Breaking News: Brodkey Goes Straight to the District with Discontent Regarding DII Methods
At 9:01 A.M. yesterday morning math teacher Jerry Brodkey sent an open letter to the Superintendent and Board of Trustees of the Sequoia High School District expressing his discontent with the Direct Interactive Instruction (DII) program.
DII encompasses the methods taught in the District Professional Development program, the district-mandated training seminar for teachers, for the past several years. DII methods focus on making high-school classes an interactive experience with very clear objectives. Furthermore, DII methods encourage a uniformity in the curriculum and experience of certain courses across each teacher of this specific class. DII also advises a broader level of uniformity throughout an entire school in terms of class processes. For example, DII stresses that all teachers ensure the involvement of all students in the classroom through the use of tools such as equity cards and the clear stating of class objectives by means of displaying the all too well known “what – why – how” grid.
In his letter, Brodkey affirms that he does not disagree with the concepts of DII (i.e. that interactive classrooms and a clear class objective) but that he disagrees with its specifics: the fact that DII methods encourage a “one-size fits all” classroom experience.
Since the Sequoia Union High School District implemented DII as their professional development program, Brodkey is the first party to publicly voice his discontent with the program to the Superintendent and the entire staff. As the Superintendent has yet to publicly respond to Brodkey’s letter it is still too early to tell how much impact it will have on the Sequoia Union High School District’s adoption of DII programs or if the Superintendent will accept Brodkey’s closing request to “undertake an open and serious evaluation of this program.”
For more on DII programs at M-A, click here.
The following is a copy of Jerry Brodkey’s letter to the Superintendent and Board of Trustees of the Sequoia Union High School District:
“Dear Superintendent Lianides and Board of Trustees:
I hope you all are well and are having an excellent year.
I wanted to call your attention to an on-going District Professional Development Program that I believe is not achieving its desired goals. For several years, District teachers have been undergoing training and thenimplementing the Direct Interactive Instruction Program (DII). I am not sure exactly how this program was selected for the District, but I believe it was chosen in response to our being placed on probation under state and federal testing mandates. Teachers have undergone extensive training, co-planned and co-taught classes based on the DII methods, and been asked to change established patterns of instruction. It is my hope that the District will take immediate steps to evaluate this program and either modify it or eliminate it.
No teacher I know disagrees with all of the DII ideas. It is, of course, important to make teaching and learning objectives explicit. Students need to know what they are learning, how they will learn it, and why they are being asked to learn the specific parts of the curriculum. It is crucial to maximize student engagement and to constantly check for understanding. Every teacher with whom I have spoken accepts these components of the DII model. These concepts that DII promotes are not the problem.
The central problems arise in the specifics of the DII program. I have been in the District for thirty years, and DII is without doubt one of the worst, if not the very worst, professional development program I have experienced. It does everything I was taught a professional development program is not supposed to do. It promotes a one-size fits all model, ignoring teacher experience and judgment. It is to be applied without regard to student, teacher and classroom differences. It is imposed rather than generated collaboratively. It asks teachers to use strategies and techniques which they believe might not only be ineffective, but can alter and harm the tone and nature of critical student-teacher relationships. It ignores data and information that in some cases show that present practice is effective.
There has been a tremendous cost to the District’s selection and implementation of DII. I do not know the price of this program, but I assume it has been substantial, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars. More importantly, there have been hundreds of teacher hours lost that could have been spent more productively either working directly with students or engaging in a beneficial professional development program. Still, perhaps even more importantly, the implementation of DII has created a cynicism towards professional development and as a result, a cynicism about District judgment and leadership. As the District continues to support and mandate this program, I believe the District loses its credibility with its staff. This is a sad outcome, a harmful negative consequence that will take time to repair.
It is important to separate the DII program from those in the District who have been coming to our schools and trying to help teachers learn and implement the program. I just finished my cycle of co-planning, co-teaching, and debriefing. The District coach I worked with was excellent. She was gentle and kind and a good listener. She made the process as painless as possible and did help me reflect on my teaching. My other experiences with the District staff trying to implement this flawed initiative have been positive. This leads to an even more damning criticism of the program. If excellent professionals are trying to help implement the program in a thoughtful way, and teachers still find it to be a harmful undertaking, the damaging nature of the program is even clearer. The entire enterprise itself is the problem.
The older I get, the more I realize my perceptions might be wrong. If so, I need to take a deep breath and change. I only know that I would not want my children to attend a school truly based on this model the District is promoting.
Please undertake an open and serious evaluation of this program. Please come to our schools. Please listen to teachers and support staff. I believe you will hear an almost unanimous cry that we are on a wrong path that needs to change as swiftly as possible.