At first, Mary Chapman did not know what she was getting into. Her dedication to becoming a teacher was typical of her fellow students. She liked being around young people and enjoyed learning.
She was dedicated to helping others learn. Her own experiences with school as a child and young person were relatively positive. With a few memories created by inspirational teachers or activities.
Which is the way most of us remember our early school years. Favorite subjects and teachers, friendships, enjoyable activities, special occasions and people we will never forget.
In her third year of college Mary enrolled in professional teacher education courses. Not realizing the professors in that program would ask so much of her.
To become dedicated to a new learning infrastructure. To take big risks as a participant in the creation of a new kind of enhanced learning milieu.
It was not simply that the new learning infrastructure focused on student mastery. That idea had been around for decades, finally gaining acceptance after much social debate.
The debate involved three issues:
(1) mastery of what?
(2) how mastery would be officially met
(3) who would make that decision and be held accountable for doing so
The new learning infrastructure placed much responsibility for answering all those questions on teachers. Individually and collectively.
Updated teacher preparation underscored attention to detail as never before. Substantively, not just tinkering with the existing system.
Mary’s professors did not mince words about how change would happen.
First, college courses must change. Professors were doing that to the best of their abilities.
Second, field internships must align with the content of those courses. That meant finding partner school districts that accepted principles adopted by the university’s preparation program. And actively supported them.
Third, a school district that hired Mary after her graduation must have a decision-making and action-taking system that aligned with the goals of her college preparation program.
That scenario and sequence of events will fortunately occur with Mary, but mostly for serendipitous reasons.
Which needs to become universally intentional for Mary’s story to become indicative of what happens everywhere.
Mary Chapman’s Story – Part 4
Our teacher education professors grouped us again, this time in terms of a particular subject in which we were interested. Four of us selected science.
Our task was to create a simulated science mastery statement for a fictitious district. We were asked to do that in two ways: draw key words and phrases from the fictitious general mastery statement. Then find other good examples.
From the fictitious general district mastery statement, we focused on these terms:
- understanding self in a remarkable world
- problem solving
- inventing new solutions to human problems
- maintaining a sense of wonder and interest in new ideas
- working closely with others to discover new worlds both beyond and on the earth
We decided to use the excellent material produced by International Baccalaureate. IB uses words and phrases such as curiosity, conceptual understanding and inquiry. It stresses terms like these:
- investigation and evaluation of scientific evidence to draw conclusions
- accurate communication of scientific ideas, arguments and practical experiences
- analytical, critical and creative thinking used to solve problems
- linking scientific knowledge to technological development
- understanding the interdependence of science, technology and society
We examined ideas associated with STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But used them in the framework already established by the other considerations.
All those areas of concentration were included in our science mastery statement for the imaginary XYZ School District. Our professors put us through drills to ensure we understood and were committed to the points in both the general and subject area mastery statements.
Attention to detail. More attention to detail. Never letting up. Restating, defining, giving examples.
In the discipline I selected, making us more than teachers who taught science, but almost science itself.
When it came time to write my simulated course mastery statement I pitched the ideas to my fellow students and professors. I needed to convince my peers and instructors that a biographical approach was correct for a middle school grade.
My argument came from extensive research on middle school students’ need to explore their world, and their own developing interests and abilities. I addressed district and subject mastery statements.
More than simply talk to students about great scientists and how they got that way. As many tradition-bound teachers would have handled the situation.
My students would be asked to be like those scientists. Introspection through role play, simulations, and use of debate would make my students FEEL science and what it means. Utilizing rigor, accuracy, intensity, patience, and ongoing determination.
If that sounds heavy and time-consuming, it is. But the exercises are transformative.
The old ideas of teaching as lecture, discussion, participation in activities, a little group work, and other traditional methods are not replaced.
But embellished dramatically.
To challenge students to think and grow as never before. To never threaten them.
Students who struggle are given additional opportunities. And appreciated for their efforts.
As my university courses continued, we learned a mantra that stays with me to this day. Design down and deliver up.
In the physical world, buildings and bridges are designed meticulously. Elaborate plans are sent down to engineers and craftspeople, who deliver up in terms of making designs reality.
Both the design and the effort to transform it into reality must give attention to the smallest details.
In school districts, subject area and grade level mastery statements are worthless if there is no process in place for “delivering up.” As difficult as it is to collaboratively create those statements, it is infinitely more challenging to make sure they have an impact.
One of our professors was a public-school social studies teacher. He loved to talk about the American Constitution. Exquisitely written document. Fundamental to our democracy and freedom.
Yet for over 230 years we still argue about the meaning of its principles and provisions.
The Constitution designs down well enough, but the delivering up gets bogged down by opinions, attitudes, prejudices, and all other foibles human beings carry around in their persona.
To control for that phenomenon, we have laws and procedures. Though not always perfect, they make the Constitution work.
In schools, curriculum and instructional design are what make mastery statements work. Not much of a problem for a middle school teacher who might teach only science in a single grade.
Since my grade had a well-defined science mastery statement, already aligned with the district statement, all I needed to do was create a curriculum and instructional process that fulfilled the grade level statement in science.
By doing the same thing designers and builders do. Start with a plan based on an idea of what constitutes excellence. Student mastery in this case.
Then write down that plan piece by piece, making sure everything is included that will result in something to be proud of.
Chunking. Break down our grade level statements.
First, we need a statement to “chunk” from. In the subject I selected, that would be the district’s science mastery statement. Based on research and discussion, here is what my little classroom created:
XYZ District Mastery Statement for Science: Students will explain how scientific investigation is conducted, describe each step in the process, and demonstrate how it is done in various components of science such as biology, botany, geology, physics, anthropology, chemistry, and others.
They will explain and demonstrate how scientists evaluate findings through use of the scientific method. And draw conclusions from evidence. Students will use scientific terms and data to communicate ideas, argue in favor of a particular conclusion, and prove the practicality of those observations.
They will define systematic analysis. And demonstrate its strategies by solving problems using critical and creative thinking.
Students will explain and demonstrate the relationship between and among pure and applied science, and technological applications. They will depict the interdependence of science, technology and society, using multiple examples from the past and present.
Thus begins the detailed work of creating the new learning infrastructure.
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