Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Like a Surgeon

So it looks like I have to have a root canal. It’s not the end of the world that it used to be. Root canals used to be a byword for pain. Now, modern technologies and anesthesia help root canals to be no more miserable than plain old fillings.

That being said, I want a good, precise dentist or oral surgeon to perform my root canal. I do not want anyone just cutting my gums willy-nilly. I don’t want my dentist to look like the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show, the one who chops and slices haphazardly while looking in the other direction and mumbling incoherently.

I want my oral surgeon to do surgery on me with surgical precision. There’s a reason we use that phrase. We don’t want that surgeon to cut even a millimeter away from where he or she should be. We want that cut in the precise location where it should be. We want that person to be exact in his or her work.

Well, with the renewed emphasis on our course benchmarks and the end of course exams coming (both state EOCs, like HS US History and 7th Grade Civics as well as district-developed EOCs for every other course we offer), it’s time to really dig in to our benchmarks (whips off sunglasses)...

...Like a Surgeon.

(Go ahead. Sing like Weird Al from the 80s. I’ll sing along with you...”Like a Surgeon! Cuttin’ for the very first time!”)

Yes, we all teach our “curriculum” when you define “curriculum” as a list of topics or chapters to cover. No one is teaching way-out-of-the-scope topics like a dinosaur unit in US History anymore.

But not as many of us teach our “curriculum” when that “curriculum” is defined by specific benchmarks. And even fewer of us teach those benchmarks with surgical precision

But with the amount of benchmarks we have to teach and the same 180 days, we cannot possibly teach it all (not all the topics, not the entirety of the chapters) -- and teach it all well -- unless we teach our benchmarks with surgical precision.

We need to teach the benchmark, the whole benchmark, and nothing but the benchmark. It’s the only way to do it all and do it well.

What do I mean by this? Let’s look at some benchmarks from middle school and high school. Get yours from CPALMS.org, under “courses”. Let’s look at the benchmarks with Surgical Precision.

From 6th grade World History: SS.6.W.4.4 Explain the teachings of Buddha, the importance of Asoka, and how Buddhism spread in India, Ceylon, and other parts of Asia. Remarks and Examples: Examples are The Four Noble Truths, Three Qualities, Eightfold Path.
Look at the key words -- “explain”, “teachings”, “importance”, “spread”
  • I would skip . . . I wouldn’t spend time on how Buddhists live. I wouldn’t teach the entirety of Ch 16, 17, and 18. I wouldn’t spend time on Chandragupta or the modern Indian flag or more than an quick overview of Siddhartha for this benchmark. Surgical Precision. Don’t spend extra time on Mohenjo Daro or mandalas or anything else.
  • I would teach . . I would make sure my students could literally explain, in writing, the main teachings of Buddha. I would make sure they could explain (probably in a map or timeline) how Buddhism spread in India, Ceylon, and other parts of Asia as a result of Asoka.  All this benchmarks asks is: 1) teachings of Buddha, 2) the importance of Asoka (edicts, spread of Buddhism, unification).That’s it!
From 8th Grade US History SS.8.A.3.4 Examine the contributions of influential groups to both the American and British war efforts during the American Revolutionary War and their effects on the outcome of the war. Examples may include, but are not limited to, foreign alliances, freedmen, Native Americans, slaves, women, soldiers, Hessians.
Look at the key terms “examine”, “contributions”, “effects on the outcome”
  • I would skip . . . This is not where I would teach battles or individuals (that’s another standard). This is not where I teach George Washington or Abigail Adams or Burgoyne. This is not where I teach pre-revolutionary groups, either, like the Committees of Correspondence or the Sons of Liberty. This is not where I teach the history of each group or the entirety of Ch 7.
  • I would teach . . . This is where I teach about each group listed in the examples. I AM going to teach how each group influenced the war efforts, and whether or not each group influenced the outcome. I am would teach each group as part of an organizer or foldable or something and I would ask my students about the two things listed in the benchmark -- the contributions and effects on the outcome. That’s it.

From  High School Government: SS.912.C.3.5 Identify the impact of independent regulatory agencies in the federal bureaucracy. Examples are Federal Reserve, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Communications Commission.
Look at the key terms: “Identify”, “impact”, “independent”
  • I would skip . . . a full listing of all 19 independent regulatory agencies. I would also skip the former independent regulatory agencies that are now defunct or merged elsewhere. No need for the Committee for Public Information or the ICC. I would skip the history of most of those agencies. No matter how interesting it is, kids don’t need to know how the various colonial postal systems eventually merged into the USPS as an independent regulatory agency.
  • I would teach . . . The three specifically named agencies in the examples. I would teach their impacts -- how does each agency impact the people, businesses, and laws of our country. For each agency we discuss, my students would have to identify that impact. I would also teach the difference between an independent regulatory agency and another executive agency, to make sure they don’t get confused.

From  High School World History: SS.912.W.4.11 Summarize the causes that led to the Age of Exploration, and identify major voyages and sponsors.
Look at the key terms: “summarize”, “causes”, “identify”, “major”
  • I would skip . . . a majority of the exploration voyages. I would really focus on a couple of major ones and skip a lot of the petty, nation-on-nation squabbles during the exploration era. I would not get bogged down into multiple maps, routes, and small causes.
  • I would teach . . . The main causes -- God, Gold, and Glory. I would teach maybe five or six explorers, each as an example of a cause of exploration or as an example of a major voyage/sponsor. For example, I would teach English Francis Drake as an example of the “glory” cause.

You get the idea. Teach the benchmark with surgical precision. (“like a surgeon -- ooh!”)

How do I teach with surgical precision? It’s not as painful as it looks. And it’s definitely not as painful as Steve Martin over there --> makes it look. Here’s how:
  1. Look at the benchmark, not the textbook chapter.
  2. Find the key words, including the verbs (summarize, explain, compare, etc.) in that standard.
  3. Plan to teach just that benchmark, without the extra pieces. Use those verbs and key terms you found. If the benchmark says “explain”, your kids should be able to explain with minimal prompting. If it says “compare”, then your kids should be able to compare the two topics.
  4. Find the resources that JUST teach that benchmark -- JUST the paragraphs, JUST the mini-lectures, JUST the focused activities. Don’t overdo anything. It’s like cooking -- don’t dump in huge quantities of ingredients, but measure carefully. Teach the lesson so your kids can specifically answer the benchmark, not just talk about the more general topic.
  5. Don’t assume kids always need to know Piece A to understand Piece B. They often do fine with just Piece B or with a one-sentence summary of Piece A. My dentist doesn’t need to cut tooth #2 just because it’s next to tooth #3.

I know that folks who teach state EOC courses (7th Civics and HS US Hist) really teach by the benchmark -- how about the rest of us? Are you teaching like a surgeon? Or have you sometimes had a Swedish Chef moment (“Teach ALL the things -- in chapter 9!”) I know I have!

As always, I love to hear! Are you teaching like a surgeon? Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

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