Which Lesson is This From?

This is a little seed that gets in my teeth every once in a while… “Which lesson is this from?” It just makes me crazy! (And not because it ends with a preposition.)Spooky Hut by Julie Brodzik, art teacher

Spooky Hut by Julie Brodzik, art teacher

It’s not always the same words. I hear it in all different forms…

  • Which lesson teaches this standard?
  • We can’t change this because everyone teaches lesson X.
  • What’s the 4th grade printmaking lesson?
  • We shouldn’t do a lesson about this in 3rd grade because it’s too similar to that 2nd grade lesson.

None of these are inherently wrong, especially in the context of a small group of teachers that works together to plan instruction (a collaborative learning team). What bothers me is the assumption that common lessons are used in all of our schools, and that these lessons mustn’t be messed with. (See! I ended with a preposition again. It’s just the way I am. Sorry.)

I’ve got at least three problems with this way of thinking:

  1. It’s false. We are not all teaching the same lessons. I promise. There are model lessons that are available to all teachers, but there is no expectation that all teachers use them. In fact, if I have an expectation, it is that NEW teachers to our district use some of these for a short time to become familiar with our curriculum, and gradually begin to modify and create their own lessons that meet the learning goals. If this were the case, a teacher with more years of experience would be using more of their own lessons and fewer and fewer of the provided model lessons. But the inverse is often true. Most who talk like art teachers are teaching the same lessons are… Hmm… How do I put his lightly? Well, many of them are older than me. It’s not about age, mind you. — it’s about the way things were done 20 years ago. Common art lessons were incredibly important and necessary at that time, but things have changed.
  2. Those who do teach the same lessons, in name, are sure to teach them differently. I believe this is a good thing. Art isn’t all the same. There is not one right answer to the assignment. Why should there be one way to teach a lesson. We cannot give the title of a lesson and assume everyone is on the same page, but that is often the assumption by those who ask, “what lesson is this from?”
  3. To make decisions based on existing, or even widely-used lessons is a sure way to prevent innovation. This is the one that really gets to  me. Comments like, “We can’t change this because everyone teaches lesson X,” are the equivalent of saying, “nobody wants to change what they have been doing for 20 years, so let’s just leave it alone.” Well, what if we can do better?!

The ideal for art education within a particular district has two simple parts:

  • All art teachers have a common understanding of the learning outcomes expected at each level.
  • Each art teacher uses their creative problem solving skills, independently and with their collaborative learning team, to develop unique, innovative lessons to meet these learning outcomes.

It’s that simple — and if that was the reality, no one would be asking, “which lesson is this from?”

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2 thoughts on “Which Lesson is This From?”

  1. Nice post. Again, I’d use the “travel” metaphor: “Just tell me where you want me to go, and I’ll meet you there.” Then I’d take a different, more creative, route 🙂

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