Dos and Don'ts according to Ed. Gurus
In a comment on my last post, KDerosa sent me this article about the educational "reforms" that have been forced upon those of us "in the trenches" over the last few decades. I thought the article was excellent, because it fit so well with my experience. I have always believed that much of what I have been fed through colleges and workshops about how I should be teaching has defied common sense. But we are always told that these ideas come from the best and the brightest and that they are research based, so how could that be? This article explains.
There was one statement in the article, however, that I thought needed to be addressed. It criticized teachers for our desire to be able to do our own thing. Here is what it said:
Some of the tactics teachers use to avoid reliance on a dysfunctional professional support system also undermine the development of a scientific professional-knowledge base about teaching. For example, an over-emphasis on individual teacher autonomy and creativity can undermine the development of a shared knowledge base. As Adam Urbanski said: "Everyone seems to think that all you need to do to be a good teacher is to love to teach. But no one thinks that all you need to do to be a good surgeon is to love to cut." Having teachers pick and choose instructional procedures according to personal preference, without any scientific information regarding the effectiveness of these procedures, is not likely to lead to significant improvements in the effectiveness of public education.
As I responded to KD, I think a lot of that desire for autonomy is a result of the "reforms" that have been thrown at us. I didn't have to be a teacher for very long in order to figure out that those "child-centered" strategies couldn't work very well. Give me a choice between winging it (trying things on a trial and error basis, going with things that work and throwing out things that don't) and going full scale with some strategy that defies common sense, and I will wing it every time. When you consider the "reform" alternatives that have been given to teachers, of course we're going to want our autonomy.
Here are some things that I've "learned" in workshops and graduate classes that I've taken during the last several years. I did not make any of these things up, and I am not exaggerating:
1. You must fully incorporate the theory of multiple intelligences into your classes. (Allow students to show their understanding of American History by making up a dance, singing a song, or doing an art project.)
2. A chemistry class can be brought to life by having one student dress up as a potato and pretend to worship another student dressed up as the sun.
3. Cooperative learning is always good.
4. Competitive learning is always bad. (You should not have your students study for a test and take it by themselves, then grade them according to who did well and who did poorly.)
5. Students should sit in circles or clusters.
6. Students should not sit in straight rows.
7. Pencil and paper tests are bad.
8. Objective tests (multiple choice, true-false) are especially bad.
9. When teaching American History, there must be as little focus as possible put on white males (who most of us have heard of), and put most of the focus on women and minorities (especially on those who no one has ever heard of).
10. Minorities and women must be taught that they have been oppressed, and they continue to be oppressed.
11. All caucasians are racist.
12. It is impossible for a minority to be racist.
13. Anorexia among women has been caused by a plot by white males to hold back the gains that women are making.
14. All history assignments should be made by using primary sources.
15. Never lecture.
16. Never make reading assignments from a textbook.
17. Deadlines are evil.
18. If a student is not ready to take a test on the day a test is scheduled to be given, that student should be able to take the test at a later date (when he or she is ready), and still be able to earn an A.
19. The disciplines should be eliminated. (There should not be English classes, math classes, history classes, etc.. Everything should be interdisciplinary.)
20. Focusing on content in a subject is bad (learning things that have happened in history, the different parts of a sentence, and some of those silly math concepts).
21. Focusing on the processes of thinking, whether or not there is any substance to that thinking, is good.
Let me make it clear that I do think there are aspects of the reforms, of which these goofy ideas are a part, that do make sense. I do believe in the theory of multiple intelligences, so I do allow my students to do art projects involving American History for extra credit. I do believe cooperative learning can be used to supplement the other things I do. I do believe that I should not rely solely on multiple choice tests to evaluate what my kids have learned. I do believe that the contributions of women and minorities in our history should be included in American History classes much more than they were when I was in school. And I do believe that having an awareness of thinking processes is a good thing.
Nevertheless, I have no doubt that if I had gone lock, stock and barrel, into the things I have been told to do in workshops and in graduate classes, my students would have learned a lot less. In fact, I think my American History class would have been a joke. Like teachers around the nation, I have been forced to try to find things from those classes and workshops that might be useful, incorporate them into my own program, and throw out the garbage. In the wonderful movie, Schindler's List, there is a seen that shows a Jewish family, that is about to be taken away by the Nazis, putting jewels into bits of bread and then eating them. Later they will try to separate the jewels from feces. That is what teachers across America have been forced to do during my entire career.
Every teacher I know wants to be successful. I mean who wants to regularly go up in front of 25-30 people, even young children, and look like an idiot? Show me something that will help me do a better job, and I will grab it, and I don't know any teacher who doesn't feel the same way. The bottom line is this: colleges of education and those who put on teaching workshops have been doing a lousy job. Maybe, instead of focusing on "failing schools" and "failing teachers", Congress ought to take a look at them.