In far too many classrooms that we visit across the country, Garza’s fourth-grade experience is typical. Students are given instructional tasks that require a level of cognitive demand far below what is envisioned by today’s academic standards, and we see teachers more intent on covering content than on fostering student thinking about content.
This pattern has many roots, but one of them lies in preservice preparation.
In our experience, far too many teacher-preparation programs treat content knowledge as a great sea of information that must be poured from program to teacher-candidate to student.
We’ve been in a social studies methods class that covered a different era of American history each week. One after another, groups of candidates gave five-minute presentations on the 1920’s: jazz, Prohibition, flappers, the stock market crash, and on and on. There was little attempt to consider the relevance of the content for students, nor how to engage them in thinking rigorously about it.
We’ve been in a methods course where each candidate had been assigned a page of an outdated textbook on literacy instruction to summarize and present. Each page was treated as being as important as the next, and no effort was made to consider recent advances in the science of reading.
At one university, we observed an elementary candidate present to her fellow aspiring teachers on a text about Harriet Tubman, recounting facts about the Underground Railroad without any reference to why Tubman or the Underground Railroad was important, or what her own students might be thinking during the presentation. Neither the teacher-educator nor the other teacher-candidates in the room asked questions, and the class quickly moved on to the next presentation, which followed a similar form.
When programs go broad, not deep, when they do not prioritize ambitious content, when they do not use rigorous tasks, when they do not require candidates to focus on student thinking, they miss critical opportunities to foster candidates’ content knowledge for teaching.
But, as the programs featured here attest, another way is possible. Working with the outstanding teacher-educators at these programs and so many others, Deans for Impact will continue our work to ensure future teachers engage deeply in the content of thinking.