Have the teachers in our district been given an impossible directive?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by Sarge, Nov 24, 2008.

  1. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    Nov 24, 2008

    At the start of this school year, we were told three things.

    First, in meetings we were told to teach the Open Court Reading program exactly as it is given in the teachers' guide. Not to deviate or change or add or subtract anything.

    Second, we were given an instructional minutes schedule that says we teach Open Court for exactly 2 hours and 35 minutes each day plus 20 minutes for workshop and 35 minutes for ELD instruction (both of which are to be done as prescribed in the Open Court Curriculum).

    Third, we were given a pacing guide that tells us exactly what lesson to be on on what day for the entire school year. No allowances were made for minimum days (at least one every other week), field trips, assemblies, school-wide activities etc, weekly library time, etc. Nor were any of these things alloted for in the instructional minutes.

    All issues of academic freedom, teacher "creativity," and student enrichment aside, I'm starting to wonder if it's even possible for a teacher to follow these mandates no matter how badly they wanted to.

    I know I can't. If I follow the pacing guide and teach Open Court exactly according to the manual, on some days the kids would be there until 4:00. Worse, not every Open Court Lesson is the same length. Some have 5 decodable books, some have none. It varies from day to day and what is being taught.

    If I choose to go by the instructional minutes I would either have to cut corners with Open Court or let some lessons stretch out over two day and blow the pacing guide. Finally, if I want to teach open court exactly by the book and abide by the instructional minutes I need to drastically alter Open Court to make it fit.

    What concerns me (as a union rep) is that our district has created a situation where basically any teacher could be written up or insubordination on any given day because they cannot follow this impossible set of mandates.

    Any thoughts? Should I take this higher up?
     
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  3. TeacherC

    TeacherC Connoisseur

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    Do other teachers feel this way? It does sound impossible to me... How does your principal feel about this directive? It seems to me that after trying it for a few months, if it isn't working, someone should know about that. It is ridiculous to give pacing guides that don't allow for simple technical things like shortened days or days where there is another activity planned. I do think that it should be taken to a higher-up, but I would also see how other teachers feel...if you can get a group together, maybe you can get things changed!
     
  4. Peachyness

    Peachyness Virtuoso

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    I worked at a district that was also VERY strict about Open Court. As a teacher who has been there and done that, I know the frustration you are feeling. I tried really, really hard to stick to the program, but I have a brain and my brain looked at my students and where they were and my brain chose to use professional judgement on what I really needed to focus on and how to teach and so on. ANways, I would have been written up too. I couldn't help it, I had to fudge a couple of lessons, or throw out a couple of activites because my kids were far too above the lesson. My P got on my case about it. He never taught before. Go figure.


    Anways, my last year at the school district, they actually said that there were allowing us more freedom with the program. We still had a pacing schedule, but they were allowing us to use our professional judgment and use OCR more as a guide. WHEW!!!!! I'm glad they came to their realization.
     
  5. LakeSophie

    LakeSophie Comrade

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    I would make sure that I was teaching at least one activity from the parts of the phonics section (as that is the part that takes the longest) One opening activity, one blending activity, the decodable books as quick as possible with focusing on students reading the sounds correctly vs. comprehension (I don't worry about this as much on days when I have 5 books to cover). That's usually a phonics lesson in my OpenCourt 2005 classroom.
     
  6. monsieurteacher

    monsieurteacher Aficionado

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    What about talking to your principal and letting them know that you would like him to come observe you in order to enhance your teaching. When you teach your Literacy block, he will be able to see first hand that it is impossible. If he has suggestions, follow them and if that doesn't work, ask for another observation, telling him you are still struggling but would really like to do your best, and would like some advice on what you could do better.

    If you come at it from this angle, rather than telling the principal right off the bat that what he is saying is impossible, it will be much more effective in the long run.
     
  7. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    I'm not so concerned about me, but rather other teachers in our district. My principal observes me all the time and likes what she sees. But other sites have had issues with principals putting letters in people's files without due process or going through the "progressive discipline" steps. And certain teachers have also been targeted for various reasons.
     
  8. EMonkey

    EMonkey Connoisseur

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    I also had the same situation with Open Court. It was against the contract to use going against Open Court as an evaluation judgement but it was done. My advise is the union should file a grievance now. There is no way to follow Open Court throughout every step every day. It is difficult to do in first grade but almost impossible in the upper grades, something needs to be taken out to be able to do other things like math.

    My guess is the administrator is breaking the contract. The district I work in has started a new thing in math for some schools and was trying to force compliance. Because the district was such a pain with Open Court the union filed a grievance already and the teachers are not being forced to comply with the new math thing because it broke the contract.

