I haven't been able to blog much recently, there's been a lot going on at our school. Between our Spring Break, state exams, and superintendent visits, even the most cool-headed, balanced, reflective science teacher can succumb to work-related stress.
There's been a lot of exciting stuff happening at my school and I'll post about it as soon as I can, but I wanted to start with a bit of a rant. I apologize if some of this is comes off as an emotional-response instead of a well thought out, research-based editorial. It is a Friday night, I'm tired, and I'm concerned about the path our nation is taking.
As an early elementary science teacher I'm always trying to find the balance between teaching, creating thinkers, fostering imaginations, and having fun. Ideally, the word 'teaching' covers the other three but, in reality, with the accountability demands placed on teachers nowadays, I think 'teaching' is becoming much more clinical . . . and cold.
Now, I'm a science geek and when I heard that the first public draft of the next generation science standards were being published today, I spent a good part of my day checking the website to see if they'd been posted. When I finally got to see them tonight, I made myself a bowl of cereal and sat down to skim through what would be about 32 pages of printed material for grades k-3.
Initially, I was neither shocked nor awed. They seemed to cover what we already do in New York City. After a quick news-reading break I went back to them and paid close attention to the kindergarten and first grade standards. That's when it hit me. Although it all looks familiar (I teach it), it looks like there's been some shifting. The stuff that we're currently teaching first graders in New York City is showing up as standards in kindergarten. The new standards are also asking first graders to do things like obtain information about "offspring survival" behaviors using grade-appropriate nonfiction texts.
Although it won't be hard for a good teacher to do any of these things, I worry about the decisions this will force teachers to make. For one thing, it's hard not to notice that we seem to be cramming more material, more often, and doing it earlier than we're used to. Plus, with the new common core push on nonfiction material, I worry that teachers will naturally reduce the amount of quality time spent with rich fiction.
Kindergarteners and first graders are already being forced to do something that our brains were not designed to do, read. So now we're asking our youngest students to obtain complex information from nonfiction texts while maneuvering through this incredibly difficult task of learning how to read. It's not that I'm against reading nonfiction, it's that I don't think it's the best way to learn for this particular age-group.
My fears, therefore, are as follows:
- I fear the loss of rich, creative fiction in the classroom
- I fear that we may burn out this generation of kids as we ask them to do more than previous generations have been asked to do
- I fear that in an effort to meet new, rigorous standards we will quickly lose sense of what is age-appropriate and right
- I fear that, due to the culture of accountability, teachers will choose to teach in its new cold form, instead of creating thinkers, fostering imaginations, and having fun
And, gosh-darnit, where's the standard for getting muddy?
My hope lies, not in "new and improved" standards, but in the teachers that are entrusted to develop the next wave of humanity. My hope is that we do what is right.
Stay tuned for the return of fun science stuff . . .