Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Content matters

So what was wrong with my idyllic-sounding 6th grade? After all, it was chock-full of collaberative learning, student-guided curriculum, teachers functioning as "coaches" and "facilitators." And it emphasized creative, "higher-level" thinking! How can that be bad?

It was empty. Sixth-grade students aren't capable of teaching themselves Beowulf. Peer editing of student writing? Same thing -- if students don't understand grammar or the components of an expository essay, then how good can the editing advice be? It's garbage in -- garbage out. Figuring out creative ways to solve math problems is nice, but just try to do long division (or worse yet, algebra) without a firm grasp of multiplication facts. And the projects full of hours spent coloring, cutting,'s craft class, not education.

So while my sixth grade teachers celebrated our creativity and pumped up our self esteem, they forgot to spend time actually teaching the content that would make us successful later in our academic career. They cheated us out of the hard work that would make accomplishing more difficult, complex work later possible.

I'm not suggesting that collaborative learning, student-directed learning, or coming up with creative ways to engage students as learners are bad. They're critical -- when used wisely and judiciously. These progressive teaching methods must be paired with a strong, rigorous curriculum that includes specific content.

Seems like common sense, but remember the Fordham report last month that gave US state standards an average grade of C-? States received poor grades because, in part, they ignored the issue of content.

But don't believe me... Read education expert Diane Ravitch's excellent speech, "Why Content Matters." It's long, but for anyone interested in understanding the ins-and-outs of curriculum design and instructional design, its worth the effort. And then backtrack to E.D. Hirsch's thinking on the importance of a content-rich curriculum.

A year in the life of a child is a terrible thing to waste. Let's make sure that we're doing all we can to ensure that doesn't happen here.


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