With permission from a grad school colleague, I am re-posting her response to a discussion on curriculum influences from a semester ago:
I want to begin by first talking a little about my out of state teaching experience and what was taught there. What was taught there was what was mandated by legislation, Kentucky Core Content. For every grade level there were a set of standards that were supposed to be taught. In addition to the standard there was also key vocabulary, suggested activities, and DOK (depth of knowledge) levels. As a first year teacher I really appreciated this resource. I didn't have to worry about what I was teaching but instead could focus all of my attention on how I was teaching it. This experience helped me grow as an educator and I discovered that what I was teaching wasn't always as important as how I was teaching it. What I was being told to teach was very similar to what gets taught here in Iowa.
When I moved back to Iowa and began teaching here my focus switched from how I was teaching to what I was teaching, which I found to be a pretty big waste of my time. Since I have been back over half of the in-services I have attended have focused on what we are teaching. We argue, we debate, feelings are hurt, people are mad and nothing ever gets accomplished. I have been involved in curriculum mapping in both districts I have taught in and feel that for the most part it has been a total waste of time. What if instead of fighting about what we were teaching we were working on teaching it in effective ways. WOW, what a concept. If the Iowa Core isn't implemented I will be very disappointed. Tell me what to teach and I will make sure that I teach it to the best of my ability.
Dr. Pace asked what influences what gets taught and I wish I could say, what students need, what benefits them the most, and what they are interested in, but I can't. What gets taught for many classrooms is what is in the textbook, what the teacher has taught for the past 20 years, what is interesting to the teacher, and sometimes what is easy. Oh, and if anybody asks what the standards say. If only we could find where we put them. I don't mean to be cynical but this is an area of great frustration for me.
For other classrooms this isn't the case. What gets taught often times is what we are currently learning about as a staff through professional development. What teachers feel students need to know, based on assessments. What the standards say should be taught. What resources are available to teachers and students and what various stakeholders feel is important.
In my classroom I try to follow the districts' standards and benchmarks however, in the area of science this can be difficult because these concepts and ideas are being taught in fourth grade and sometimes even third grade. I try very hard to let the students' questions and interests help guide what gets taught. For science, I use an inquiry based approach to teaching and learning. I love it and so do the students.
As we debate and discuss the merits of our first dose of state standards here in Iowa, I've found myself warming up to the idea of spending less time time locally deciding "what" should be taught and instead refocusing that energy on...making sure everyone is clear on the "what."
I can argue both sides of the "state standards" issue. Students all have unique interests and futures and they should spend time exploring these while in K-12 schools. On the flip side, it would be a shame to create an educational lottery in which students in District A are exposed to a more rigorous and relevant curriculum than students in District B.