    The district I work in after tormenting the teachers for 8 years finally issued a statement saying we were once again encouraged to use our knowledge to assess what should or shouldn't be focused on and to add supplemental stuff. Maybe if grievances had been filed earlier it would not have taken them so long to wake up.
     
  9. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    I want to bring up several points whyschools and district implement these guidelines. First, you can't guarantee that every teacher in your building has the same knowledge and skills that you do. (not directing this towards OP, but just in general) So while you may make great instructional decisions, I can guaratnee there are people who work at your school that can't. It's not that they don't work hard, but some people do not have the knowledge of reading components and curriculum design to make their own lessons. Implementing fidelity to a core program ensures that all teachers teach the appropriate material. Core programs are not designed by salespeople, they are designed by teachers, researchers and literacy experts. Second, if everyone were allowed to do what they wanted, there would be no consistency among horizontal and vertical grade levels as to academic language, routines, etc.
    I have been in a school where for the first few years, we were allowed to implement Open Court how we chose. Well, we dug ourselves into a big hole because people were not teaching all of the components. When we became a Reading First school and had to follow the core program, we saw HUGE gains in student achievement. Also, when a district or school is designing professional development, it's much easier if everyone is on the same page.
    This is not to say that this is perfect for every school, but I honestly think systems like these are great. But you have to understand my background- I'm a coach, I'm an Open Court trainer, I work with the department of ed. for school improvement, etc.
    I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but my opinions come from experience with working with schools that are setting guidelines like these in place.
     
  10. EMonkey

    EMonkey Connoisseur

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    I guess my question Kay, is why punish the capable teachers to accomadate the teachers who do not have the knowledge? Why not train the ones lacking instead of dumbing the quality down for everyone? Also have you ever truly tried to teach all components of Open Court every day? I haved never found it possible and I have taught Open Court for years with lots of other very capable people who all agreed. Have you always been a trainer? Every trainer I know who actually has taught it at least understands why teachers are so frustrated by the expectation. Do you really think the writing program is quality?
     
  11. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    The point of my original post was not the merits of Open Court or the educational importance of program fidelity. My point was that even if a teacher wanted to teach Open Court as advertised, they would have a hard time doing so with the pacing guide and daily schedule our district has set up.

    The main problem with Open Court is that whoever wrote it had a very poor concept of time. For example the warm-ups in the green section often take far longer than 5 minutes. And the little clocks up in the corner of the page say that all decodables take 15-20 minutes. But some are 16 pages vs 8 pages. They allot the same amount of time for the 16 page books as they do for the 8 page books!

    I'm not saying that teachers should not teach the whole program, it's just that it's unreasonable to expect them to do so and cover all the units in one school year and have any time left over to teach other subjects like math.
     
  12. monsieurteacher

    monsieurteacher Aficionado

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    Forgive me for asking what may be a stupid question... Maybe this is a regional difference, but isn't making great instructional decisions part of our professional responsibilities as teachers?
     
  13. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    Yes it is part of our responsability! But think of all the new teachers who are so overwhelmed with the realities of teaching and then not having a pacing guide or any procedures to follow.Or let's face it-there are people who don't want to put in the time or effort.I think as dedicated teachers we don't want to think think that there are people like that, but there are, which is why I think systems are good.
    Monkey-I understand your point of why make all teachers regardless of skill level go through the same things. I've had countless conversations with teacher friends about this, and I understand the frustration. But you're only as strong as your weakess player,and I just don't think its fair to kids to not have the same level of instruction, and I think schools following procedures like the OP mentioned are just good for kids.I taught the reading program, just not the blue section.(When I say 'reading program' I just mean the reading part-green and red)
    Sorry for the typos-Im typing from my phone and I don't know how to do spellckeck.
     
  14. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    So we stifle the creativity of those who can and will in order to limit the damage done by those who can't or won't...

    Oy.
     
  15. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    I can't imagine someone who has never met my students or set foot into my school dictating exactly what lesson I need to teach on which day and exactly what I need to say during that lesson. Scripted/directed programs are not the norm here; I'm not sure I could follow one.
     
  16. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I am pretty sure I would have HUGE problems with scripted lessons.

    Even after a zillion years of teaching, I sometimes have to change the homework; I don't end up teaching what I had planned to get to. Sometimes the kids have had trouble with the homework, sometimes an interesting question comes up and we get sidetracked into something worthwhile but not on the lesson plan.

    That serendipity is what makes teaching so much fun!
     
