I recently had a chance to speak with individuals from another school about their curriculum. The term “with fidelity” was used so often during the discussion to describe a program they used that I was left with an overwhelming belief that the word “fidelity” should be barred from education.
This has become a disturbing trend in education. New programs are introduced in which the teacher is the smallest part of the equation. The biggest? The computer. It decides what is best for the student. These programs are touted as a curriculum anyone can teach and worthy of big bucks because of big gains. But only if the program is followed to the letter of the designers’ laws.
The people I spoke with described how teachers, by using only the allowed programs, went through a prescribed number steps each class, choreographed to the minute, where students had whole group instruction, small group instruction, center work, and computer time. Each day, the same schedule. Now, to be fair to the school, they are under a lot of scrutiny from those above them. They spoke jealously of how I could create lessons more loosely based on programs purchased.
As I listened to the individuals describe the classroom setting, I felt myself becoming depressed, as a teacher and for the students. When I create my lessons, I become excited by my materials. My students, in turn, become excited because of my enthusiasm. They want to learn and try, if only because I’m so effusive about how cool everything is. I couldn’t imagine a classroom following such a rigid schedule with little motivation for the students to work and learn, or for me to teach at my best.
This is what education has come to: in the name of rigor, of raising low level students, we are going to create a one-size-fits all class room where anyone can teach in that room. We have let a salesman pitch us a quick fix when there is none.
Yes, the program creators will always argue that their programs level the material to the specific student. But does a computer know when a kid is blowing off a test because he’s taken 6 other tests? Or struggles through the test because there’s family turmoil at home? What if she hasn’t been able to eat or sleep? Does the computer know that?
So I listened highly skilled Educators talk about using their programs “with fidelity” hoping to change minds. When I prompted them, to bring in more teacher choice, more fiction, more real world projects, anything that would make students love learning or motivate them, I was told “We’re looked at too closely.”
So, as many things do, it boiled down to fear. Fear of getting in trouble with higher-ups if rules weren’t followed.
But I ask, how does that benefit students? If we are to truly keep kids engaged, to prepare them for the real world, then why would we bow down in fear instead of speaking up for what we know is right?
A teacher should be the heart and brain of any class. He or she should know the data on their students. They should be the ones to judge what is necessary for their students to learn at any given time otherwise precious school time is wasted. He or she should have a rapport with their students built from mutual respect. They should be able to make instant class decisions for the whole group or individuals based on teachable moments or just human moments. I believe in education we call this “withitness”.
What have I seen that works? Using these programs as secondary materials. Finding a standard or concept the students are weak in, and creating a real world task or project for students to accomplish. Have them argue on a forum post, create a proposal, or debate. Then teach the steps the students need to be successful on that standard and that task. If there is no end goal, no purpose, no real world buy in, most students won’t give it their all. A good many won’t even do the work.