If you have been in education for longer than about 5-7 years, you may have seen what is often referred to as the pendulum swing. I am sure this occurs in other areas of work, but it seems to happen a lot in education. The pendulum swings based on what is the major focus of education and it is often associated with the current standards.
I was teaching during the time of high stakes testing, where there was accountability for teachers, which is good, but it was filled with extra pressure because it was tied to testing. If you didn’t get a certain score on your end of year state tests, your job could be on the line, regardless of the truth behind the data. I have had some students through the years that could not give a rip, and my livelihood is on the line? That is not a pleasant work environment. Hold teachers accountable for teaching, yes, that is good. But there is a big component–the kids–that also had a lot to do with the test.
Anyway, another pendulum I grew up with had to do with math fact fluency. In the past, the ONLY way you got fluent was to memorize your facts (add/subtract/multiply/divide). No other way. And if you got it, you were “good” at math and if you didn’t, the implicit message was you were “not good” at math.
Recently, there has been a push in changing our idea about what fact fluency actually means. I will not go too in depth (not enough time with this post), but I actually think the swing of the pendulum in this caseis a good thing. I was ‘good’ at math- real good at memorizing and following directions (procedure). However, recent work I have studied from folks like Jo Boaler, Christina Tondevold, Graham Fletcher have really challenged the notion, in a good way.
The focus is switched from speed to real Number Sense (or a sense of the numbers- crazy, right?), number flexibility and understanding the relationships between numbers. It has been a fun journey to see maths (short for mathematics) in a new way. Understanding that there is more to maths than ‘do these steps’ or ‘memorize this’ is a pretty cool change. I hope it doesn’t go back to the drill and kill I used to know and love (mostly because it was memory)
There are many more areas where we could notice this pendulum. A big pice, in my view, is that we need to be mindful of the changes. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but also, don’t just keep doing things because it’s always been done that way. Good teaching and pedagogy is good whether it’s a new strategy or old. Bad teaching is bad whether it’s new or old. Use what is good and try to avoid the bad.
**Also, please get rid of timed math facts tests (Check out Jo Boaler’s work that suggests this is a big cause for math anxiety for many.). There are better ways.
So much more could be said.