Friday, February 13, 2009

Never work harder than your students, Cha. 2

Know where your students are going

This chapter felt like familiar territory with a little extras. The fundamental premise of this chapter is this: you have to know what you want your students to know in order to teach them. But, Jackson argues, that's not enough--you have to know how you're going to get them there. She uses the metaphor of a road trip: you have to get from California to New York by Friday. How do you get there? Where do you stop? How far do you have to travel each day? How much money do you need? (I love her metaphors; they're generally illustrative. There's another one coming up that I like a lot. I like to think that the money reference refers back to the currency metaphor from Cha. 1. But I might be reading too much into it.)

The reason this feels familiar is because in the last years--since just before the beginning of the "professional" part of my professional life--the state has legislated a "standards and benchmarks" approach to school. It's been a pretty fast (as far as bureaucracies go) implementation process, so a lot of teachers need a lot of re-training on how to grade their courses and dole out credit. I count myself among them. So "starting at the end" has been a subject of my professional development of the last three years. So a lot of her content is not particularly new to me. Marzano in particular has a lot to say about learning goals and curriculum.

The differences between Jackson and some of the other books I've read, the conversations I've had and the conferences I've attended, is not one of substance but of style. One of the notable things about this author is her tone of encouragement and support. She refers to the research just enough that a scholar could take her seriously, and most of her rhetoric is directed towards helping the practitioner to improve his practice. (She states that as her goal in the Introduction. Or is it the Preface? I forget.) She describes her process of creating a course, her sadness about ditching some of her favorite activities that don't achieve learning goals, the difficulty (and necesity) of creating assessments, and the increased student achievement of all that work. That makes it seem like if she can do it, I can do it, too.

The main substantive point that seemed new to me was her treatment of "unpacking standards." The first time I encountered this term, I was talking to World Languages teacher from another school about going to talk to them about using standards in the class. (I thought it was a joke for the first half of the conversation.) She starts with the premise that master teachers "spend more time unpacking standards than planning learning activities." Jackson's process for unpacking standards and turning them into useful curriculum seems extremely effective.

To sum up: A good, effective chapter for using standards and benchmarks effectively for anyone who has them, and a terrific encouragement to start with the end in mind for anyone who does not.

Previous posts on Never Work Harder Than Your Students:
Chapter 1
Preface and Introduction


Ray said...

I about had to pick my jaw up off of my desk when I read you haven't heard "unpacking" the standards. But then I got to thinking and this is something you and I have never discussed. Unpacking the standards is valuable in understanding what the standard means. Unpacking them can be a powerful tool for the teacher and for the student. I might suggest you also write them in more kid friendly language.

More teachers could take lead from this author about giving up some of her favorite projects. Learning is about the student and what they get out of it and not what the teachers neccsarily enjoys. Not to say that passion by the teacher isn't important in the goal of going from good to great as Collin's research would suggest.

JohnCosby said...

I know about rewriting standards in "kid friendly" language, but I'm left with the understanding that there's more to unpacking a standard than "putting it in your own words," or even just understanding intent. One of the take-away ideas from this chapter is that an important part of the process is understanding which standards group well together and the "inherent knowledge" expressed by the standards. Given all that, the concept of a truly "guaranteed and viable curriculum" seems awfully pie-in-the-sky. But working towards having one is clearly better than not.