Saturday, January 25, 2014

Teachers should submit syllabi instead of daily lesson plans!

It's been a long time since I've taught in the K12 classroom, and things were quite different back in the late 1980s. Were I still teaching K12 today, I'm guessing that one of the things I'd like the least about the job would be having to submit my daily lesson plans for my principal's approval. The more so in this day and age of edujargaon, "The student will be able to" goals, and, worse, the growing requirement that every lesson plan be explicitly mapped to one or more Common Core goal--goals like "Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme."

The monitoring by higher authorities of daily lesson plans seems like little more than a means to disempower teachers and make sure that they are following to the letter all those problematic new pedagogic principles--e.g., of Reform Math, Writer's Workshop, group activities, and, now, the Common Core.

Instead of daily lesson plans, what teachers should turn in, once per semester instead of once per day, are course syllabi. Yes, syllabi, as in what college professors give out to students, and what those students take into account when considering whether to take particular courses.

K12, of course, is different, but there is one really good reason for K12 teachers to submit syllabi also. Only recently did it occur to me, though: i.e., only after news about a move in Pennsylvania to mandate instruction about the Holocaust. This move, in turn, was inspired by recent surveys revealing just how little Pennsylvania's top college students are about the holocaust in particular, and the 20th century in general. (I was reminded of all this just the other day, after hearing this story, on Philadelphia public radio's Newsworks program.)

As I wrote in my earlier post about this, the best way to teach about the Holocaust is not as a disembodied "Holocaust appreciation" unit, but within its place in world history:

Pennsylvania already mandates world history, and the approved world history textbooks, not so surprisingly, do cover the Holocaust. So perhaps instead the state could stipulate that teachers not skip entire chapters in world history textbooks.
Having teachers turn in a syllabus at the beginning of each semester, and making sure they stick to it, is one way to accomplish this. Having them turn in daily, piecemeal lesson plans isn't--no matter how many TSWBAT, CCS-aligned goals they contain.

1 comment:

James OKeeffe said...

I heartily agree, and I also think you've hit on a profound distinction between K12 and college: the differences between a "class" and a "course." A class is usually skill-driven, day by day, using no particular content to arrive nowhere special. A "course" aims for the big picture with specific, coherently organized content. I don't see why K12 must always tend toward the "class" approach; I'd rather take, or teach, a "course" any day.