Pay More Attention

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Oct
  • 12
  • 2006

Today was a professional development day and, while it wasn’t perfect, it was far better than just about any other training session I’ve been to. We covered ways to teach Macbeth to English Language Learners (ELL) and several ideas are ones that can be used with just about any complex text.

The Wrong Focus

But the part that bothers me is the rationale for why the presenters do what they do. Their idea is that by engaging in the different activities, teachers will better be able to work through those activities with students. In general, I don’t have a problem with that. Anything new should be as familiar to the teacher as possible before it enters the classroom.

But that’s not where the focus should be.

Discussions Wanted

We should focus on the reasons why we would want to put these practices to use. We need to discuss the pedagogy behind the ideas in order to be the best teachers we can be. It’s not just a matter of sharing and participating in strategies that creates an effective classroom.

There are lots of teachers full of great ideas. They have innovative ways to bring their ideas to their students. But the difference between those teachers and true masters of the craft is that a master knows exactly when to use which technique.

To have a bag full of tricks is no good without the knowledge of when to use which trick. In order to make that decision, teachers need to know exactly why certain activities work, exactly what they are attempting to do, and exactly when a teacher would want students to perform those tasks.

That’s a conversation that’s missing from just about all professional development. Think about it: are you ever given time to just sit and discuss new teaching techniques?

We Have A Problem

And so far, any time teachers bring up problems with the ideas and/or texts shown to us, the presenters don’t know how to handle them. We’re just told to push forward even though our complaints may be perfectly valid. I read a text today that was reportedly about why Shakespeare is relevant to today’s society. The article only discussed how widely Shakespeare’s work has been adapted, not the reasons why he’s still so important.

In fact, no one in my group had strong faith that they would present any of the four articles to their classes. How much consideration was given to the selection of these texts? Are we expected to feel confident when there are problems that are essentially ignored? Are we to feel secure when ideas are explained that either make no sense or can clearly be improved upon with minimal effort? This level of poor planning is reflected in much of the material we have been provided.


As I tell my students on a nearly daily basis, format communicates a message about the level of consideration given to something. Packets out of order, with confusing pagination, and with incorrect cross-references show lack of consideration for the quality of the final product. All it really would have taken was one more round of editing. Instead, we’re given handouts that make us feel like they are being made up at the last minute.

If this group can’t see fit to correctly tell us “page 16” instead of “page 17,” why should I believe that they’ve through all their ideas? If they don’t proofread carefully, why should I believe that they think carefully? Good ideas, but poor packaging.

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