The Iroquois and Student Engagement


You know, I haven’t complained nor written much if anything about the direction that the NY State Education department has taken with the rollout of a new curriculum and at the same time, testing the curriculum the same year, APPR, SLO, LLO, XYPDQ.  (Those last ones, not real.)  We got our test scores, and believe me, our eyes are wide open and we are a little nervous for what is in sight for us this coming year.  Some of my friends have written about their score very nicely I might add.  (Thanks Tony!)  Some are moving on – I take the “Road Less Traveled” and choose to push it aside, I’m not sharing.  (As Kid President says, “Not Cool Robert Frost!”)

My teachers came back ready to go, enthusiastic to see the students and ready to take on the models and units in ELA and Math that the state listed on EngageNY.  Our teachers worked to align curriculum, map out the year and design lessons to engage students.  Until, the dreaded Iroquois Module in the 4th grade ELA curriculum.

I know, I hear state officials saying, “Well, we just offer this for you to follow, you don’t have to adapt or adopt the modules.”  I think the big hint is yes, we should use them and yes, we chose to adapt, but let’s be for real, who wrote the Iroquois units for Expeditionary Learning?  Are these people in the classroom?  Do they know what it’s like to be 9 years old, from a poor, rural community in Northern New York?  I think some peace pipes were passed around creating this unit.

And so, comes Unit 1, lesson 1-9 of the Iroquois.  Hearing my 4th grade teachers try and “teacherize” this lesson was very interesting.  Last Friday, one stated, “It took us two hours to get through lesson 4 and we didn’t finish.”  Our 4th grade teachers are just one day ahead for planning.  The other day, I did walk through’s and my 4th grade teachers worked diligently modeling their postcards to Tim.  Soon, they will be making their flags.  I think soon the peace pipes will be coming out to reenact the Great Law of Peace and we’ll have students start dancing some Native American Indian dances to wake them up.  I get the close reading strategies, the deep thinking, the “Think-Pair-Share activities, but why is it taking so long to get through these units let alone a lesson in one day?   Are these units really teaching students how to read and write?  This is the million dollar question.

Unit 1 has 9 lessons, Unit 2 has 17 and Unit 3 has 12, all devoted to the Iroquois. That means, around Halloween, our 4th graders will be done with the Iroquious.  Really??  My teachers, god love them, are working diligently to engage our students, placing them into project based learning situations, holding debates, sharing ideas, reflecting, you name it, to make these lessons engaging..  But after a while, how long do you continue to discuss the Iroquois?  Two months with 9 year olds?  That is like a college course, hey sign me up!  I joked with them that I would be placing Fun-O-Meter’s in their classrooms for the kids to use, something like this:


I get that our students need to have the history of our state, especially the Iroquois and how important it is that New Yorker’s know this history.  But let’s be honest, if teachers are taking that much time to get through a lesson, I have some concerns that our students may get burned out with Iroquois history.  But then again, in my career, I haven’t experienced anything like this, with the inefficiency of introducing a new curriculum, not even tested or researched, implemented and then tested in the same year.  No wonder 70% of the NYS 3-8 student population failed the new tests, .  Well, I guess we can only go up from here. We will forge ahead and I will support my teachers as they work diligently making their lesson full of engaging and memorable activities.  

If I am way off, then I apologize and I will go back into my hole.  As Bugs says, “Fared-well Hiawatha… Fared-well mighty warrior.”

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