. As a district, we are making giant steps forward and we, as a school, are anxious to be a part of that movement. I hope it is going to be a banner year for Duval County!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have been sitting in pre-planning confusing wondering which way to go and what to do for the first time in my teaching career (short though it is). After sitting in a grade level ELA meeting and looking through the materials for the new reading series, I wasn't sure what to do. My thoughts and feelings have ping ponged back and forth. Your post perfectly articulates what I have been experiencing for the past several days and gives me some direction as to which way I need to go. Once again, another reason to participate in social networking. You are a gem!