Saturday, October 24, 2015

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Teaching 2 - Breaking Away From the Book's Sequencing

      As we move forward in our teaching career we look back on the past and say "if I had only known then what I know now..." and have a hundred things to fill in the blank with.  While there are many things that I wish I could have a do-over on, it is what I have identified as pitfall number 2 that bothers me the most.  It is simply this:  I wish that I had known that it is preferable to deviate from the book and teach material in an order that makes more sense rather than going lock-step section by section.

       In those nervous first few years we follow the book (if we have one) because it is our lifeline.  It is what tells us where to head next and saves our sanity when we are completely overwhelmed and cannot think of one more thing before we crash from exhaustion.  So we do section 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, quiz (because they book says one should fall there), 1.4....until we get through the book.  We don't realize (often because no one tells us or we are too tired to ask) that it is only a guide, not a curriculum.  I know that for years I followed it because it was all that I had.  My notes were even labeled "1.1 Title of Section".  I look back on those days and realize that while I was teaching, I was not reaching.  I was covering every topic that was on my list and getting through the whole book (most years anyway) which was seen as a win!  I was so nervous and so anxious about keeping my room quiet and under control (see pitfall one here) that I never asked myself "are they learning"?

      One day, however, as I got over my nerves, I started to realize that the ideas were so choppy and segmented that the students were struggling to make connections.  I started examining the content and not the book and came to some realizations.  I realized that there were triangles in chapters 1, 4, 7 and 9 so why not just do a unit on triangles?  Why not rearrange the order of topics so that they flow together instead of battling with each other?  I sat down and started mapping out topics and identifying what went with what and what was foundational information versus what was the next level.  Ultimately I started rearranging my entire outlook to meet the needs of the students (while still covering the curriculum).

      When I started doing this, my whole classroom changed, improved and strangely enough, I felt like a better teacher!  I felt like I was actually in control of what my students were learning and had some autonomy to try new things.  My passion for teaching was reenergized because I was again enjoying what I was doing.  Best of all - my students were happier, learning and retaining better and more effectively engaged!

I spoke with a few other teacher-authors about how they broke away from the textbook:



History Gal shared that "history's sequencing is chronological so it is difficult to deviate too much. However, as the teacher, I can decide how much to spend on each unit. This might surprise you, but there are parts of history that are boring even to history teachers! I cover those time periods quickly and spend more time on parts of history that I enjoy.

Coach Christopher from Courage To Core  shared "I like to switch things up every few years and teach at a new school, or quit and go rock climb for a year to keep things fresh. On the other hand, one way to keep some continuity for me has been to craft my own teaching materials to go alongside the school’s preferred text. The materials were adapted, refined and expanded with each new school. After 15 years (!) the texts became ancillary to my own materials which are now under the moniker Courage To Core. The evolution continues. No lock-step allowed!"




The pitfalls are there, just waiting, but hopefully together we can navigate them, avoid them or capitalize upon them to the benefit of you and your students.  How did you learn to break away from the books sequencing to using your own?  Comment below, I'd love to hear it!


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