Friday, June 13, 2008

Edupunk: New Name, Same Practice

I don't get it. Maybe it's because I was too much of the nerd in school, and never was a part of punk culture, so it doesn't resonate with me like it does with Alec. Or maybe I'm missing a crucial part of the definition. The Wikipedia stub states:
"Edupunk is an ideology referring to teaching and learning practices that result from a do it yourself (DIY) attitude."
If that's all there is too it, edupunk to me doesn't seem new, revolutionary, or going against any system. The cost or corporate ownership isn't an issue to me. If it works, use it. If is doesn't, don't.

Ms. Michetti beat me to the punch here. If you don't improve improve on something that already works really well, why do it yourself? If all the available resources stink, of course you would do it yourself. It's what a good teacher would do. As Ms. Michetti says, "it's just good practice."

Case in point: I'm co-teaching grade 7 English next semester. Since I'm in a sense mentoring the other teacher, I started planning my units by using the same textbook he is, because I saw it as the easiest way for him to improve his teaching.

I chose a unit called "Dragons." Dragons are cool, right? The students would have fun with it, I could read aloud Eragon for the first few minutes of every class, and there was an assignment in the textbook where students pretend they're on a radio show - perfect for making podcasts. And technology is great for at-risk students.

So I started writing my first lesson plan.

Luckily, built in safeguards stopped me before I got too far. Theory into Practice has been around for a while, but Relevancy/Schooliness is new. I considered adding it a while ago, and Clay convinced me of it's importance. There will be at least one kid in class who won't see the immediate relevancy of learning about dragons. Or drawing one. And that kid will be right. Not to mention the fact that the textbook wasn't using any educational theory I'm familiar with, nor did it differentiate. So no more Dragon unit, and no more textbook. The textbook doesn't work for me, so I'll do it myself.

I plan a unit on gender roles; relevant because the girls get stuck cleaning the classroom way more often than the boys. The girls have something to gain and the boys have something to lose, maybe even beyond the schoolyard (I hope). We'll read A Girl Named Disaster aloud as part of the unit, which will fit in nicely with our next unit on immigration, which has it's relevancy in the riots that happened last month in Johannesburg and just down the road 30 km in Jane Furse. And I'll differentiate and scaffold as much as I want. Just as much as I did before anyone was calling it edupunk.

Here's the thing though: my counterparts at the school have spent the majority of their professional careers teaching under the Bantu education system. They were taught during Apartheid. They are going to need a lot of additional professional development to get to the point where they can connect lessons to specific educational theories. So when I teach my coworkers to lesson plan, we use lessons from the textbook. In the teacher's guide, each lesson is already paired with it's Learning Outcomes and Assessment Standards (standards set at the federal level). Instead of listening to a 30 minute to hour long lecture everyday1, they're getting direct instruction, followed by modeling, followed by guided practice. Occasionally, they get to do group work, science experiments, or create authentically assessed projects. For the teachers, the textbooks work relatively better. They may be sold by a corporate power like Oxford University Press, but it's closer to good practice. So they use it. Why not?

1. I'm not saying lectures are the root of all evil, I'm just saying you don't use them every time you teach. Go back.


  1. Hi Ben,
    I think the key is to use the lessons from the text as part of your scaffolding, so that your end goal is that the teachers you are mentoring do not think that the Oxford UP textbook IS the curriculum and IS the ONLY way to plan a lesson. If it is well structured, great. But no textbook I have ever come across (and there are some damn good ones out there) is good enough to know what is best for my students. Especially one that has been published in the UK, using UK standards, while I am teaching students from Vietnam, Korea, Finland, Australia, Denmark, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, and Pakistan -- all in the same classroom. You get my drift. I would advise using some caution as you begin with the textbook as lesson planner. After your teachers get the hang of it, pull the scaffolding away, bit by bit (i.e., pull the textbook away) and see if they can still "get it" to plan a lesson with content that has nothing to do with a textbook whatsoever.

  2. Adrienne,

    Thanks for your comment. We're on the same page, though you have made me think a bit more about how to gradually move my counterpart from the formulaic process of writing a lesson plan towards the more thoughtful process of planning a lesson plan to meet the needs of his students. This semester we'll switch off teaching units (him teaching from the book and me teaching the ones I've planned independent of a single text) and next semester I hope to help him move in that direction. I think I will do what you suggest - gradually take away the unnecessary resources he's relying on too heavily. This semester will just be focused on getting us to plan before teaching the lesson - rather than reverse planning to appease district supervisors.