Evidently, the New York City Department of Education has mandated a particular style of instruction known as "the workshop model". It was originally mandated for literacy and science instruction in the elementary grades, but has mutated into the mandatory style of instruction for all grades in all subjects.
In the past, students would learn their studies from a teacher standing in front of a blackboard and copying notes onto it. They would learn their reading skills by reading books and writing skills by reading essays, but this method does not benefit the students of today's times in the way that they need it to. Students today need a method of learning their reading and writing skills in a simple yet constructive way.
According to a description in New York Teacher
The model is premised on the belief of “progressive” educators that the best way to encourage deep and enduring understanding is through “discovery learning” in a small-group setting, where students puzzle out problems and acquire knowledge on their own.
Accordingly, the teacher must limit direct instruction to the first 7 to 10 minutes of class. For the next 20 minutes, students work in pairs or groups of four to try out the concept or skill that the teacher modeled in the “mini-lesson.” During that period, the teacher circulates from group to group helping as needed, or in elementary and middle schools, conducts five-minute “conferences” to assess students individually. For the final 10 minutes of class, the groups share results.
Two other features of the workshop model:
- All desks arranged in small groups (often of four)--note some will have their backs to the front of the classroom
- Directions to teachers to avoid writing on the board (black or white) at the front of the classroom
Writing in The Wave, a website about Rockaway, New York, the education columnist Norman Scott reported:
“Lucy Calkins [one of the leaders of the balanced literacy movement] dropped in to talk to us at a recent workshop. She said the workshop model was not to be used for all teaching and thought it was crazy to teach a social studies lesson in 10 minutes. She also restated that balanced literacy is based on teachers making their own decisions about what their students need. The suggested mini-lessons were only meant to help teachers until they learned the balanced literacy methods."
Calkins' disavowal of the univeral utility of the workshop model evidently didn't reach the shocktroops of NYCDOE:
New York City Department of Education is divided into regions; each region has a Local Instructional Superintendent (LIS). At some point in 2004, Chancellor Klein mandated the workshop model for all classes, and instituted a program of "professional development" for all teachers to use the model every day in all subjects, or face professional censure.
Complaints were not slow in coming:
Teachers' Union Newsletter for High School teachers, Winter 2004 reported the following:
- A "workshop model coach" reprimanded a teacher in front of her class for praising her students
- An administrator declared that the color red could not be used on bulletin boards because it was "too aggressive"
- Many highschools were mandated to use "only" the workshop model in all classes
- Physical education teachers in one region were directed to use the workshop model "in every lesson on every day"
- Local Instructional Superintendents (LISes) in one region ruled that the workshop model was "mandatory" in all content areas.
- In one area, the seating arrangement for all science classes mandated to be a 'U" shape, and any teacher devating from that seating arrangement would be subject to disciplinary action.
- Only 10 minutes of direct instruction for each class period
- All other work to be done by students, in small groups (groups of four)
The more than a dozen teachers interviewed for this article agreed that the workshop model is useful as one method among others. What they object to is the order to shoehorn every lesson into that format, even if, in their judgment, it is not the best approach for that day’s lesson.
“There are many topics that do not lend themselves to the workshop model,” said Richard Williams, the chapter leader of A. Philip Randolph HS on the City College campus. “The workshop model works only when it is at the discretion of the teacher. To have it mandated is a big mistake.”
- A middle-school teacher disciplined for teaching punctuation
- Another middle school teacher scolded for working outside the curriculum: she was demanding correct spelling from her students
- A class of high-school seniors were found to be ignorant of the existence and importance of such figures as Stalin, Darwin, Freud, Churchill, Marx, and Einstein
- Some teachers have been ordered to restrict all observations of any child's work and behavior to praise.
- Teachers using the chalkboard (blackboard, whiteboard) have been disciplined.
- Desks must be configured in "pods" rather than rows, no matter what the subject. Deviation is subject to professional discipline.
- Teachers "caught" deviating from the 10-minute mini-lesson (by giving longer introductions or lectures, or by moderating whole-class discussions) have been disciplined.
Redhog goes on to say,
The workshop model is the freak of Columbia Teachers College. Except for the folks who are making money on the model, practically no educational researchers, historians, or teachers in the field think it is anything but a wicked waste of time. Horrible as it is, the workshop model is just one of many innovative infections that have put the school system in a raging fever.
But consider Chancellor Klein’s professional development program. It is meant to indoctrinate and remold virtually every teacher in the system, regardless of that teacher’s level of academic attainment, years of experience, established record of success, or personal teaching style. All are herded into professional development boot camp, the 13-year veteran with a master’s degree in English literature next to the rookie just out of education school. All are forced to slavishly parrot progressive education theories and apply them in their classrooms. Just as the teachers’ contract undermines teaching excellence, Klein’s professional development regime demoralizes good professional educators with a previous track record of success.
James Traub, writing in the New York Times in 2003, had some earlier criticisms of the Bloomberg-Klein-Lam triumvirate:
But it hasn't -- quite the contrary. In January, Mayor Bloomberg's schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, announced that starting this fall all but the most successful schools in the city would adopt a uniform curriculum. The new math program, Everyday Mathematics, would emphasize understanding concepts rather than mastery of basic operations, and a "balanced literacy" approach to reading and writing would focus more on children working among themselves than on direct instruction. Reading experts swiftly criticized the phonics component, Month by Month Phonics, as sketchy and unsystematic. (Mr. Klein later added a more orthodox program.)
I wish it were possible to sue for educational malpractice. I have some candidates for litigation in the whole language area: Ken Goodman, Yetta Goodman,
Marie Carbo, Robert and Marlene McCracken, Jeff McQuillan, Carol Edelsky,
the list could go on for a long time. Whole language robbed the children of California of the right to read easily and fluently. Kids in kindergarten in 1988 graduated from high school around 2001--is it any wonder that we're finding that kids aren't ready for college work? If you aren't a fluid reader, able to puzzle out unfamiliar words ("decoding") --you cannot read complex texts.
I wonder if the universal workshop model is coming to a school district near me.