Sunday, June 10, 2018

Scripted Lessons: A Great Way of Killing the Joy of Teaching and Learning.

Pat Austin Becker is a writer and a teacher who writes the blog And so it goes in Shreveport. Pat Austin is a highly experienced English teacher who should be listened to when she offers an opinion about what works and what doesn't work in teaching English to our present day students.

Here is Pat Austin's latest post on the subject of scripted lessons. It seems that Pat's school system has adopted a strict step-by-step mandate for teaching English II. Each English II teacher in the system is expected to follow the same script for each lesson in lock step, "with fidelity". One of the stated reasons for such a mandate is that it assures that if a student transfers to a different school in the parish, he/she will continue English lessons with no gaps in the instruction. But we know the real reason is an attempt that is becoming a trend in many school systems to "teacher proof" instruction. It is an attempt to try to guarantee that all teaching will prepare all students for the all important end-of-course test. Its all about test prep.

Here is another excellent post by a teacher from another state who was driven out of teaching by the standardization of teaching.

Much of this trend to scripted teaching has happened because our Louisiana Department of Education has created a system of rating and grading schools based almost totally on the test scores of students in certain required subjects. The School Performance Score (SPS), the school letter grade, and the entire image of a school depends on the test scores of its students. The natural result of such a system is to force each school to do almost nothing but test prep all year long. As a result teachers in some school systems are now expected to teach a scripted curriculum.

The scripted curriculum looks to me like a mind-numbing, boring exercise that has almost no relation to the life and needs of a typical student. This entire curriculum based almost totally on the Common Core standards was developed by what many have concluded was a group of elitist thinkers from the world of standardized testing and college prep for-all. It ignores the fact that the majority of our students will not attend four year colleges and who cannot, and will not, relate to many of the abstract concepts these elitists feel are so vital. A good example is the lesson described by Pat Austin in her blog, on the unit for teaching the concept of rhetoric in various written and spoken passages. I could barely keep my eyes open while reading the scripted lesson the teacher is expected to follow with fidelity. Here is an excerpt:

"With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:
Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.
The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It's a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of "What is Rhetoric" by Gideon Burton."  

Another part of the lesson looks like this:

"Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
 Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
 Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
 Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
 Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
 Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
 Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
 Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
 Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
 Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
 Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system)."

How do you think the typical 15 year old student will respond to this drivel?

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today's world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the american education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

Need something to smile about at this point? Here is a little YouTube jingle written and performed by a teacher from another state who was also suffering through the creativity killing mandates of constant test prep.

This almost fanatical push to continue the standardized testing based implementation of Common Core is incomprehensible! Since the adoption of Common Core, Louisiana has seen the biggest drop ever in academic achievement of our students compared to other states as measured by the NAEP. Why is our business supported state level management of education so intent on continuing to double down on a failed policy that is harming our students?