26 April 2009

Immaterial Things

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you what you were generally looking for in a set of instructional materials. It's a conversation I've had with a lot of people recently, especially with regards to science materials.

Generally speaking, the answers about science stuff fall into two categories, depending upon the grade level someone teaches. Elementary teachers want to know that what they pull out of the kit/box is aligned to the standards, doesn't take a lot of time to set up/clean up, and works. They typically don't "plan" science lessons the way that they might for reading or math. They start with Lesson One in the teacher's guide and go along sequentially from there. Secondary teachers, on the other hand, are all about the mixing and matching. They don't start at Point A and go lesson by lesson in the exact format prescribed by the publisher's program to Point B. In the parlance of our Response to Intervention times, elementary teachers will teach a program with fidelity...secondary will not. Again, I am generalizing here---there are certainly exceptions to the rule.

I am still struggling with what we actually need instructional materials to do, especially after reading this Edutopia article on how textbook programs are developed. If they can all claim alignment...a research-base (whatever that means)...and a conceptual development (if taught with fidelity to the program), then what's the point of a big selection process? Do the nuances of what makes one program "better" than another become identified with the ancillary materials? At secondary, we can pretty well guarantee that even if the alignment, research, and concepts are strong, teachers won't follow the plan. I'm not going to claim that this is a bad idea---teachers need flexibility in order to differentiate for the needs of their students. I just think it's a faulty assumption on anyone's part that if they have instructional materials aligned to standards that there will be a positive impact on student achievement. Awesome materials in the hands of an inadequate teacher are no good...and poor materials in the hands of an outstanding instructor can be a thing of beauty.

It's not about the stuff. It's about what actually happens in a classroom. It's about the instruction, not the materials. How do we help those outside of the school understand that?

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