Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bandwagon or best practice?

I recently read a blog post by Mark Chubb entitled, "How to change everything nothing at the same time!"  It got me thinking about different trends in education.  When I started in my district it seemed that we had a different initiative each year.  We would joke that someone read a book and now we were going to do things that way.  Veteran teachers had stopped listening or following these directives because they knew that the next year it would be a different book and a different focus.  For some of the initiatives it felt like people were just quoting book titles, Fair Isn't Always Equal or Never Work Harder Than Your Students, without any understanding of what information was actually in the book. (Please note I am not criticizing these books but some educators approach to these philosophies.)

Thankfully, that practice has stopped and my district is now more purposeful in what we do.  It can however still feel like bandwagon jumping because it is always someone else's experiences that we are trying to recreate or mimic.  Plus, we are doing so in a different environment, with a different population of students, different grading systems (standards vs letters), different time constraints, etc.  Part of the problem with district initiatives is in the implementation.  There is rarely enough time for proper professional development.  Often times teachers are not allowed the flexibility to make it their own to fit his/her classroom and his/her students.  (Luckily I have an awesome administrator and that is not an issue.) Plus, administrators and coaches spend their time trying to figure out how to get teachers to buy in.  We talk about genius hour for students to follow their passion.  Wouldn't it be great if teachers were given time for their own genius hour project as professional development?

Since being introduced to MTBoS back in February my eyes have been opened to all sorts of new ideas, philosophies, and approaches to teaching math.  There is so much that I want to try with my students, so many books I want to read, and so many conferences/trainings I want to attend.

But, how do I know what is real and what is just another bandwagon?  I think all of it is both.

That is not to say that I think numeracy is a fad that will disappear and be replaced by something else, however, in Building Powerful Numeracy for Middle and High School Students, Pam Harris points out that if we are not careful about the way we teach numeracy, students may just be memorizing numeracy strategies instead of truly understanding them.  This is true of any resource, strategy, or manipulative I may try to use this school year.  So when it comes to all the new resources I have as a teacher: number talks, open middle, WODB, fraction talks, 3 Act Tasks, Desmos, Enhanced Learning Maps, YouCubed, etc., I need to make sure that I am purposeful in what I implement and that I reflect on how I can use these tools to improve my students number sense and deeper understanding of math.  If I try to implement them all at once, I will not be able do to any of them well, and my students will not benefit.  This is what turns a great resource or idea into a bandwagon.

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