My wife is a “follow the recipe” type of cook. She can make foods that are either very simple or have detailed instructions on how to make them. If left on her own for a meal, I can accurately predict her food choice: frozen pizza/lasagna, easy mac, or a PB&J. However, she is a great baker. She diligently follows the recipes, getting the correct amounts and doing things in the proper order. Her baked goods turn out wonderful every time, as my waist will prove.
In contrast, I am not a recipe cook. I often like to try new combinations, or vary the amount of this spice, or this ingredient, in an effort to improve what I am making. Sometimes it turns out poorly, but usually, my efforts are successful. When I find the perfect adjustments, I document it and will make it that way each time. It is a process for me to make great food. But, I am a terrible baker. Improvisation and not following the rules in baking often results in inedible food.
So what does this have to do with education?
Well, how do you think my wife’s school district views teaching? Do you think they are proponents of no recipe cooking? Or by the books baking? Based on previous posts, it is clear that the district believes that education is prescribed, one size fits all, only one way to teach, a single recipe.
On the other hand, my wife teaches like I cook. She follows a framework for her lessons, but likes to adjust them to fit the kids need. Perhaps she’ll use a certain type of example, or choose a specific activity. She seeks lessons that target the kids educational strengths. Sometimes this means more hands on projects. Other times it means oral instruction or independent reading. She adjusts to what she has and is always tinkering, trying to find the best way to teach a subject. At least, that was how she used to teach.
In her new school, she must follow the recipe or risk a poor evaluation. It doesn’t matter if she knows the recipe isn’t working, or the results are poor. What does this look like? Well, here is an example of what she must deal with.
With her struggling readers, she has a text book that she is required to use. An image of a page in the book is shown below.
As you can see, there are words in black and words in blue. The words in blue are the words she must read out loud to the kids. WORD FOR WORD. The black words instruct what she should do, but not say aloud. For example, write this word on the board. Followed by a verbal comment in blue. This is Stupid.
Yes, she is required to read this script. Naturally, she went to college, got a degree in teaching, and now has to read text out loud from this text. Why?
Well, this learning system had been put in place a few years prior, but the results from testing found that it was mostly ineffective. The natural conclusion was that the teachers obviously weren’t teaching the lessons properly. Therefore, the teachers are now required to read the blue text word for word and follow the instructions. I guess this is following the recipe.
Look more closely at this text though. Read the spelling. Now if you can’t read it, the blue text asks the teacher to read out loud some words. One of the words is knot. Yet, how could the kids understand what they are supposed to spell? “Knot” is not used in a sentence. There is no blue text for context, nor technically is the teacher allowed to adjust the lesson (because the blue text is all that is needed). Perhaps next time they can spell “asinine”.
So as you can see, with this strategy, you remove the element of variation in teaching. By making all of the teachers the same (and crappy), you have uniformity in teaching. But since the teachers are now uniformly bad, everyone in these schools suffers.
The district has essentially taken a bad recipe, decided it was the cooks fault it didn’t taste good, and had them make it again following the directions precisely. Perhaps it is time for a better cook book and some new recipes. Just replacing the cook won’t fix this problem.