Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Editor's Page - Skinning Cats

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Editor's Page - Skinning Cats

Article excerpt

THERE ARE many ways to skin a cat, my father used to say. That adage applies as readily to the teaching of basic skills as to any other task. And, where teaching is concerned, the adage has a corollary: learning can be - and generally ought to be - interesting and enjoyable.

For examples of the kind of inspired teaching that makes learning exciting, see this month's special section on education in the middle grades, especially the article by Crabapple Middle School teachers Sherrie Moss and Millie Fuller. Then take a look at the article by Randy Elmore and Joe Wisenbaker, who note that, while the innovative teaching and multi-age grouping at Crabapple "did not produce significant improvement in academic achievement [which already stood, on average, at the 75th percentile, making further increases hard to obtain], neither was there a decline in standardized test scores." All things being equal, the choice of instructional strategy seems clear.

Of course, this raises the question of whether we have enough creative and courageous teachers to make learning engaging for the young. It's a difficult (but rewarding) adventure to forsake the teacher's manual and the worksheets and to strike off on one's own.

Readers who harbor some doubts about the skillfulness of the teaching force will find comfort in a recent report from Public Agenda, A Sense of Calling. That report grew out of telephone interviews and focus groups involving new teachers, young college graduates who did not choose teaching as a career, and superintendents and principals who hire and supervise teachers.

Public Agenda found that new teachers are more committed to their jobs than are their nonteaching classmates. They have a passion for teaching. And they believe that "how teachers engage children's interest, how they get kids to persevere, how they explain difficult material, how they communicate its importance, how they inspire effort, how they manage a respectful and productive classroom" - all of these things are "as important as 'knowing your stuff. …

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