When I started teaching in the 1980’s, I was given a stack of books to teach, and that was what I taught–science, social studies, reading, grammar, whatever the school board or admin or committee chose for the books, that was our curriculum. I did it for five years in grades 2 and 3, in a public school and a private school, in two separate states. There was no such thing as curriculum, just the books we were given to teach.
Then, I became a stay at home mom for ten years during the 90s. During those years, the pendulum swung toward standards-based education, or what they called in those years Outcome Based Education. I wasn’t paying that much attention, but I did read a few articles because I was surprised my conservative friends seemed so against it. It made sense to me that we should ask what students should know and be able to do. Then figure out how to get them there. Education was obviously a more complicated idea than just covering a stack of books.
Now, “I wasn’t paying that much attention” was the truth because when I went back to teaching in 1999, I took my stack of books and carried on as I had years before. I was in Arizona at the time, and fortunately, I had a great instructional coach. One of the first times she came to see me, I was proudly finishing touches on a gigantic dinosaur mural. It had 3-D mountains and trees and a volcano flowing with lava. My students and I had made it. Grade 2 artist dinosaurs populated the prehistoric landscape.
She asked me why we were doing dinosaurs. I said it was a chapter in our science book, and I let the students vote on which chapter they wanted to do first. She then opened the Arizona State Standards for grade 2 science. She showed me how there were no dinosaurs in second grade science.
“What? How can we not do dinosaurs?” I thought or said. I don’t quite remember which one. I was in tears before she left, but that experience left an indelible mark on me. It began my journey to understand standards-based education.
I went on to teach grades 2, 7, 8 and work as a reading specialist, using the Common Core State Standards for most of those years.
When I moved to Bahrain, I found the pendulum hadn’t really swung. I am in a school with American curriculum–that is American books. We are kind of in the 1980s mode of teaching from books.
We have some good benchmarks for the KG-grade 2 department, so it was easier to not rely totally on the books. When I moved to grade 5 this year, I realized that our curriculum is focused on the textbooks. We have lessons on interrogative, declarative, imperative and exclamatory sentences, not because our English language learners need to know that terminology. They don’t. We have those lessons because Houghton-Mifflin put them in our books.
As the English coordinator this year, and the ‘owner’ of the school improvement plan goal to “improve reading and writing in English grades KG-5,” I have an important reason to help the department swing toward a better place with appropriate standards-based curriculum.
We have made a lot of progress, and I look forward to seeing a curriculum in place that is appropriate for our students to learn.
It’s Tuesday. Time for a Slice of Life post.