The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Why we need more elective teachers

We need more elective teachers. The current landscape of education requires more professionals who think like those who teach art, music, and physical education courses. In our core classes, we need teachers who have a mindset of maximizing opportunities for students to not only consume information, but to create a tangible product or performance as a symbol of their learning.

In early March, while attending a conference, I sat in a session on “Creating a Global Learning Hub.” The speaker, Adam Hartley, presented a slide that showed the revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy in a way that resonated with me as I spend a lot of time thinking about how to encourage teachers to create opportunities for students to be creators and consumers of information.

 

Adam’s analysis, which was spot on, was that most of our class time is spent on the bottom two levels of the pyramid. He went on to say that we reach the middle two levels (apply and analyze) when we are lucky, and only rarely do we see students move to the top of the taxonomy. I think that Adam’s argument is spot on. Often, classroom lessons and activities dabble at the top, but devote most of their time to understanding and remembering content. Considering the amount of factual information that is available via Google in under one second. This changing landscape, where facts can be discovered quickly and don’t require memorization. Technology will continue to progress, making tools such as Wolfram Alpha even sharper.

As I sat looking at and thinking about the image, I began thinking a lot about where I see students regularly creating around school, and could not stop thinking about our elective classes. Students are taught an idea, or spend time learning about some kind of specific content or curriculum, then are given time to “do something” over a period of days that will result in a tangible product that can be displayed or given away. Their work sometimes results in a performance at a band or choir concert, or through participation in some kind of competition, or a project that is displayed throughout our school.

The biggest conversation we need to have with core class teachers is not about standardized scores or the common core standards. While complying with those requirements does allow us to keep our doors open, the bigger focus for schools must be on how we create opportunities for students in their math, science, social studies, and language arts classes to create something with the content they can learn through textbooks or via the web. Publishing writing using sites like Lulu or through a blog, conducting real use of the scientific method in local communities, building something that requires measurement and ratios, or organizing students to debate local or national policy are all examples of the “art” that our students can produce.

Not only does this work make core classes more relevant and create more of a purpose for our students, which will only lead to more motivated learners. Beyond that, these tasks are public and an amazing way to show stakeholders the work we are doing in our buildings. In addition, this work is at the heart of what Seth Godin when he calls for artists in his book Linchpin. Regarding the future, he writes:

“The future of your organization depends on motivated human beings selflessly contributing unasked-for gifts of emotional labor. And worse yet, the harder you work to quantify and manipulate this process, the more poorly it will work.”

While Godin is correct, the characteristics are all available, however, the earlier they are fostered, developed, and cultivated by teachers. If we are going to advocate for our profession through our work and prepare students to contribute the art (emotional labor) they will need for them to succeed, no matter what their business ends up being.

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5 thoughts on “Why we need more elective teachers

  1. I tend to think that we don’t need radical change in the class, but the idea of “flipping” the class as coined by Salman Khan is very much in line with spending less time in the class on the bottom two tiers of the pyramid.

    If teachers would embrace a model where student work at home was focused around the absorption of the knowledge and time in the class was work with peers, one on one time with teachers, and the application of creativity (use of concepts toward demonstrating mastery) we would be in a better place.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      Flipped learning is gaining momentum, and it’s intent, provide students the opportunity to work on problems while teachers are around, is a great idea. Workshops, where students can apply knowledge can make learning, as my friend David Coffey would say, “sustainable.”

  2. aprilmol on said:

    I have to disagree with the use of terms like core and electives. The arts ARE core academic classes. While they may be treated as enrichment, or extras, they’re not.

    • Hi April,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment. I’m interested in hearing about how you think we could make elective classes more available to all students.

      My view is that our core program are the classes all students must take, while electives are classes that students choose. I hope you noted while reading my post that the intent was to expand the strategies that work well in a standard arts curriculum. In addition, I have other posts about expanding offerings and re-thinking what we call “core classes.”

      Again, I’d love to hear more about how to make these classes part of a student’s everyday experience. In addition, I’d love to hear your idea of what to do with students who would then be required to take band or choir at the secondary level and may not be passionate about the topic. Do you think that would hinder the experience for those who are passionate?

      Appreciate your time and willingness to share your thoughts,
      John

      • aprilmol on said:

        There are several different ways to get students involved in arts classes. One way is to simply require it. Our state has had one arts class as a graduation requirement for a while now and just bumped it up to 2 arts classes for next year’s freshmen.

        Another way is to make arts classes be a class that kids want to take. Kids also aren’t limited to band and choir…the statistics tells us that only around 20% of students participate in those performance-based music classes. Classes like guitar, piano, music appreciation, music tech, composition need to be added to schools in order to reach that other 80%. (I’m a music teacher so forgive me for ignoring dance, theatre, art, etc…)

        But, when thinking about giving kids those experiences they’d find in an arts class in their English or math classes…that’s not an issue of content, but of teaching. There’s no reason why students in a literature or math class can’t have PBLs or other projects that have a product.

        (I’m reading and posting from my phone so if I misunderstood what you were asking, I’m sorry!)

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