Here are my suggestions for 10 things every teacher should resolve to do in 2010:
1. Build classroom community. Use this fresh start to do whatever it takes to make your classroom into a more caring, compassionate place in which to learn. Hold daily class meetings. Allow the students to share important moments from their away-from-school lives. Play team-building games. Create a classroom cheer. Role-play/model situations where behavior could be improved. Smile often.
2. Forget learning styles-based differentiation; differentiate based on students’ abilities alone. As cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham states, in his outstanding must-read book, Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, the current scientific research on learning styles clearly shows that teaching to “the ‘preferred’ modality [e.g. kinesthtic, visual, auditory, etc.] of a student doesn’t give that student any edge in learning.” (p. 120) Only differentiating based on students’ abilities has been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement.
3. Quit caring about the tests. Resolve, throughout 2010 and beyond, to never place pressure on your students about any standardized test. Focus on teaching things deeply and well, and the all-important tests will take care of themselves.
4. Kill the worksheets. If you really want to be brave, teach paperless. If not, at least eliminate the most egregious paper/pencil busywork from your classroom, then go from there.
5. Get politically and fiscally aware. Critically look at what the Obama administration is trying to accomplish through its “Race to the Top” stipulations (or, as Diane Ravitch so aptly calls it, “The Race to Nowhere“). Look at your own school district’s funding situation and email at least 3 suggestions for ways to reduce expenses to your school district’s business manager. Then dream up at least 3 ways your school district could use its assets more effectively to generate additional revenue, and email those along as well.
6. If you’re a public school teacher, read and truly consider the points made in at least three books that bash public schools. I suggest books like Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.
7. Forget about the noble-sounding-but-ridiculous goal of closing the learning gap. A much better goal is to work to ensure that every child in your classroom learns more than a year’s worth of material in a year’s time. If closing the gap was all that mattered, after all, the most effective thing you could do would be to instruct your most capable students extremely badly, letting everyone else catch up to them. That, of course, is foolishness.
8. Get tech savvy. Utilizing technology to its fullest possible extent is no longer optional — it is something every teacher simply must do. Not sure where to find great resources or where to learn some tech basics? Start by reading the blog of Larry Ferlazzo and then watch the explanatory videos found at Common Craft.
9. Replace TV with TED.com videos. I’ve gotten to the point where I can no longer even imagine watching some one-hour drama on television when, in that same amount of time, I could watch (for free) three of the most amazing speakers in the world present for 20 minutes each on a collection of amazing, diverse topics ranging from education to creativity.
10. Make learning real. As frequently as possible, get your students to answer real questions, complete genuine and important tasks, and produce meaningful things for real audiences.
With budget crises and technological breakthroughs both being felt so keenly in school districts across the country, 2010 should be a pivotal year in American education. Let’s all resolve, as much as it is in our control, to make it a great one for each one of the students whose lives we touch.