December 11, 2011

Are we losing the fight?

An education blogger I read often, Joanne Jacobs, recently posted a link to a traditional teaching program, called DI (Direct Instruction), created by someone from the private sector.

Although I had heard of this, I only knew that it embraces everything I'm against in education: scripted lessons, rules, worksheets and tests, so I had previously dismissed it without further research. The eBook Jacobs linked to on her blog about DI confirmed my suspicions -- that DI is one more in a long line of traditional systems that provide crutches for bad teachers and turn students into mindless automatons.

I decided to share my opinion about DI in the comment section on the post; I was the first. A few days later, I returned to Jacobs' blog to find dozens of comments. I was not surprised by the opinions, most of which were directly opposite of mine. Some outraged fans of Direct Instruction thought I was crazy and defended DI and other oft-used weak practices, like lions fighting for their young.

I was not angered by the comments; after all, these people were only defending what they believe in.

Rather, I began considering how difficult it is going to be to overcome these outdated teaching methods, so we can reform American education. If programs like DI and other scripted, basal-type systems can so easily influence parents and educators, how will modern, more progressive teaching methods, like results-only learning, compete?

I wonder, are we losing the fight with traditional teaching?


  1. Keep up the fight, Mark. It can sometimes take a generation before an important idea takes hold, but it starts with one. Imagine that you had never read "Drive". Consider what you have accomplished in just a short time. Big ideas take time to catch hold and cause discomfort among many, but soon enough new educational leadership that understands that we won't achieve the next level of performance without a fundamental shift in technique will rise to power and bring about needed change. Never give up.

  2. Thanks for the support, Jim. I appreciate it.

  3. Check out

    I hope to see you there, Mark.

    All the best,

  4. Results-only learning certainly isn't progressive. I went to STEP, and they beat into our heads that the kids have to be focused on the PROCESS, not the RESULTS. The answers weren't important, only that the kids felt excited and invested in the method they used to get it.

    Other than that, though, you certainly appear to be preaching progressive, and the answer is yes. You're losing. And I'm glad. I teach in a Title I school, I am genuinely results oriented, I think projects are absurd, and the worst thing that has happened to low income kids is well-meaning progressives.

  5. Michele, you're confused about a ROLE. The results are a thirst for learning and real-world application. I know all about Title I. I, too, teach in a Title school. Title teachers watch their kids work on computer tutorials, while these students continue to see no relevance to the subject matter. There are no results in a Title I class, unless you think one F after another and more students filling up the summer school rooms are good results.

    If you think projects are absurd, it's likely because you've never seen a good, engaging project that encompasses multiple learning outcomes, while engaging all students.

    I have Title students in my language arts class, and it's the only place that they willingly collaborate, read independently and show signs of real thought. I'd love to have you visit.

    Thanks for commenting.

  6. Scripted lessons are great for un(der)prepared teachers. There's been a movement towards even less preparation. So long as schools, districts and teachers themselvess see teaching as less the a full profession that requires many to acquire even competence, scripted lessons are a good idea.

    The kind of thing you are talking about, and the kind of thing that I want, are built upon different ideas about the nature/purpose of schooling and of teaching.

    Have we lost the argument over methods? Well, we're consistently losing more and more ground on the nature/purpose of schooling.

  7. Yes. The pendulum is swinging the other way, and new teachers like myself have to fit ourselves into it. As long as I am required to use Direct Instruction, as long as it is part of my evaluation and my job as a teacher depends on it, I will continue to use it. When it goes back to giving teachers the freedom to work, then I will change.

  8. Too bad, Jamie. I understand the desire for job security, but our first responsibility is to the children we teach. Sometimes, you just have to ignore what administrators foist off as good teaching, because someone sold them a bill of goods.

    When I converted to a ROLE, I didn't ask for permission. I just did it and explained it later. When my students outperformed all others on our state-mandated high stakes test, I didn't get too much argument against what I do.

  9. Mark -- I am not a teacher but have a question..I am not sure Jamie has the latitude you imply he has. I could be wrong but here is why...our district has a mobility rate of roughly 40 - 50%. Our schools are required to be on the same lesson on the same day so the kids are on the same page when they come to a new school. (I am assuming this is only at the K-8 level but I am not sure). With the mobility being so high and the teachers required to be on the same page each day, how can a teacher teach in the traditional way? I would love to do away with scripted lessons and get back to engaging kids in their own learning...just don't know how in today's environment they can do least not in a large urban district...
    Thanks --

  10. As crazy as it sounds, I believe teachers must ignore bad curriculum. What if even 10 teachers in your district simply stop teaching your scripted program? Administrators would have to take notice.

    I would offer this compromise: let me teach my way for one year. If test results don't improve, I'll return to your way.

    It's worth a try.

  11. It's "basal", not "basil".

    You're making it difficult to take you seriously. You're *supposed* to be a language arts teacher.

  12. If you want to make attacks, you shouldn't hide behind nicknames. I'm proud to put my name on everything I write and every comment I make.

    Like the basal users, it's hard to take anyone who puts so much emphasis on spelling seriously.

    Thanks for underscoring my point.

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  14. Mark,

    Don't get discouraged or defeated. Systemic/ cultural change takes time.

    You are articulating/ advocating ( I believe correctly), for a student-centered, 21st century vision of education that the mainstream, traditional world of education does not yet see or embrace-

    This kind of shift requires visionary leadership... persistence and tenacity, in making the case, along with an openness to hearing and helping people around their objections... often fear based objections- around college and career readiness

    I have been advocating relentlessly for a similar shift in the culture and approach at my children's school.

    We are fighting for the children... and neither retreat nor defeat, is not an option!

    I enjoy reading your blogs... keep them coming!

    1. Lori, I know the post makes it sound like I feel defeated, but I actually feel emboldened. I realize there are many people like you who make the fight worth fighting. I appreciate you. Thanks for reading.