Change Issues in Curriculum and Instruction/Final Assignment Links/Rose Hotchkiss



Accountability is not going to go away. Nor should it. As an educator, I believe in accountability, but under the present, standards-based accountability system, linked to high stakes testing, it seems that schools are destined to fail. No Child Left Behind has raised a number of issues while creating a climate of anxiety and discontent within our schools. Accountability should be a tool that promotes growth and improvements in the education system, and though I believe the initial intent of NCLB was precisely that, I do not believe that it is turning out that way. My experience is that NCLB is hindering, more than helping, student learning. With the pressure on schools to “make the scores,” teachers are implementing instructional strategies that ignore what they know about best practices and how children learn. Important content areas such as science and social studies are less apt to be taught, while the arts are barely in the picture. In addition, our best and brightest teachers are leaving the profession often out of frustration with an impossible job. Accountability is multifaceted and American schools are in desperate need of a system that promotes collaborative learning communities that develop in students the shills they need for the 21st century. Until we resolve the accountability issues, I feel that our entire educational system is in danger. For this reason, accountability is my number one change issue. Many of the other change issues we have discussed fall under the umbrella of accountability. With the intense pressures on teachers for test scores, Web 2.0 and current technologies that our digital natives have at their disposal are viewed as interruptions of, rather than tools for, education. With high stakes testing, many teachers feel too overwhelmed to explore these new tools with their students. Curriculum, instructional materials, and pedagogy tend to reflect the accountability system; teachers will go with whatever gets the best test results. Isolation prevails as well as a result of the current accountability system. Teachers feel isolated from the parents and communities as they are called into question when school report cards are published. In a sense, the general public becomes the enemy. Teachers are often placed at odds when one another when a school “fails” due to the test scores of one or two teachers. And schools work against schools as they compare test results. In North Carolina, teachers receive monetary rewards when their school meets their testing goals. There are hard feelings when one school, that serves predominantly white middle class kids, always makes their goals. Each teacher gets a fat check for $1500.00 while teachers serving schools in poorer minority neighborhoods get nothing but a bad name in the local paper. We need schools that work together, teachers that support one another, and communities that are truly learning communities. The right accountability system is the first step to getting our schools on the right track.

Teachers as Learners, Learners as Teachers


I love learning and I feel that it is the single most important thing about me as teacher. I do not believe that any teacher can be effective if he or she is not also a learner. The notion of the teacher as the imparter of knowledge and the student as the recipient is outdated. Many, many teachers, however, still fit this stereotype; which is why this is one of my top five issues. It is my belief that this is a critical change issue that must be addressed before effective reform of any kind can take place in today’s schools. In order for teachers to be effective in today’s classroom, where abundant knowledge is accessible with the click of a mouse, teachers and students must become collaborators within a learning community; a community which extends well beyond the walls of the classroom. An increasingly important role for teachers is that they must be models for the practice of learning.

Reform in Reality


Most would agree that education reform is sadly needed. What is not agreed upon is how that reform should look or how it should take place. There are many reform proposals all containing pros and cons. What we are currently stuck with is a system of high stakes testing promoted by No Child Left Behind. Most teachers would agree that NCLB has more cons than pros and yet they feel powerless to change what is mandated. While teachers feel they lack a voice in true education reform, there are things they can do, within the education structure that currently exists, to foster the competencies that students need to function effectively in a flat world. Though teachers may feel restricted by state standards and high stakes testing, they are not powerless. Standards cannot be ignored and therefore teachers must understand their strengths and address their weaknesses. Standards are not “the curriculum,” but rather are intended to be a framework for the design and development of the curriculum. Although many teachers may know the standards for their grade level and subject area, very few know and understand the standards across grade levels and subject areas. That is a good place for teachers to start. In general, however, standards tend to lack cross disciplinary coherence. Teachers must look for the ‘conceptual lens’ through which the curriculum might be taught. Teachers could work collaboratively to identify the major concepts and enduring understandings at each grade level. It is critical that we teach concepts rather than facts. By teaching concepts, the necessary facts will be included. For example, when teaching the water cycle, one should also address current real-world issues such as how the water cycle is impacted by deforestation or by the damming of rivers. How does that impact the way people live and the way communities, states, and nations interact? It is critical that students are exposed to concepts that cross disciplines and have relevance, meaning, and authenticity. Teachers must ensure that learning, not testing, is the goal. They are the only ones in a position to do so. While I believe that teachers must unite and become proactive on issues of education reform, the most realistic, and immediate thing they can do is to change what happens in their own classroom. Each of us has that power.

Web 2.0 (as a classroom tool and a tool to connect parents and community)


Web 2.0 has had a drastic impact on journalism, politics, and business and has the potential to affect education in equally powerful ways. Web 2.0 presents an awesome set of tools for teaching and learning. Kids are using new technologies that their teachers are often completely unaware of. We can fight the growing technologies, as many teachers do, or we can embrace them, explore them, and use them to our advantage. Web 2.0 provides opportunities for students to collaborate and share ideas and contribute to other students learning. Here on the read/write web, the lines between teacher and learner blur. The National Technology Plan released in 2005 states, “Today’s students, of almost any age, are far ahead of their teachers in computer literacy.” With the advent of Web 2.0, we must rethink the way we deliver curriculum as well as our expectations for students. Blogs, wikis, and podcasts are easy to use web tools that have the potential to be very powerful when used effectively in the school setting and forces us to rethink our ideas about curriculum, literacy, and the way students think and learn. Not only does Web 2.0 have potential to directly impact the teaching-learning process in classroom, but it also has great potential as a tool to communicate with parents and involve them in the teaching learning process. A Weblog can become a portal to the classroom that keeps parents informed and connected. Podcasts can provide educational material that parents can use to review and reinforce important concepts with their children at home. The possibilities are endless. As teachers concerned with improving the teaching learning environment we would be amiss if we did not utilize these tools.

Kids and Nature


As my final ‘top five,’ I feel compelled to add, even at this late date, yet another change issue that seems rather far removed from the ones we’ve discussed so far. While this is an issue that has long been a concern of mine, for whatever reason, it didn’t come to mind throughout this course as a change issue. In a conversation with a friend yesterday, she mentioned a book that she knew would interest me - Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv – and it suddenly occurred to me that this is a huge change issue. Children of the digital age have become increasingly alienated from the natural world, and according to Louv (2005), with disastrous implications, not only for their physical fitness, but also for their long-term mental and spiritual heath. Kids who play outside on nature’s playgrounds (trees, fields, streams, woods) are more creative and inventive, and more likely to play cooperatively. While the elementary school curricula is full of information and references to nature, how often do we actually get kids out to experience it first hand. They read about the world’s biomes and probably visit virtual habitats on-line. But how many of those children have ever stood quietly in the woods listening to the trees, or waded in a stream, or turned over a rock to see what’s underneath? How do we instill in our children the essential need to be stewards of the environment when they are so disconnected from the natural world?

“Unlike television, nature does not steal time, it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture’s fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion.” (Louv, 2005)