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Smagorinsky analyzes the effects of standardization on teachers; student creativity

Kathryn Kao

January 25, 2016

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In a recent Get Schooled blog for the AJC, Peter Smagorinsky, Distinguished Research Professor of English Education in the Department of Language and Literacy Education, weighed in on how today's corporate education model is impacting teachers and their ability to foster innovative and successful students.

According to Smagorinsky, many teachers believe that their enthusiasm and dedication are increasingly undermined by today's focus on standardized tests and production-line teaching methods. In fact, more and more educators are deferring to "scripted" curriculum—instead of individual assessments and instruction—to meet these requirements.

"When the whole of the curriculum is scripted and designed to prepare students for multiple-choice tests developed by people in the assessment business, what happens to teachers' emphasis on preparing kids for life?" asked Smagorinsky, who is currently conducting a long-term study on how teachers' careers unfold over time.

Smagorinsky has been following these teacher participants since their sophomore year in college and will continue to observe their academic and professional careers. Today, his participants are halfway through their fourth year of teaching English in public schools in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

One participant described "the difficulty she has had in relinquishing the thinking behind her teaching to the corporate textbook and assessment publishers whose scripts she must follow so she is on the same page as every other teacher in the county every day." The same subject has started to question why she is teaching; she loves working with kids, but finds her teaching conditions dull and uninspiring.

"The reality is the corporate model takes the heart and soul out of schools by assuming every teacher should be identical to every other one, and students can all be equitably measured by the same assessment," he said. "This mechanistic perspective on teaching has made teachers feel, in the words of the teacher I interviewed recently, 'robotic.'"

If passionate teachers decide to pursue other interests in face of these conditions, "what will be left is a teaching force filled with those who are content to let the corporations plan their classes form them," said Smagorinsky.

Smagorinsky's work is unified by a sociocultural approach to understanding literary teaching. A major component of his research is the study of written and artistic compositions, as well as group discussions oriented to literary interpretation and interpretive texts.

Read the entire story on the AJC's website.