I recently visited a charter management organisation (CMO) in the US, where the central office team had developed all of the teaching materials – unit plans, lesson plans, teaching materials and lesson activities – for teachers, across their more than 40 schools, to use. Over the course of several years these materials have been trialled and refined as teachers employ them in their classrooms. The aim of this undertaking is to ensure that there is consistency in the content and pedagogy across all the classrooms and schools in the CMO. It also enables teachers to spend time they would usually devote to creating instructional materials and developing curriculum plans, to other aspects of their practice such as providing feedback on students’ work and developing relationships with students and their families.
This differs considerably from current practice in New Zealand where every teacher largely is responsible for creating (or at least finding) his or her own teaching materials. Furthermore, New Zealand teachers are encouraged to take a responsive approach in their teaching. That is, to adapt their teaching approaches – content, lesson plans, assessment activities – both before and during a lesson to meet the needs of their learners. For example, if students are struggling with a particular concept, then teachers should adapt their lesson plan to spend a bit longer on this concept. Or, if children are particularly interested in a certain part of a lesson or topic, teachers can adjust their teaching plan to spend longer on it in order to allow children to explore their curiosity.
While the ability and opportunity to be responsive to learners is critical, it also puts a lot of pressure on teachers to design and develop their own teaching materials. Last year Robert Pondiscio wrote a blog post titled ‘How we make teaching too hard for mere mortals’. The premise of his argument is that, alongside a myriad of other tasks and expectations, we require teachers to be expert pedagogues and instructional designers, who must create many of their own teaching materials, design each lesson and ensure that it meets the needs of all learners. This raises several issues. The first is the inefficiency of each teacher developing his or her own materials and often independently determining the best strategies or interventions to implement in their classroom. The second is the potential variability in quality of these materials. This is particularly problematic given research showing that the nature of curriculum and instructional materials used by teachers has a substantial impact on student learning.
Over the past 20 years, the Internet increasingly has been used to support the dissemination of teaching materials, particularly by enabling teachers to share resources they have created with other teachers. A recent US study found that the most common source of teaching materials were Google (94%) followed by Pinterest (87%). While the Internet has facilitated easy access to resources, the use of teaching materials in schools remains complicated. We lack effective means for vetting or validating teachers’ knowledge and resources, and therefore quality assurance remains an issue. Furthermore, transferability can be problematic in education, with resources that work in one classroom or school not always easily transferring to another classroom or school. Teachers still require instructional design skills to know how to firstly select appropriate resources and then to adapt and modify them to fit their own teaching context.
At The Education Hub we believe that we need to get better at disseminating knowledge, including teaching materials, in education, and that teachers can and must be active players in the creation and dissemination of their knowledge. We currently are exploring how we can create opportunities to work with educators to capture and validate their knowledge and resources, and to disseminate these so that others can learn from and with them. In these efforts, we believe in finding a balance between ensuring that teachers have the flexibility and autonomy to be responsive to their students whilst also providing them with access to high quality teaching materials that they can modify and adapt to fit their particular contexts.