Below are two lesson anchor charts from a pair of elementary classrooms. In one classroom, the students are having a lesson on finding the main idea. In the other, they are listening to the teacher read the myth of Daedalus and Icarus.
Here are my questions. Knowing that we lack all kinds of context, answer them based on the evidence of these two charts:
- Which lesson do you suspect interests the most students? In other words, which lesson is likely the more enjoyable of the two?
- Which lesson do you suspect is most engaging for the teacher? Alternatively, which lesson do you think you'd enjoy teaching more: teaching the main idea or teaching the story of Daedalus and Icarus?
- Which lesson is most effective at giving students access to a knowledge-rich school day that introduces them a bit more to the wonder-filled world they are inheriting?
Here's the thing: I think when I say things like “there's no such thing as critical thinking without knowledge,” or “reading comprehension is more a function of knowledge than skill,” it can sound like I'm being a joy killer.
Man, in Dave's ideal world, kids are just memorizing and regurgitating a bunch of dead facts. <– That's the naysayer I sometimes sense.
But it's actually the total opposite. Endless lessons on “making an inference” or “finding the idea” or “understanding text features” are deadly to all the things we want: they diminish our students' enjoyment of learning, they diminish our enjoyment of teaching, and they exacerbate opportunity gaps to boot!
Look, it's not our fault that in most American schools we rely on a skills-centric, knowledge-lite curriculum. Our high stakes reading tests are built on the premise that there are such things as generic reading comprehension skills — that finding the main idea is located somewhere in the brain as some kind of microscopic bicep, and the more we flex it the more we'll be able to transfer this skill across all kinds of texts.
But — but! — just because we didn't create the system doesn't mean we don't each play a role in working toward its improvement. I'm not trying to slam a heavy yoke on you here — I'm trying to take one off, replacing it with something good and exciting. What if the role of the teacher became “introducer of worlds” rather than “progenitor of generic skills?”
I think that'd be great. And I think our children do, too.
I'm happy to discuss any of this in the comments.