Group Reflection

December 12th, 2011

During this project, it was interesting to see the balance between ideal goals in education, and the funding and time allotted for them, works. All five groups chose different emphasis for their schools – green education, exploratory classes, vocational training, etc. Yet, most chose a student, activity based curriculum with an emphasis on technology and creative uses of space. It was interesting to see the diverse ways that similar material could translate in the upcoming years of education.

Learning Environments

All five groups kept the teacher and students in classrooms. I think this is important. With a growing emphasis on distance learning and online classes, it is easy to be interested in this easier, and potentially more cost-effective model. If all students were learning from a computer at home, we would have to build schools, provide transportation, or pay for electricity and heat. However, besides the nightmare that would create for some parents, there is no substitute for face-to-face instruction from an individual who knows the students needs, can differentiate explanations and instruction, and the benefits of learning and interacting with peers.
Most groups, however, expanded on this classroom with additional spaces. My group, and another, added common rooms for subjects, two groups put in atriums/farms for student use, and one even provided an on-site job training facility. As schools grow in their mission from the traditional academic subjects to a more multi-faceted, real-world based training, these spaces are going to be needed to challenge students.
I also learned a few things about space and its potential. The safe-learning environment was an interesting concept- particularly adding space for students who need activities post assignment. However, based on my experiences in classrooms—they will need to be larger to be able to accommodate these spaces; since the ever-increasing class sizes take up most available room.

Professional Development

PLCs and collaboration groups seemed to be the key words still in most projects. I understand the need for these groups and for increased teacher training. However, as most working teachers will attest, there is little time for all of these demands without sacrificing the time a teacher has to plan lessons. Few groups mentioned providing more time for a teacher outside the classroom. The more we burden teachers in the short time they are contracted to be in the building the less room we give for creativity and detail in lessons.
One particular teacher-related issue, however, that I am not sure any group addressed specifically, is that of technology training. To properly utilize the technology we all mentioned in our projects there would have to be a very in-depth training for teachers. This takes time and money; two things schools often lack.

Curriculum

Most groups went with the student-based curriculum while keeping an emphasis on traditional classes. I think this balance is possible. A universal concept of the topics that should be covered coupled with an emphasis on providing varied assessments and activities within those guidelines. Most groups included cross-curricular topics and opportunities. This is important because, as Dewey stated, experiences need to be related to each other to provide a basis to learn new information. Subjects, as seen in more progressive theories, cannot be isolated into themselves. Few situations in adult life require one set of skills. A doctor must still be able to write, speak, and balance his checkbook.
I, however, was not a fan of the STEM approach. I understand the potential benefits for more mathematical and scientific emphasis in education. However, just as the Greeks, I also firmly believe in public speaking, writing, understanding written word, and the learning from the past. The more ‘romantic’ subjects are just as important, in my opinion, to education.

Assessment

Just as we discussed in class, the overwhelming consensus was to eliminate the SOLs, and other written tests, as the sole standards of student success. Based in the theories of differentiated instruction and student-centered curriculum, all the groups seemed to buy into the idea that students can express their knowledge through a variety of venues—written work, presentations, models, technology, etc.
However, our group was a supporter of keeping the SOLs to monitor student growth and school accomplishments. Just because they shouldn’t be the sole measure of success, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in the schools. There should be accountability for both teacher and student to make sure the student’s right to an equal education is maintained.

Funding

None of the groups seemed to really solve the budget issue. Grants, tax money, and tuition are all ideas in place today. Unfortunately, without an increase in government support, there isn’t a great deal of options that schools have. As we saw earlier in the class, product placements are a two-sided deal, balancing the need for money versus what is good for the students. Public schools cannot charge tuition and many families are unable to afford private institutions.

My high school experience was surprisingly similar to some of these projects. CGS seems to be on the right track to this 21rst century education (especially considering I graduated almost 10 years ago).

1. CGS used technology well above the normal classroom. They utilized Smartboards, ELMOs, MyTurns, and distance-learning years before they were in other classrooms. They also encouraged us to use the internet and technology in projects. (Twice, my final project was a website).

2. CGS was a collaborative environment. Students were together for all four core-subjects with the same teachers for four years. This fostered a true ‘community’ in the classroom. We also tele-learned with sites around the tri-county area. We met for projects, field trips, and social events.

