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Topic: 'A Teacher's Cry for Help'
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
'A Teacher's Cry for Help'
Posted: Oct 15, 2013 5:16 PM
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From Huff Post / The Blog, Friday, October 11, 2013. See
'A Teacher's Cry for Help'

By Eric Cooper

American education is at a crossroads. In developing standards that
ensure our children are learning what they need to know to thrive in
an increasingly competitive and global society and workplace, we must
balance that imperative with the need to give teachers the space to
use creative strategies to reach and teach all children.

Forty-five states have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS - ) which are designed to boost critical
and creative thinking and other higher-order skills students need to
more actively and positively engage in their communities.

These skills are critical if schools are to be responsible for
"shaping character, developing sound minds in healthy bodies ... and
forming citizens for our democracy, not just for teaching basic
skills," Diane Ravitch writes in The Death and Life of the Great
American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining
Education (2010, p. 167). [ ]

Yet the gap between the creation and successful implementation of
CCSS -- and ultimately improved education -- can be deep and wide.

I recently heard from a science teacher in a school district that she
said has numerous schools that are failing to make adequate academic
progress based on the results of state assessments. She lamented the
persistent pressure from her principal and assistant principal to be
less creative with her instruction, and instead rely on worksheets
that they feel will ensure students are prepared for statewide tests.

"The worksheets have very little to do with good science pedagogy and
for the most part are busy work that the administration hopes will
reduce what it feels are student attention-span difficulties," the
teacher wrote in her letter to me.

Instead, this teacher wrote, she brings the Periodic Table of
Elements to life for her students with skits and impromptu rap
sessions. She painted this picture of a typical day in her classroom:

Dressed as Dmitri Mendeleev (father of the Periodic Table of
Elements), I brought Russian culture into the classroom, presented
information, and spoke of sharing, giving and receiving electrons. I
asked students to develop 'spoken word rap'presentations on assigned
elements to include in an interactive periodic table for our studies.
Each student was assigned an element and asked to research and
produce a 3-dimensional box to add to the table. Here is what my
students came up with: 'Yo, oxygen is needed for living and even
slumber, 8 is always my atomic number.'

They went on to explain atomic number minus atomic mass equals
neutrons, and how electron configuration starts with 2 electrons in
the innermost energy level, and the pattern is goes on with 2, 8, 8.
They spoke of families of elements, periods of the elements, and why
they are classified as metals or non-metals, noble gases, halogens,

This teacher perfectly illustrates the challenge that many others
like her in the educational trenches are facing every day.

"Empowering these children with culturally responsive teaching is the
most powerful tool I have ever used in teaching," she wrote.
"Tomorrow Thor, the god of thunder who is the namesake for Thorium
(90), is coming to speak. He is a student in period 3 -- students are
teaching students!"

In my opinion, this woman represents teaching at its best. Educators
who can model and demonstrate subject matter in a way that engages
schoolchildren from their cultural reference point and helps them
learn are the sine qua non of education reform.

Relying on worksheets, instead of educators, to teach basic skills is
standard practice in all too many schools. The approach often leads
to a disjointed and atomistic approach to learning, where students
acquire skills but quickly forget them. And sadly, the drumbeat of
test-driven instruction is sounded all too often for children of

Test-driven worksheets are not new. They emerged during the 1970s in
response to the gap between the principles and practice of
outcome-based education and the mastery learning movement. Mastery
learning gathered steam as an antidote to mediocre student learning
and testing soon became the watchword of business leaders and

To this day, policy and decisions are often driven by the results of
a standardized testing metric. Yet testing that drives, rather than
follows, instruction is akin to the proverbial cart leading the horse.

The science teacher who wrote me clearly is engaged in another type
of instruction -- one that puts students at the front, back and
center of the equation. She uses their cultural experience as
strengths and a pathway for teaching, and her students are

We must bridge gaps if we are to remain competitive in the global
marketplace. One is the gap between a student's potential and his or
her actual achievement. But another is the gap between policy and
implementation. Meaningless worksheets and other textual materials
driven by state and district standards, where there is a mismatch
between text complexity and student comprehension, can lead students
to an academic dead-end.
Eric J. Cooper is the founder and president of the National Urban
Alliance for Effective Education, a nonprofit professional
development organization that provides student-focused professional
development, advocacy and organizational guidance to accelerate
student achievement. He can be reached at Follow
Eric Cooper on Twitter:
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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