Another year of the Mighty Smackdown has begun. My third, and fifth for the Smack down itself. This is a professional development opportunity for teachers to read and familiarize themselves with some Young Adult literature that is available. New books are selected each year, many are award winners. Teachers are divided into teams. Each team reads two novels and advances one. Sometimes it is a hard choice, either because you like them both or because you don’t. Other times the choice is so clear and obvious. We keep reading, voting and then blogging about our choices. As books are eliminated, the groups get bigger. Until there are only two books left and the whole group votes on which book can be the one and only victor…or until the facilitators have to break the tie, like last year. I have been fortunate enough to like the winner in both of my previous years which is NOT the case for all my colleagues. The first bracket is done, and the victors have been announced. Excited about bracket number 2. Check it out at the link below.
I have some grave concerns with the monumental shifts to our education system here in Alberta.
I have concerns on two fronts. Not the least of which is, we are one of the highest performing education systems in the world, ranked 2-3 in the English speaking world and 11th overall. This is with the current ways of doing things. Why do we need to have such a monumental shift? What kind of improvements do you think we will make from 2 or 3? Will we really improve all that much from a major overhaul and how long will it take to see that growth? I am also concerned about the idea of “cherry picking” for school improvement. We are going to pay a high price for this enormous refurbishing of a system that is performing very well already, and it is unlikely that without utilizing the sustainable aspects of school improvement, those gains would be long term. Let us not forget that the ‘high price’ I am talking about are students, and how they are going to fare during all of this and beyond. If students are left behind how long will it take for them to get caught up? Is there a plan for filling in the gap?
My second chief concern is the experience that I have had working with special needs students and working in the inner city. When research is done, often they leave out these populations so as not to skew the results. The problem is that reports are often published with the efficacy reports high, and without inclusion of these two groups. Often they lack the ability or background knowledge/experience to do the kind of learning that “discovery learning” entails. Does that mean we quit or give up? NO. But it does mean that these two groups will be significantly more disadvantaged in this new system of teaching and learning. Let us not forget the ‘whole language learning’ debacle. When the Alberta government shifted from phonics based instruction for reading, to the highly talked about and championed whole language approach. It took them seven years to realize that significantly more students were failing to learn to read than had been when we used phonics. Millions of dollars spent, much time, energy and resources wasted. And for what? Think about all those students who failed to learn, or took significantly longer to learn to read, while we figured out that we shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. Was it perfect? No. But broken? Not so much. What ultimately happened was that they took the best parts of each practice (phonics and whole language) and blended them for a balanced approach. Couldn’t there be room for that in our educational system? We could improve on our existing practices without ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water.”