Monday, September 3, 2012

Textbooks or Professional Development for Teachers?

This past week, Larry Hahn of the Common Core Institute spoke to our complex area principals about what it means to be College and Career Ready and shared statistics about our nation's poor performance on the PISA assessments.  The Common Core State Standards were created to up-the-ante and ensure that our students are College and Career Ready by the time they leave high school.  He stated that our country was ranked first in one category -- the size of our textbooks.  Other countries delve deeply into content; our country chooses to cover too much in one year.

Our school is struggling to provide the necessary professional development for teachers to implement the CCSS.  It takes much more than reviewing our "old" curriculum and aligning our lessons to the CCSS.  The expectations for teaching and learning are much higher now, and making the change at the school level, in every classroom, is a challenge. Understanding the CCSS takes time, honest discussion, modeling, reflection, and collaborating with our colleagues.  When Planning and Collaboration days were eliminated to balance the budget, we no longer had the opportunity to have those discussions with the entire faculty and to address the individual needs of our school and our students to meaningfully implement the CCSS.

Presently, publishing companies are aligning their textbooks, and states and districts will soon be reviewing these resource materials to select the one that aligns with the CCSS and best fits their needs.  Rather than spending millions of dollars on new textbooks, perhaps we should invest in our teachers by providing planning and collaboration time so they can create relevant, problem-based or project-based learning opportunities which integrate the CCSS as well as the use of technology and other resources.

Larry Hahn stated, "Teachers are good conductors of curriculum, but they should be composers of curriculum."   This statement really resonated with me; there are so many resources available for accessing curriculum as well as for sharing learning, but it takes the competency and the creativity of the teacher to make learning come alive for students.

A few years ago, Dr. Julia Myers, (University of Hawaii, West Oahu) trained our teachers on Lesson Study for math, and the process was  powerful. Lesson Study was developed in Japan and builds capacity of teachers to learn from each other and to observe student learning in the classroom.   Through Lesson Study, our teachers became better observers of students and worked together to design problem-based math lessons and conduct action research focused on a school-wide goal.  However, there were obstacles to full implementation, primarily the cost of hiring substitutes so teachers could develop their Lesson Study plan and ensuring coverage for classrooms so that teachers could observe each other, and debrief and collaborate afterwards.  This is not a problem in Japan where teachers spend 60% of their time teaching and 40% meeting with other teachers to collaborate, plan, and receive professional guidance from mentors.

The CCSS has the potential to change the way teaching and learning takes place in schools.  However, real change will only come about when teachers have the competency to be composers of the curriculum in their classrooms to plan relevant and engaging learning opportunities based on the strengths, needs, and interests of their students.  To accomplish this, rather than spending millions on new textbooks, we need to spend more on ensuring support for our teachers through guided professional development and time to collaborate and learn from others.  Only then will we see meaningful changes in our schools.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept that teachers should be composers of curriculum. I also recognize that schools will have difficulty implementing CCSS, with its intended impact and depth, without collaborative school-site dialogue for the purpose of deconstructing these standards as well as creating learning progressions and common formative assessments. With that said, I'm not as convinced that a traditional generalist pre-service teacher preparation program will bring about the change that Common Core creators envisioned. Therefore, it is crucial that our state and local DOE revisit the importance of professional teacher development and invest in preparing our teachers for this CCSS change.

  2. I agree. This is why it is so important to partner teacher candidates with exemplary teachers during the pre-service preparation period. I believe that a student teacher should be collaborating with their grade level or department teachers to review data to make instructional decisions or to create and revise interdisciplinary units based on the CCSS or to integrate the use of technology so students think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create. This is all part of the professional development process to build understanding of the CCSS, not just for the teacher-education student but for all teachers as well.