  17. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Well, and the "teachable moment" connects with people's brains, sometimes indelibly.
     
  18. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    I would have huge issues with a scripted program. I think that even with the "weak" teachers, they set a dangerous precedent. Teachers who don't want to think should be out of the classroom. New teachers who are still learning should have mentors and pacing guides and sample lessons, but I can't see scripted lessons as anything but damaging in the long run. A teacher learns how to pace, set lessons, figure out what works, figure out how students learn, ect by DOING...and that means creating lessons and occasionally bombing a few.

    Teachers and children are not robots, and unfortunately, that's what scripted programs assume. I see absolutely no good coming from them. If we want to make better teachers, then we should support them, not try to turn them into autotrons who lack the ability to respond to individual student needs.
     
  19. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    The best scenario is to have someone in the building (coach, title 1, curriculum director) who knows the student population and needs so when decisions are made, it's not coming from an outside source. Here's a question that I ponder: What happens when teacher creativity interfere's with direct, explicit instruction? Here's a scenario I have recently had: students are reading a story about George Washington. As per the pacing guide, one story is taught per week. The teacher wants to extend the lesson to two weeks to bring in books, movies, research projects, etc. We all know building background knowledge is good, but when is it too much when it is taking time away from the reading skills that need to be taught? (word knowledge, spelling, etc.)
     
  20. TeacherGroupie

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    The problems you've described are real problems, but I very much doubt that a scripted program is the best way to solve them even for the people who have the problems, let alone imposing them - verbatim, for heaven's sake! - on everyone else.
     
  21. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    And on the other hand, does not following a program solve the problems? (school-wide) So what is in the middle...
     
  22. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    As in- two extreme sides to the issue. Heavily scripted program versus total teacher freedom.
     
  23. TeacherGroupie

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    There are plenty of reports here on A to Z of scripted programs that HAVE to be followed to the letter. In some cases, I suspect that that's less a matter of program design (though in some cases one wonders) than of higher-ups who are desperate for a magic bullet as their test scores fail to keep pace with expectations.
     
  24. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    I expect most of us fall somewhere in the middle; I am doubtful that there are any of us with total freedom. We all have standards or curriculum expectations that need to be addressed each year and we can't deviate from those. I can't, for example, decide that I won't cover Ancient Civilizations in grade 5 Social Studies because the students are more interested in something else. It is in the how that we need to have the freedom to be the individuals and professionals that we are.
     
  25. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Common sense.
     
  26. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Keep in mind: those pacing guides and scripted lessons are written by WRITERS, not necessarily teachers. Or not necessarily teachers familiar with that grade or level.

    I've written some for 5th grade math. I've never taught 5th grade math.

    That job wasn't a great fit. I couldn't BELIEVE that any teacher would actually be expected to follow a script.
     
  27. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I think there's a HUGE middle ground.

    Teachers, particularly new teachers, can submit weekly lesson plans, and someone with experience in the grade level can read them, to ensure that the teacher is teaching the material.

    Administators can do lots of unannounced observations with the same objective in mind.

    I have LOTS of freedom in my classroom, specifically because I've earned the trust of the administration. So today, instead of doing Algebra, we did logic puzzles. (My honors kids had 5 quizzes and a test. Mine was the one class that let them breath today.) It was only possible because my Department Chair and AP KNOW that I'm covering the material and my kids will leave my class knowing their algebra.
     
  28. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    So since you are familiar with Open Court, I'd like your take on my original question.

    Do you think it's unreasonable for them to expect us to fit the entire red, green, and blue sections into a 2.5 hour block? After lunch, we are to do workshop, ELD, and then do math for an hour and a half. Then they go home. Even PE, a state requirement, is technically not allowed, according to this schedule.

    Now, I could follow this schedule if I could let lessons stretch longer than one day. But then I'd be behind on the pacing guide - which has us finishing unit 10 on the Friday before the last week of school.

    What I'd like them to do is relax the pacing guide to allow for review days and reteaching. Right now, we are in the thick of the difficult sounds and spelling and hitting them with multiple new concepts every day. What I've always done in the past is take a day now an then to give them a chance to practice what they have already learned - an area where Open Court seems to fall short.
     
  29. Luv2Learn

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    what about the special ed kids? What about the kids that have some learning disabilities...what kind of life raft do you have for them?

    To me, scripts belong on stage and in the movies, not in classrooms. Teachers work long and hard to get their certifications...I think following the district curriculum is enough.
     
