Standing in the Gap–Striving for Balance~

Module 5 Blog:

In this module, Parkay, Hass, Anctil (2010) refer in Chapter 5 to “two dimensions of curriculum: the target and the time orientation”. State standards are seen as “target(s)…at the macro (level) due to the fact that they are geared toward large numbers of students while decisions that are made in individual classrooms are considered to be at the “micro level”. The “time orientation” is found along the continuum of “the present or the future”. A further distinction is drawn between “student-centered versus subject-centered curricula” (p. 251).

As a high school special education teacher, I see myself as standing in the gap striving to find that balance between “macro” versus “micro”, “present versus future”, and “subject-centered versus student-centered curricula”–for each of the students on my caseload. Much like trying to stand in the middle on an old-fashioned teeter-totter, I continue to find myself leaning first this way–then that, as I endeavor to sense what best for each student. It is suggested by Parkay (2010) that “student centered curriculum…(which) emphasize(s) the growth and development of students”(p. 252) is most often applicable at the elementary level, however, this focus seems to be at the core for special educators at every grade level.

In many respects, I see standards as improving student opportunity. For instance, the inclusion model of special education service delivery strongly encouraged by my principal requires that all incoming 9th graders be placed into general education English classes (unless the student’s IEP team determines that this is clearly not the student’s least restrictive environment). The thinking behind this stance is to expose each student to the general education curriculum which is in turn geared toward preparation for meeting standards on the 10th grade state test (which I believe is not simply “teaching to the test”). This is an example of “Standards-based education (SBE) [which] is premised on the belief that all students are capable of meeting high standards” (Parkay, 2010, p. 253). On many occasions, I have observed students with qualifications in the academic areas of reading and/or writing (who in previous decades might have been placed in special education classes), respond well to the challenge. In some cases, students have subsequently tested out of special education as they have been found to no longer qualify for services, based on their three-year reevaluation.

With regard to standards, one particular colleague wrote this week: “If we’re teaching towards mastery of standards, and the tests assess the standards, the phrase teaching to the test means something different than the negative connotations traditionally associated with that phrase” (Lyle, 2012). Expressing my agreement and adding my thoughts to the discussion thread, suggested that we consider the Common Core English Language Arts Standard for Production and Distribution of Writing: # 5. “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience”. I then raised the question: Is it even possible to “teach to the test” in the traditionally negative manner when focusing on this type of standard? As with so many things in life–I believe balance and flexibility are key components to consider. I see great benefits to the presence of the standards, yet I also believe there must be room for appropriate “discretion”. I recall hearing professor/speaker, Anthony Gregorc, give an illustration many years ago during a Learning Styles class at Seattle Pacific (1984). Dr. Gregorc stated something to the effect of: “There are many ways to get to Chicago”–stressing the importance of acknowledging alternate ways to achieve the same results.

Lastly, another colleague posed a question about “creativity” and asked where its place is among standards, lesson designs and such. I suggested that by way of analogy, when a person comes into a home, they will most likely notice the “creative” furnishings, pictures on the walls, intriguing items on display etc. as well as enjoy and learn from entertaining conversations with the people living in the home! However, it is doubtful that a visitor would come into a home and comment on the alignment of the walls, beams, plumbing, doors, carpet etc. On the other hand, a visitor might notice if the running water did not “run”, the placement of the doors required them to duck their heads, the absence of a step caused them to fall, or if misaligned and rumpled carpet caused them to trip. Creativity without background, stability, and careful “behind the scenes” design–and without any evidence of skills—someone would take notice, however, depending on the context–it might not be with pleasure! A student or teacher may have creative thoughts to share but format, methods of delivery, and standards have their place!

Parkay, F. W., Hass, G., & Anctil, E.  (2010). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs, 9th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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