Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Case by Case

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Case by Case

Article excerpt

True cooperation is essential to the successful integration of vocational and academic education. Teachers must plan together--and work together--so they can reinforce each other's material. The goal for all is to help students learn.

In abstract, educators recognize the worth of this goal and the importance of blending technical and core academic instruction. The Perkins Act, after all, mandates it. But in schools, the concept is difficult to implement. Years of turfism, as well as lack of appropriate support, have hampered some efforts.

How do teachers work toward achieving cooperation? What are the obstacles they face? What are the practical steps some have followed to successfully integrate curriculum?

The National Center for Research in Vocational Education at the University of California, Berkeley, believed answers were worth pursuing. As part of a formal study, faculty at NCRVE's Virginia Tech site met with and interviewed teachers, counselors and administrators at 10 school sites identified as exemplary for their integration efforts. In interviews we found answers to how teachers work together and align curriculum; how their classroom instruction has changed and how administrators provide needed support.

The 10 study sites across the United States included four comprehensive high schools, four vocational centers with feeder high schools and two vocational, or magnet, high schools.

Through interviews with 109 individuals we gathered data about specific events teachers experienced as they implemented integration projects. Teachers described activities they felt particularly positive about as well as those that, in hindsight, they would rather have occurred differently.

Through our research we determined that teachers experience three major stages of growth as they work together to achieve integration. Briefly, they are:

Stage 1: Getting to know you. This is the time when teachers learn about each other to find a basis for mutual support, share information about students and instruction and then begin to coordinate details of planning and instruction.

Stage 2: Curriculum strategies. Some of the efforts at this stage include teachers meeting to plan initial projects and activities, changing past procedures to fit their new plans and working together to design aligned, enhanced curriculum.

Stage 3: Instructional strategies. This is the nitty gritty when teachers initiate the integrated instruction they've planned. They emphasize learning through application, teach cooperatively through joint assignments and units and use community resources to support their instruction.

After our interviews with teachers and administrators, we developed 46 case studies and field tested them as a means of in-service instruction. Each is two to three pages long and is accompanied by several questions to stimulate discussion. In some cases the outcomes are positive; others, negative.

All of the case studies and a full report of our methods will be available from the NCRVE Materials Distribution Center this spring. Each of the following anecdotes is a distillation of a case study from one of the three stages. We hope this will provide a flavor of the research and give educators some points to consider now.

(Researchers promised to preserve the anonymity of the teachers who took part in the study. Though they are not mentioned by name, all the teachers in the following anecdotes are real.)

Don't step on my toes. The principal's announcement that academic and vocational teachers would form teams to align curriculum so student communication skills could be improved was received with mixed, and generally hostile, reaction. An English teacher was heard saying, "This won't work. The vocational teachers don't see any need to change and I don't either." One vocational teacher commented, "Students need these communication skills before they come to my class. …

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