  30. knitter63

    knitter63 Groupie

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    AMEN! We do Making Meaning and Being a Writer which are both scripted, and my math is scripted. I hate it. I have a brain, I worked hard to earn my degrees, and I am tired of being stifled creatively because there are teachers who must use the script to teach. I do feel like I am being punished.
     
  31. EMonkey

    EMonkey Connoisseur

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    Kat never has taught the whole curriculum according to a previous post of hers. She has taught the yellow and the red sections.

    I still think it is impossible to fulfill the requirements, and I have taught Open Court for 8 years. At one point I did try to do all parts of each section because it was mandated from my district. I ended up leaving out the inquiry section in order to get close to doing it all. I now do not do writing from Open Court.
     
  32. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    Sarge-long post-sorry! I do think the directive is reasonable,but takes a lot of planning and familiarity with how to teach OCR. I thought it was pretty obvious from my posts where I stand on this topic! Is it easy-no. Does it allow other subjects, as in p.e. standards to be given less time-yes. But what's going to give a child more success in life-being able to read or having concept knowledge about things such as science, but not even being able to read a book to learn more about it? I think your student population has a lot to do with it,also. I don't know what type of school you are in, but my personal views come from working with high risk, high ELL populations.
    Now that's not to say every day is going to go off perfectly, as some lessons are longer. (The King of Purple-dreaded teaching that story!)Following the routines will get your kids used to the procedures of introducing sounds, blending and dictation. It helps with the pacing because teacher talk is reduced, and the kids get more answer time. On the day where you have more than one decodable book, teach the one first that has the most common sound/spelling pattern. The other ones can be introduced,put in a center for partner reading, or taught in your small group time. The pacing is most important for first grade because once you get to unit 7,the format changes. If you wait too long to get to that unit the kids miss some important things that will help them in second grade.

    Your intervention times will help your sped or ELL kids.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2008
  33. ChristyF

    ChristyF Moderator

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    I don't know anything about Open Court, but I know that we have extremely strict guidelines on the number of minutes we teach each subject a week. Is it even possible to teach ELA (Open Court) for the number of hours you are being told to teach it and still have time for the other subjects? My old school used Shurley for English. It was scripted and didn't work. I was so glad to get away from it. Every teacher is unique, every classroom is unique and there should be flexibility due to that. :2cents:
     
  34. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    Emonkey- I have taught all of the componants of OC reading.I did the blue section my first two years. The green and red parts are considered the reading parts.The blue section is not really considered part of the reading program.
     
  35. Peachyness

    Peachyness Virtuoso

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    That's what we did in our last district. The blue was pretty much thrown out. We had to teach all of green and red. I taught OCR for kinder and for fifth. While I really do like components of it, it was really nice when the district allowed us some breathing room. I think you need some wiggle room because not all classrooms are alike. I had a really, REALLY high group of kinders and there were times when they activity itself was really not appropriate for their level, so I looked at the objective and tweaked the activity. For my fifth grade class, they were very LOW, so I had to tweak some things to meet their needs. I looked at the lesson and the objectives and while I followed the objectives of the lesson, I used my professional knowledge to teach based on my students' needs. AND we were backed by the reading coaches and the district. ONLY my Principal had a problem with this, but then again, he never taught in a classroom. He thought you HAD to follow it to the T.
     
  36. TeacherGroupie

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    The Next Big Thing In Reading will probably be the discovery that a small but significant number of kids NEED the content in science or music or art or whatever, along with appropriate print materials, in order to learn to read.
     
  37. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    Definitely-especially the print materials that go with it. Which is why I think it's great that science and social studies are usually interwoven into the curriculum. Kills two birds with one stone!
     
  38. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Can children really be readers of science without being doers first?
     
  39. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    I don't see why not. I think it goes hand in hand. For example, they can read about environments that they have not been in (snow, hot) and still be able to understand. Or reading about a certain animal they have never seen.
     
  40. knitter63

    knitter63 Groupie

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    I disagree. Even though I am huge advocate of reading, and its importance, I do believe Science and Social St. must be taught as separate curriculums. I reinforce topics in my guided reading, however, only teaching these subjects stifle the student. Doing experiments, completing hands on projects, and discussions in these areas can not be replaced by simply reading about it in a book.
    As a believer in Piaget's theory as well, most of my 5th graders are still in the concrete stage-and reading does not always help them to understand topics like thermal energy. Just my :2cents:
     
  41. TeacherGroupie

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    I think there are children for whom real content is what kicks open the door of reading: in other words, they need to see that it gets them something they want. That, I think, is the single biggest mistake made by the programs that push reading to the exclusion or near-exclusion of everything else.
     

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