kitchen table math, the sequel: scripted

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Guided reading is scripted.

Miss Brave:
Before I actually became a first-year teacher, I was all about the workshop model. I thought it would be helpful, as a new teacher, to have a script of sorts to follow. After all, every mini lesson sounds a little something like this, but with all the blanks filled in:

"Boys and girls, we have been working hard on _____. Today I want to teach you that ____. Let me show you what I mean. ________. Boys and girls, did you see the way I ______? Now let's try it together. Turn and talk to your partner about _______. Boys and girls, today and every day I want you to remember that _______. Now off you go!"

A month and a half into the school year, the workshop model is pretty much the bane of my existence. Remembering the script and keeping the mini lesson to a scant 10 minutes is not as easy as it sounds. Neither is trying to shoehorn all the aspects of my lesson into the workshop model framework. I'm used to teaching in a style where I ask lots of questions of my students and invite lots of discussion. During the workshop model mini lesson, there are no questions allowed from the students and no discussion (except during the active engagement); it's all the teacher, all the time. I see my students raise their hands with these hopeful looks on their faces because they have something they want to share or something they have a question about, and it breaks my heart to keep saying, "Hands down, it's my turn now."

I think the workshop model probably does work for the population of students in the school where I teach. After all, taking advantage of those "teachable moments" that lead the lesson astray can be really confusing for students whose native language is not English, like the students at my school. But at the same time, the workshop model feels really one-sided. I can tell that there are kids who are confused, who aren't getting it, and I'm supposed to pull those kids for a 2-minute "re-teach" at the rug instead of changing tack and trying a different method?

This weekend, I took two New York State teaching certification exams (because my teaching license is from another state, I have to pass New York's exams to get my New York license). Mostly they were a joke, but they included lots of samples of class discussions -- and I realized that's something I miss. In my workshop model lessons, there's no back and forth, no "What do you think?", no "Who else has an idea about this?" I don't get to invite my students' opinions, their knowledge, their ideas. All I get to do is tell them how to punctuate their sentences and then eavesdrop on them while they try it. And even though I allegedly have more freedom as a cluster teacher, I've still been told by the powers that be that every class I teach should start with a mini lesson. It's hard enough being a first-year teacher as it is, but trying to shoehorn every lesson into a framework I'm not all that comfortable with is overwhelming.

Apparently the workshop model is mandated for use in schools throughout New York City, so...I should use it or lose it, I guess? Or I should, as someone suggested, plan two lessons: one to be taught the way I want to teach, and one workshop model to pull out when I'm being observed.

I don't think I'm ready to be that much of a renegade just yet.

Can we conclude from this that 'it's scripted' isn't the real objection the education establishment has to Direct Instruction?

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