Getting Less From More
Today’s ACT guest blog post was written by Jane Ching Fung, an ACT member and teacher from Los Angeles. Jane is a Milken Award winning teacher and has served in various leadership capacities for organizations such as NCTAF, CFTL, and PBS. She is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, and her writing has also appeared in Education Week Teacher.
There has always been something magical and therapeutic about transforming an empty classroom into a learning community before the start of each school year. Being alone in my classroom, before students arrive, provides time not only to organize papers, supplies, and materials that were quickly shoved into a closet in June, but also a chance to reflect and dream about the kind of classroom I want to create for my new students. When my principal finally gave the okay for teachers to enter their classrooms last week, I of course, jumped at the chance to get a head start on organizing my room. What I found were boxes – lots of boxes.
I spent all morning unpacking, examining, sorting, and organizing our district’s new, all-inclusive, Language Arts Program. The newly adopted program is nicely packaged in Reading, Writing, and English Language Development components that are not only based on California Standards, but also aligned with the new Common Core Standards.
Here’s an idea of what my first-grade set includes: alphabet cards, sight word cards, vocabulary cards, sound cards, picture cards, big books, little books, leveled readers, anthologies (6 separate books for 6 units per student), student workbooks, pre-made teacher flip charts, work group charts, retelling cards, 7 teachers guides, intervention materials, letters home, and so on and so on. You get the picture (literally). There is a lot of “stuff.”
At the summer training, we were told by the publisher that our district had purchased the “créme de la créme” package, and how lucky that we would have everything (materials) we needed to teach Language Arts. I may be old school when I say this, but I miss the days when we had less “stuff” and were able to do more. It wasn’t long ago when our reading program consisted of several really good teachers’ guides and sets of rich literature. The focus was on good instruction and teaching strategies, not on how to implement a program. I know that effective teachers will continue to focus on their practice, but my concern is for those teachers who will be too focused on using everything in the program, rather than focusing on student learning.
In 25 years of teaching, I have never seen so much “stuff” produced for teachers and students. Although we are given more materials now to use, I can’t help but think of all the things we are getting less of…
- Less opportunity to be creative and innovative
- Less time to study other curricular areas
- Less choice to explore interests
- Less inquiry (and more response)
Having a Language Arts Program is not a bad thing; there are useful elements that I will use, just not everything. Luckily, my new classroom has a lot of storage space.