As a substitute teacher, I get a chance to see more classrooms than regular teachers do, and in most cases more than administrators do. I see what works, and what doesn’t, and I have strong feelings about schools and teaching. I believe that John Dewey laid out much of what we need to know about education over 100 years ago, but our schools systems have largely gone off the path he illuminated. He believed that a major purpose of schools was to produce good citizens, and that students developed citizenship skills by experiencing and practicing those skills rather than ingesting pre-determined knowledge.
I’m thinking I should really write up my educational philosophy again, but until that happens, here are some resources that have significantly influenced me.
Stop Homework – I believe that homework should have to do with the relationship between home and school, and not be used to extend the school day into the home. If homework brings home school learning to the family, or brings the knowledge and experience of the family back to school, great. Otherwise, I don’t see any place for it.
Responsive Classroom – There is simply no better resource in my experience for creating caring and academically successful classrooms than the books offered by Responsive Classroom. I hope to someday take one of their trainings.
Project Citizen – A way to involve students in community issues while meeting academic goals.
David Sobel – All of David’s books have influenced how I teach, and much of my effort in education is to bring David’s ideas to the classroom and to school systems. I use Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities as a resource every week. I’m reading Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators right now.
Richard Louv – Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder brought all of these ideas up to date in parent and teacher friendly language, and has transformed the way we think about school, though not yet how we practice school.
And on the negative side of things, there are scripted reading programs. The worst of these is Success for All, but the others are not much better. These programs are premised on several tragic ideas: reading must be broken down into parts – as it whole it has no value; curriculum writers know more about teaching and learning than do teachers; reading is supposed to be entertaining but not meaningful; reading can be taught with materials that are content free. These authoritarian scripted programs do not allow students or teachers to vary from the routine, in fact in many schools teachers are punished for being off the schedule during reading time. The materials would seem familiar to my generation, which was mis-taught with Dick and Jane books. Does it work? Yes, it increases test scores, at least for about two years, after which they begin to decline again. Why would scores decline after a time? Because scripted reading programs teach students to hate reading. They are bored with it, they find no personal reward in it. In middle school I continually see the result of SFA programs – students who hate reading, who would never carry literature with them in school, who show up for silent reading periods without a book. Sadly, more than half of the students feel this way. Talking with students about why reveals that they feel this way because they were forced to read boring and irrelevant books in lower grades. They’ve crossed reading off their list of interesting activities, and that is as sad a result as can be.