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Getting Less From More

August 30, 2011

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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2011 12:14 am

    I couldn’t agree more! I know that during this summer’s three day training that walked me through the teacher’s guide page by page, I couldn’t help asking, “What about the stories” What I could really use right now is some good analysis of those seminal titles that I’m afraid this generation will leave the school room never having read. We understand that as educators we need to develop not only in our pedagogy, but also in content. It seems that for language arts training/PD we never seem to improve in our own reading and writing, we just acquire some new graphic organizers or program materials. I could have done with one day reviewing the TE and two days for LITERATURE CIRCLES!

    • Jane permalink
      August 30, 2011 7:04 pm

      The sad thing about the training was that ELD is now “embedded” into the program. When the trainer said the chants and songs of Into English were fun, but they did not help students meet the ELA standards and this program’s objective was to do that. Funny, I though ELD was for language acquisition, not more of the same. There is great power in developing language naturally and through meaningful conversation. I am sad that we can add some things here and there and say it’s the am, but it’s not. The only thing that is positive about it, is that the themes for both ELD and ELA are the same. The stories will still be there Allie. You will make sure of it, I just hope there is a time for students to self select books they want to read. And one more thing before I get off this… I wonder if the money did they spent on the “premium package” could have been put to better use… say a librarian?

      • Jane permalink
        August 30, 2011 7:06 pm

        Sorry for all the typos… hands are not working after a long day! But you get the points!

  2. Lynne Formigli permalink
    August 30, 2011 10:39 am

    I personally am not a fan of pre-packaged curriculum. I find by developing the materials myself, I have a better grasp of how it will work, where the challenges might be, and how to utilize it as a more effective learning tool. I enjoy the creative process of curriculum development. It’s one of the challenges of teaching; how can I present these concepts in a way my students will be engaged and more clearly understand the information?

    • Jane permalink
      August 30, 2011 7:10 pm

      I am not sure teachers are trained that way anymore Lynne, I hope I am wrong. The best part of teaching for me is the creative aspect of it. I know we can still be creative in our classrooms, but the more recent district PD’s I have been to are basically, here is the program, here are the components, here is what you do. There is a little more freedom with this new one, but there are also a lot more components as well. I long for the days of a good book, chart paper, markers, and some imagination. Amazing things can happen!


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