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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Curriculum Opinion

‘The New Teacher Revolution': An Interview With Josh Stumpenhorst

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 29, 2015 5 min read
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It’s that time of year again, and I will be alternating between publishing thematic collections of past posts and sharing interviews with authors of recent books I consider important and useful to us educators. New questions will begin in September.

Today’s post is the latest in my authors series - I was able to interview Josh Stumpenhorst, author of The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education For A New Generation Of Learners.

LF: How would you describe the “New Teacher Revolution” that you name your book after?

Josh Stumpenhorst:

For me the “revolution” is all about looking at how we as teachers approach teaching and learning. While revolution may seem harsh, I feel we really need a revolution or ideas and pedagogy in order to make school relevant and appropriate for this new generation of learners we have in our classrooms. This happens when we question the ways in which things have always been done and push back on the status quo that has reigned supreme and too often unchallenged in our schools.

LF: You’re well known for your work around Genius Hour, which you elaborate on in your book. Could you talk about what it is, how it works, and its benefits/pitfalls?

Josh Stumpenhorst:

Genius Hour, which is an idea I see popping up around the world, does play a part in my classroom and grew out of our Innovation Days. In our school we created Innovation Day as a time where students could learn about anything they were interested in or passionate about. For example, we had students creating stop motion films, choreographing dances, composing music, writing novels, and many other things based on their interests. The only requirement the students were given was they had to learn, create and share. This naturally evolved into what we called Passion Projects and then Genius Hours in our classrooms.

The benefit of such activities is obvious in that it allows students to tap into their talents and strengths around topics they are interested in. However, there are potential pitfalls that come with these activities as well. Often they are at odds with the overly standardized and micromanaged curriculum in our schools. Teachers have to fight for such activities and the assumption can be they are a waste of time. Another potential problem I have seen with these activities is they are too often one and done. In other words, we need to move past the notion of students being “geniuses” for one hour a week or one day a year. We need to move into a space where students are free to pursue their passions and be geniuses and innovators at any time during their learning.

LF: I particularly liked your chapter on “Education Traditions,” which examined a number of them from different perspectives. Could you share two or three and summarize your commentaries on them?

Josh Stumpenhorst:

For me one of the biggest traditions I fight against is the tradition of nightly homework. This has been around longer than the puke green tile in our schools’ bathrooms. Simply put, I have yet to find any compelling research to support homework as a positive addition to the learning environment or to student achievement. As a parent myself, I have seen the destructive power it has on children and further perpetuates the widening gap between the haves and have nots in our schools. My friend John Spencer said it best when he said homework should be optional. My goal is to have kid’s learning at home be inspired and not required.

Another tradition I come up against often is that of the traditional grading system or model. I have found this model to be based more so on behavior and compliance rather than a reflection of student learning. Students who turn their work in on time, are polite in class, work hard and bring in extra tissue boxes are often your straight A students. Yet, we see time and time again those straight A students struggle in later grades due to their grade being inflated based on behavior and not an accurate reflection of learning. We need to break out of this mindset of behavior based grades and have a grade reflect learning and nothing else. Better yet, get rid of grades all together and just provide narrative feedback for students.

LF: Technology plays a significant role in your book. Can you share some of the key opportunities - and dangers - it can offer in the classroom?

Josh Stumpenhorst:

Technology plays such a critical role in the classrooms of today and will continue to do so into the future. The greatest danger to technology use in the classroom is poor implementation. By that I mean teachers using technology for the sake of using it without a thought on how it is actually impacting the learning. This happens when teachers are not trained on new technology but also when they have been shamed into using it. All technology use in schools should begin with the question “why?” Why do I need to use this tool? Why does this app fit into this lesson? Why am I going to try using this device in my classroom? The answer to the question “why?” should dictate technology use far more than “how?”

Having said that, technology opens so many doors for students and teachers alike. The ability to connect and communicate with people around the globe at the click of a mouse is powerful. My students can share their work beyond the classroom walls and household refrigerators with a truly authentic and global audience. Another great aspect of technology is the ability to create and build in ways we never thought possible. While 5 paragraph essays and dioramas can still be used to illustrate student learning, the options are virtually limitless when it comes to ways in which student can showcase their learning.

LF: In reading “The New Teacher Revolution,” it became clear to me that it would be a perfect companion to Meenoo Rami’s book “Thrive.” Both of your books are very, very practical, and between the two of you, cover just about every key topic an educator today needs to be thinking about. Would you mind sharing the process you used to identify the topics you cover in your book?

Josh Stumpenhorst:

For me the process of writing the book was simple. I went back and thought about my first years as a teacher. Like many of us, I wish I could go back and apologize to the students and parents of those first few groups. I reflected on what I struggled with and what I wish I had known. I laid out the book in a way in which I saw the greatest struggles I faced as a new teacher. However, as I was writing it, I realized that although the title says “New”, the content is not simply for new teachers. It is really for anyone looking to shake up their teaching and approach their craft in a new way. The seven areas I outline in the book are what I think to be the seven critical areas teachers need to shift if we want to be successful with the generation of learners we have in our classrooms.

LF: Thanks, Josh!

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.