3. Varied assessment. In the CGS year, we did take SOLs and AP tests. However, we also had a yearly ‘cumulating activity’. We selected the topic, the parameters of the project, and also what product we were producing with the help of a faculty advisor. This project was a whole year with checkpoints due. In our final year, one component was an ‘expert involvement’. We had to work with a respected professional in our subject area. These student-based projects encouraged skills we learned in the classroom, our own interests, long-term planning and dedication, and professional development.

4. Modified Learning. My group’s project was partially based off of the scheduling we had in CGS. Our Wednesdays were reserved for enrichment. These days allowed for field trips, labs, or extra class time. Our teachers also benefited from slightly more planning time and worked closely with each other to provide cross-curricular activities.

Student Vs Subject

December 12th, 2011

When dividing up theories on what material should be presented to students it seems to fall into two categories; subject and student based.
Subject based follows the belief that core subjects, ones that have been used through time (reading, writing, math, logic…etc), are the primary goals of education. These are the skills that supporters believe seen are most beneficial for the student in the real world. However, according to our text, these subjects are often taught as autonomous subjects without much connection to each other or the lives or needs of the student. There are benefits and disadvantages to this model.
Subject based curriculums offer basic skills, standardized requirements for learning, and a greater ability to be ‘universally applied’ because it does not deal as much with an individual learner. It is orderly and understandable.

The National Education Summit (1996) came to the following benefits for a standardized, subject based curriculum,

1. Help all students learn more by demanding higher student proficiency and providing effective methods to help students achieve high standards;

2. Provide parents, schools, and communities with an unprecedented opportunity to debate and reach agreement on what students should know and be able to do;

3. Focus the education system on understandable, objective, measurable, and well-defined goals to enable schools to work smarter and more productively;

4. Reinforce the best teaching and educational practices already found in classrooms and make them the norm;

5. Provide real accountability by focusing squarely on results and helping the public and local and state educators evaluate which programs work best.

However, there are also drawbacks to the subject-based model. Without a tie between the subjects, students may have a harder time finding relevancy and making personal connections; making it harder for them to retain the information. Also, it may be simply repetition of teacher decided material without the student gaining true knowledge of the subject matter.

Student-based curriculum is centered on the student’s experiences, interests, and needs when planning the material to teach. These models include activity-based experiences, humanist approaches, value-based, and alternative schools. All of these models focus more on what the individual can, and wants to, learn rather than pushing forward a set of skills and information. They allow students to use skills and ideas to research what interests, and is relevant to, them. Benefits listed include an increased interest in what is being learned, a sense of ownership of their own education by students, and a fuller sense of ‘comprehension’ of a subject—rather than a memorization of information. However, it is also problematic at times when considering how to assess if the students are receiving an education that will prepare them for the adult world.

There is no denying that there are standardized requirements in the public school system. The subjects are also divided into their own departments and a vast majority of secondary, and most primary, schools teach in subject matter blocks. However, despite the tipping of the scale towards subject-based learning, teachers must decide how far on either side of this split they lie when planning their lessons. While working towards those requirements there is ample ability to offer different modes of instruction. A teacher might decide to go the route of direct instruction, and teach in clear, concise lessons with ample guided practice. They may choose to offer more activity, project based learning and let students create assignments based on their interests and skills. They may allow collaborative learning, where students are grouped and help to teach each other the material.

My ideal teaching position would be in the dramatic arts. One ‘goal’ of my class would be for students to be able to understand the components of a “well-directed scene”. The objectives would be to understand the part of a character; voice, physicality, and personality. Another would be to have the ability to understand the technical aspects of blocking and projection. Finally, students would understand the role of the director and the role of the actors in a scene. Each of these objectives would be practiced in class. Students would receive vocabulary, lectures, real-life and film examples, and chances to practice in class. Finally, after each objective is taught, student would be paired in small groups, one student being the director and the other two the ‘actors’. Their grade would be judged on their use of the pieces of character and the appropriateness of their selections for the part, their use of blocking and projection, and a student-decided grade of how well the director and actors performed their duties (including providing blocking, etc for the director and memorizing lines/taking blocking for the actor). This project allows for guided teaching but allows students to create on their own in an active, self-determined way.

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of Education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.

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