Boxed Set Teaching

Oh, holy professional development………

Why is it that every teacher on earth is subjected to “professional development”, no matter how developed that professional might be?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of continually growing and learning.  I love the idea of talking to other professionals in order to shape our craft.  But when it becomes necessary to subject us to unbelievably chirpy “facilitators” who are crammed full of buzzwords, I just kind of want to scream.

I have spent the past two mornings with just such a cheery little woman. This person actually referred to us (on numerous occasions) as “beautiful teachers” or “lovely ladies”.   Gag me.

This woman, the hired representative of a major University and the Co-Author of a big old shiny boxed set of literacy lessons, actually used words like “noticings” and “wonderings”.  As in, “Wow, Beautiful Teachers, those are some powerful noticings!”     In normal human-speak, this mean, “Hey, good observation.”

This woman, who came to teach us how to implement the big old shiny boxed set of lessons that her university is marketing, used phrases like, “Good morning, beautiful readers! Today we are going to learn how to use text structure to enhance our reading work!” She said things like, “We can use our jottings to help us to hold onto the new learning that the text has shown us.”


I am NOT going to start speaking to my fifth graders this way.  No Way. Uh-Uh, ain’t happening.

The number of eye rolls that happened during her lesson would have derailed any teacher who was, you know, actually listening to the kids.

Luckily, that was not the case with our “professional developer”.  She had her eyes on the prize (ie, selling more updated shiny boxed sets) and so she gamely plowed on.

“As we do our reading work, let’s focus on enhancing our noticings of the ideas that the text is teaching us, so that we can hold onto our new knowledge!”

OK.  Let me just say this about that.

I have loved to read since the morning when I was four, and I worked out the word “m-i-l-k” on the carton. At no point in the past 54 years have I ever noticed my “noticings”.  Nor have I ever tuned into the “story arc” or the “author’s purpose” or the “text structures”.  Even so, I have managed to earn a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree.  And, most importantly, I love to read.

I. Love. To. Read.

For pleasure, for humor, for excitement, for information, for opinion, for escape.  For all of these reasons, I read.

I want my students to read for all the same reasons.  I want them to pick up a book and fall into the incredible world of the past, or the future, or an island far away or a dream or a magical kingdom or a football team or a romance or a small town with an orphan dog…….I don’t want them to stop their reading to identify the author’s purpose or to make text to text connections. I don’t want them to put down the greatest story of their lives to pick up a stack of sticky notes and do some “jottings”.

When did we decide that it is the height of teaching to reduce the most enjoyable and pleasurable parts of learning to cutesie little labels? Seriously? We want the kids to think about “jottings” that show their “noticings”?   What child in his or her right mind is going to want to read to learn when its all presented in this annoying, Pinterest-cute format?  What writer on earth would want to create in this environment?

Here is what I have “noticed”.  The people who so cheerily sell these programs are uniformly motivated by money. They write the shiny boxed sets, they train the rest of us in how to use them, they make money every time one of us orders the latest update on “mentor texts”.

What a pile of horse shit.  Teacher’s College of NYC, you will NEVER convince me that it is a good idea to teach a ten minute “mini-lesson” on a reading strategy that moves too fast for 80% of the kids in the room.  You will never convince me that as long as we assign a catchy name to something, the children will grasp it (“Jot Lot”? Seriously?)

I may be old, and I may be outdated. None of my beliefs will fit in a box. None of them have an adorable name.  But this old teacher lady will tell you this:

Children learn at different rates. They learn by doing, not by having an adorable teacher show them adorable charts. Children need time to think. They need time to wonder.  Children need time to process the strange new ideas that the teachers are teaching.  The vast majority of them need more than 5 minutes of teacher talk to understand a concept based in metalinguistics.

Children need to read for PLEASURE.  Otherwise, they will never read for pleasure.

So I sat through two days of incredibly expensive professional development where the cheery woman from Teacher’s College taught us all about the Reader’s Workshop Model.

And I came away with one firm conviction: I will NEVER try to teach 24 kids a meaningful strategy in less than ten minutes. I will never assume that all 24 of my kids can master a concept at the same time.

And I will never, ever, ever, for any reason, refer to the people in front of me as “beautiful readers”.



8 responses to this post.

  1. Haha!! I love your post!! I couldn’t agree more! I love growing and learning more as an educator, but some of these workshops, training seminars and the like are utter crap! I’ve listened to a few great presenters and read some wonderful and helpful books, but I also do a lot of my own reading on education and teaching. Sites like Coursera which offer online courses designed to help teachers improve are much better.


  2. Posted by 2old2tch on January 14, 2015 at 12:03 am

    We all folded “little books” in a high school literacy training. The kids were inundated with little book projects throughout for about two weeks at which point we were all sick to death of them. We were also required to include 2-3 strategies from the program in our lesson plans every day. Plans were turned in on a weekly basis. No discussion in small groups. We had to “Think-Pair-Share.” “Think-Alouds” were popular as well, for a teacher never shared a thought process to spark discussion. We also often used “Guided Instruction” in a process referred to as “I do, we do, you do.” Imagine! It has been 3 and a half years since I had my own classroom and I can still spout all the catch phrases!


    • Oh, my God. I heard every one of those phrases today! What’s with the hyperspeed teaching model? I almost lost it when she said, “The kids don’t raise their hands in the mini lesson. Ever.”
      What about all that time I’ve spent teaching them to self advocate and to ask for clarification?
      This absolutely feels like teaching as performance, not at all about tuning in to the kids.


      • Posted by 2old2tch on January 14, 2015 at 9:38 am

        One of the roles I used to play when I went into middle school classroom (as a special ed teacher) was to ask the question I saw on their faces that they were too embarrassed to ask. It cued the teacher in to confusion they weren’t sharing and gave the kids permission to ask questions. You are so right…teaching as performance.

  3. You know the old saw “Those that can’t do, teach”? Well, here’s a new one: “Those that can’t teach, facilitate…”


  4. Ooh, man, I ‘m making myself a t shirt of that!


  5. I think the best way to get kids to love to read is to provide them with a teacher who loves to read. I’ve never met a “facilitator” for any company or profession whom I could stand. If it were up to me, all those people would become target practice for Al Qaeda and ISIS. I would give them the option of getting a real job (like teacher!) first.


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