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Schools’ role: enable teachers to teach curriculum expertly

America's oldest wooden schoolhouse,

America’s oldest wooden schoolhouse, St. Augustine, Florida

Every so often I run across something that makes me think there may be hope for American education yet.

Robert Podisco’s piece  “Time to Connect Professional Development and Teacher Training to Curriculum” at EducationNext earlier this month was one such encounter.

Podisco writes:

Slowly, slowly, a small but persuasive body of work is emerging which raises curriculum to an object of pressing concern for educators, and expresses long overdue appreciation for the idea that the instructional materials we put in front of children actually matter to student outcomes. A welcome addition to this emerging corpus is a new Aspen Institute paper by Ross Wiener and Susan Pimentel, which makes a compelling case—equally overdue—that professional development and teacher training ought to be connected to curriculum. A primary role of school systems, states, districts, and charter-management organizations, the pair write, “is to create the conditions in schools through which teachers can become experts at teaching the curriculum they are using and adapting instruction to the needs of their particular students.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think making sure teachers are experts at teaching curriculum is long overdue.

And I’m sure the English teachers with 15 or more years experience who tell me they’ve never had any instruction in how to teach writing will agree it’s time to shake up teacher preparation and professional development.

It’s time to move to a new schoolhouse model.

Read the rest of Podisco’s piece at EducationNext.




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School is not a fun house

I get a bit testy when I read tweet after tweet about making lessons fun.

I’m not opposed to having fun.

I’m not even opposed to having fun in class.

I simply think that instead of trying to make lessons fun, teachers ought to aim for lessons that create what  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow, the state of engagement that produces deep satisfaction even when the activity is difficult.


Part of the reason for my peculiar perspective grows from my own experience.

I’ve spent much of my adult life writing instructional materials that no one would read unless they were required to as part of their job. If it’s possible to make learning how to install steam turbines fun, I’ve not discovered how to do it.

The best I can do when I write instructional materials is make the writing so clear that the reader can concentrate on applying the information.

To put it another way, my job as a writer is to keep the instruction from interrupting the flow of learning.

I bring that same attitude to the classroom.

The subjects I teach—nonfiction writing and the teaching of nonfiction writing—are not fun topics. They are hard topics to master. They are not fun.

I can’t make them fun.

The best I can do as a teacher is to keep from interrupting the flow as students learn.

And if the class has a few laughs together in the process, that’s icing on the cake.


Photo Credit, David Niblack,


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Website Closing, Blog Remaining

Tomorrow I begin putting up the shutters and turning off the lights at my website.

Begun in 2008, had a good run, with enough visitor traffic to put it in the top 5% most used sites on the web by 2012. That’s not too shabby for a one-person operation whose competitors are sites like the Purdue OWL, NCTE, and EDSITEment.

The decision to close the site was a long and painful one, which, typically for me, ended with a laugh as I was reading a vintage novel.

At one point in the Louis Auchincloss 1964 novel The Rector of Justin, a famous secondary educator,  quoting Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” asks  a longtime friend and colleague if  there isn’t still some “some work of noble note”  for him to do.

His friend replies that the work of noble note is “to quit while you’re ahead.”

I’m not ahead, but I’m quitting anyway.

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

This  blog, which has been a subdomain of the website, will be untethered and — fingers crossed — should continue to be available. It will, however, have a new URL, which will mess up the RSS and email content delivery until I can get things sorted out. I apologize for the inconvenience. Life happens.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


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Most-read September blog posts

The most-read posts here in September were:

In praise of print
Dear Applicant: The reason you weren’t hired
Flood of school PR opportunities
New teacher preparedness kit
Education equity in Web 2.0 era

[updated links 03-27-2014]

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