Sunday, May 22, 2011

Telling truth from fiction

One of these stories appeared as a front page, May 18th Philadelphia Inquirer article. The other one is made up. Which is which?

Story A:

Some teachers swear that the best way to establish their authority is to avoid smiling for the first two weeks of class.

David Hall takes a very different approach with his students at North Penn High School by cracking self-deprecating jokes and pretending to be the dude who thinks he is hip but so is not.

In the classroom, Hall brings social studies alive, bypassing textbooks in favor of original sources and creating his own lesson materials. Inside and outside the classroom, he spends time getting to know students, hoping to connect with them and inspire them.

Now in his 13th year of teaching, Hall, 37, recently received a "Teacher as Hero" award from the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the latest in a long string of teaching laurels. The Liberty Museum cited Hall's field trips to courtrooms and prisons in Philadelphia and his work as an adviser for the school Gay-Straight Alliance. During summer vacations, Hall does corporate training on workplace diversity issues.

Lauren Ewaniuk, 28, who graduated from North Penn in 2001, called Hall her "all-time favorite teacher by far."

"The best thing about his class was we didn't use the textbook very often," said Ewaniuk, now a teacher in Cheltenham. "He taught us in different ways. The classroom was set up as a circle - it was all class discussion. We read court cases, we did interactive things, watched videos - it was very engaging."
Story B:

Some teachers swear that the best way to engage with students is to crack jokes and relate to them as peers.

David Hill takes a very different approach with his students at South Penn High School. He spends most of his time standing in front of the class and rarely goes off topic

Hill brings social studies alive by ensuring that students can make sense of it. His approach bucks what has become a common trend among award-winning teachers: creating lessons from scratch out of original source materials. Noting that students often find such materials confusing or overwhelming because they lack the necessary background knowledge, Hill makes teaching this knowledge his number one priority.

"My job is to get them ready for the kinds of serious, primary source research that occurs in college and graduate level courses," Hill explains.

Now in his 13th year of teaching, Hill, 37, recently received a "Teacher as Teacher" award from the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the latest in a long string of teaching laurels. The Liberty Museum cited the well-informed essays that Hill's students wrote about the history of prison reform in Philadelphia and Hill's own original research on Gay-Straight relations in Philadelphia high schools. During summer vacations, Hill seeks out the most informative, interesting history texts and conducts workshops for teachers in what he calls "Textbook Resuscitation."

Evelyn Lemaniuk, 28, who graduated from South Penn in 2001, called Hill her "all-time favorite teacher by far."

"The best thing about his class was how he renewed my interest in reading history," said Lemaniuk, now a teacher in Cheltenberg. "Most of the approved textbooks are incredibly low-level and boring, and so the better teachers tend not to use them. The problem is that, without a textbook, we're really at a loss when it comes to understanding primary source materials and how they fit into the bigger picture."


annic said...

The first one is the fact, and the second the fiction. Though it sounds nice. Sort of.

It does seem to me that you kind of have to use original source material nowadays, if you want to really learn history, or possibly books that are not written with an agenda, if such exist, as textbooks are full of inaccuracies and "politically correct" distortions. At least, those either meant for public schools or those meant to satisfy a religious constituency.

It is true you need some kind of overview within which to fit original sources. I never used textbooks with my kids. We went through the books on the shelves in the library and picked out ones at appropriate reading levels or ones that I read out loud and went through history more or less sequentially several times over. Any time we looked at a textbook, there was all this political distortions, it seemed, or religious distortions. Textbooks are written to sell to constituents. There was some stuff about changing history in Texas recently to make sure kids believed what the people on the school board wanted them to believe, accurate or not. As far as politics go, there seem to be all kinds of inaccuracies on "founding fathers" and what they believed, because if you do go to original sources, what is claimed to be their intent or beliefs, does not seem to have been at all. But it is these ideas that of what they want history to have been that get into textbooks. Or there is selective omission it order to lead to a particular (wrong) conclusion that the buyers or approvers of textbooks want.

Anonymous said...

Textbooks are necessary but not sufficient, for History. Without a consistent, chronological, covers-all-the-main-ideas text, secondary and primary sources are not grounded enough, especially for children. I sympathize with comments about the shortcomings of today's textbooks, but the answer is to encourage good authors to produce good textbooks, not to abandon them.

annic said...

We had no use for any textbooks, except in math, until we used college level texts when my kids were high school age. That does not necessarily mean they need to be abandoned in a school setting, which is limited in what it can do, assuming there exists any that are not biased. It is possible to get an overall consistent chronological picture without a textbook. It does take some effort. They are not necessary for learning history.

In a school setting, that might be different. They certainly can be used as a useful resource.