Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summertime Reading

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to read and one of my favorite books to read once the reality of Back-to-School sets in is a trio of books by David R. Johnson. I found Mr. Johnson's first book "Every Minute Counts" early on in my career and quickly bought the sequels "Making Minutes Count Even More" and "Motivation Counts". I don't even know if these books are in print any more, but they have been my summer staple for years. I also lend them to student teachers and new teachers to read. The books are short, more like booklets, with around 100 pages in them, so they are quick to read but they definitely pack a punch.

Last night, I decided it was time to start my yearly re-read and decided to pick up the third book. The first two are more about classroom management and how to set up your routine, while the last book is more about best practices in math. "Motivation Counts" was published in 1994 and while I was reading it, it really struck me how slow education is to embrace change in our teaching methods. Other than the fancy technology that now populates classrooms, I would venture to guess that most classrooms have the same structure that they did 50+ years ago. Even with the research on best practices, how to engage learners, teachers that fully agree that change needs to occur, it is sometimes so overwhelming that we quickly fall back into old habits and comfortable routines. We tend to teach the way we were taught by teachers who taught the way they were taught by teachers... (rinse, repeat).

Here's the quote that got me: (remember, this book is close to 20 years old now)
Lesson plans for the traditional classroom routine, as you can see from this list, detail *my* activities; they do not include what *the students* should be doing during class....

..In a recent television interview, a CEO in a major industry cited the main objectives for our schools as follows:
  • Teach problem-solving experiences and skills.
  • Teach communication skills.
  • Teach students how to learn.
  • Teach students how to work effectively as a team member.
  • Give students an ability to handle change. is very obvious that what industry wants, and what the traditional rountine offers, are not at all compatiable - or even complementary. Industry wants involved, active thinkers who can work together and deal creatively with the unexpected....

I think most of us know and agree with the above and even strive to accomplish those goals. For years, this quote has really hit me in the gut. I know I start the school year with big plans, but as reality sets in, it can be easy to fall back on that traditional routine where *I* am doing the work and the students sit back passively. I find it wild, though, that today's goals are still what they were 20 years ago and that little progress has been made in changing what a traditional math classroom looks like.

I can easily say that, of all the professional books I've read through the years, this trio of books have had the most profound influence on me as a teacher. Even though I've read these books numerous times, they never fail to inspire me and make me think about how to be more effective in the classroom.

What is your must-read book for teachers?


Tim Erickson said...

Lovely. I'm a fan of the Johnsons too!

Like you, I've heard reports over the years of CEOs saying they want to hire flexible thinkers, good communicators, strong problem-solvers, etc.

I wonder, when push comes to shove, whether that's really true, and if so, how the HR people deal with that message, and how the culture of the corporation supports that kind of employee.

How much do most workplaces really want people who think outside the box? How long can the best thinkers stand to be in most jobs?

Gack, that sounds so pessimistic! I guess what I'm wondering is, when I read a great quote like the one you posted, I tend to reflexively blame education: we have not kept up; the world is passing us by. But maybe there's more responsibility to spread around.

druin said...


I agree with you :) We hear a message of "think outside the box", but then that sometimes leads to trouble in a lock-step environment.

I don't know that it's about blaming education per se, for me, it's just amazing how slow we are to change. I know that systemic change is very tough - like the Titanic, changing course doesn't happen in a split second! But when I read research from the early 1900s about education reform and they are essentially saying the same thing that is being said 100 years later, that just really floors me!

That is why I love these books so much - I always learn something from them, no matter how many times I've read them! :)