This week, we sat down with John Crain, the author of the book, “The Essential Guide to High Quality Curriculum & Instruction: A Handbook for Texas Teachers and Leaders” to discuss his goals for writing the book and why he believes there’s a need for more practical resources for teachers.
Q: John, tell us about the Essential Guide to High Quality Curriculum & Instruction. What is the goal of the book and why did you decide to write it?
A: This book was my best effort to provide teachers with a useful tool for designing high quality, engaging learning for students. It was not written as a traditional academic textbook. My goal was to write a handbook that is easy and friendly to read—a kind of everyday handbook for teachers and leaders. My goal was to translate and synthesize theories of learning into practice— what teachers do every day with students.
Q: What current challenges exist in classrooms when it comes to developing effective curriculum and instruction? How does this guide help educators overcome those challenges?
A: Oh, my! Where to begin. Educators face so many challenges every day. One challenge is engaging all students in the learning. Traditional, large-group, teacher-centered instruction is frequently the norm. This book offers concrete suggestions on how to shift the learning design from teacher-centered to student-centered. In other words, I suggest concrete strategies to get the students to do the work, the thinking, and the management.
A second challenge is designing instruction that is rigorous and challenging. That challenge is compounded by state assessment that is more rigorous than it has ever been. My contention is the true rigor is complex thinking and problem-solving—not the volume of work that students are assigned to do. In the book, I have offered concrete suggestions and examples of how to scaffold learning so that teachers can design learning activities that are cognitively challenging and that match or exceed the rigor of the state assessment.
I’ll finish with one more challenge. In many classrooms, teachers work with students from diverse backgrounds – from students who are economically disadvantaged to those who are second language learners. Those students were at the forefront of my mind as I was writing. I believe the book explains strategies that are more likely to engage these students in the learning process. The book offers concretes strategies, examples, and models for designing learning activities in which students are learning together, have frequent interactions, and produce products that have the potential to engage them.
Q: How is this book different than your average textbook?
A: That’s a very interesting question. As a university teacher-education professor, I searched for years for a textbook that was practical, concrete, and easy to understand. I was never successful. Dr. Ann Callahan, the retired chair of education at Tarleton State University was obviously in the same boat. In her review of the book she said, “How I wish that I had this to use with my undergraduates. John is staying in plain language what I have wanted them to hear, understand and ‘practice’.” I believe that the book is unique in the following ways:
- It uses the language of practitioners. Sometimes the technical vocabulary of our pedagogy seems to serve as a gatekeeper that prevents us from understanding. Some may conclude that I have oversimplified some very complex issues. To that, I plead semi-guilty!
- It has easy to read, conversational text—not your typical academic textbook. I intentionally chose my style of writing to talk to teachers—not to write at them. Hence, this handbook is written in the first person. Readers will find lots of informal language. The style may bother some readers.
- The book contains information on best, researched practices translated into actual practice. What bothered me about so many textbooks was that they were overly theoretical. Theory without application to actual classroom practice is meaningless for what teachers do every day. At the same time, practice that is not based on good theory and research is suspect and should be viewed with suspicion. I have great respect for academic research and theory. As I indicated at the beginning, my goal was then to translate and synthesize that theory into practice— what teachers do every day with students.
- I have provided in the book step-by-step protocols for designing high quality learning as well as many examples and visual models. As a teacher, I want both “big picture” AND a sense of concrete direction on HOW to translate that big picture into actual classroom practice with students.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: My primary goal was to support the noble quest to design rich, rigorous, meaningful, and joyous learning for the students that educators love and serve. To the readers I would say, if you are a formal leader (principal, assistant principal, instructional coach), I believe that you will find information and tools to support you as you coach and leader. When I frequently use the pronoun “you”, take off your administrator hat for a moment and put your teacher hat back on—I think you will find that the hat still fits! If you are a beginning teacher, I believe that this book will help you organize your prior learning and, perhaps, add some things to your tool kit. If your undergraduate preparation focused on the theories of teaching/learning, I believe that you will see the practices that stem from it. If your teacher preparation was primarily based on practice (“do this; don’t do that”), I am hopeful that you will discover the theory on which those practices are based. If you are an experienced teacher, I believe that you will find in this book information that validates your practice and that helps you articulate why you are a good teacher. If you can articulate what makes you effective, you will be a more intentional, thoughtful, and reflective practitioner.