classroom related

Danger of Passion

Posted on May 20, 2010. Filed under: art and creativity, classroom related, leadership related, thinking aloud |

To converse with my husband, you must desire a straight shooter, a born and bred New Yorker who does not soften his honesty to suit the audience. Often, Joe is relied on by folks in his industry.  They ask him his opinion because they know they will get exactly what they asked for and no less. He speaks what he thinks and feels, and  you know he means it by the way his neck clenches and his eyes light up. My daughters rely on their father’s honest approach as well.  If they really want to know whether a dress, haircut, or set of shoes work, they ask Dad.  (If they need a softer, gentler approach that might be stuffed in diplomatic cotton, they ask me.)

You might be asking what does this have to do with passion? And what does this have to do with education? Here is what I am thinking:

When we feel passionately about what we are saying (and so by default what we are teaching), it comes across as a frank sort of honesty. It FEELS more believable, trustworthy, and real. Have you noticed when we begin to talk about “engaging” students inevitably emotion-laden words enter the conversation: belief, charged, excited, drama, and so on? Emotions connect and bind us together.  A passionate person is much more likely to speak with emotion and thus keep us interested and connected AND ENGAGED (though sometimes they might make us feel challenged and angry during our engagement).

Passion is also scarier. People who talk with (and teach with) emotion can sound like ideologues, over-attached to their own ideas, unable to see a new idea, and too fired up to listen to others.  The present political climate is filled with passionate people who do not seem to know what they are talking about, their evidence is often emotion-built, not facts. Over time, this approach can beat you down, make you tired of talking.

On the other end of things, academics rely on facts and evidence.  Not a bad thing, and it keeps them from falling into passionate ideology.  It tends to help them see and present the gray areas, understand the different points of view to an argument, and demand evidence. It is more diplomatic, and provides safer haven for easier dialogue. Nevertheless, academic talk is dry, and boring, and people do not trust that you mean what you say. Academ-eeze is not engaging. It lacks passion.

I believe in education we need to recognize the need for passion and emotion in what we do, but we cannot allow our passion to undermine the need for evidence and reason.  How can we build the skills to do both?

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10 Ways Edu-folk Know How to Mess Up a Good Thing

Posted on May 15, 2010. Filed under: assessment, classroom related, leadership related, testing, thinking aloud |

If it is good then…

…we should do it more often. Ice cream is good, folks.  That does not mean I (in particular)  should be doing it more often.  There is an educational quality to something that is NOVEL.  Novelty sparks interest, curiosity, motivation.  Not all good things need to be done in large amounts and some good things are absolutely ruined by being done in large amounts.

…we should do it in more depth.  Some things are meant to be short and simple. I once knew a teacher who had 29 rules for behavior that she interspersed throughout her walls, curriculum, and speeches.  I have no idea how she had time to teach.  Some things are best done in limited ways and do not require more.

…we should require everyone to do it. Honestly, no one needs to see me in the latest fashion inspired by Lady Gaga.  Not all good things are a good fit everywhere and on everyone. First graders do not have the developmental milestones that allow them to do what fifth graders do.  Students in the city may not connect as well with literature that draws in the rural crowd. We are a diverse people and I would hope educators embrace and promote that.

…we should require fidelity in implementation. Ok.  Implementation is the stumbling block of every educational reform.  We all know about the “teachers close their doors and do their thing” stumbling block.  Does anyone really believe requiring fidelity to any implementation fixes teacher autonomy?  Fidelity wreaks of blind loyalty.  I want my teachers understanding and believing in what they are doing. Without teacher belief, fidelity to implementation is meaningless.  Students can FEEL the disbelief; can’t everyone?

…we should market it. Seems like we want to reduce things to something we can do/say in a 30 second commercial spot.  Everything needs a catchy name, that name must be trademarked so no one else can use it, and then an entire consulting firm needs to grow out of it.

…we should give it an acronym. It is as if education were the precursor to Twitter; everything is renamed with an Acronym.  We are even starting to develop Acronyms with heightened spelling issues (RtI??). I once had to take a quiz on acronyms during a professional development (PD).  Here are a few: SDAIE, IDEA, RSP, SDC, DI, PBL, PLC, POI, ELD, CELDT, GATE, SPT, LDS, etc.  I begin to think: WTF?

…If it is good, it will need to be tested with a standardized test. Student integrity is unlikely to be testable in a Multiple Choice format. Student writing is best assessed when read. Persistence of effort may be assessable, but not through bubbles. I could go on and on.  Do these things matter to us?

…we should quickly spread the innovation. Spreading means diluting, and that is usually what happens to quickly growing enterprises in education.  How about we let them percolate and grow, instead of multiply and spread? The reform pendulum has done so much more damage than good.  Patience is a virtue and we in education need to embrace that a bit more.  I understand that the Japanese developed lesson study over DECADES.  They do not switch curriculums every seven years, they wait TEN years and then they only switch out parts. Why can’t we do that?

…we should convince the politicians. How about we stop engaging the political machinations, and start working with each other to make change?  When we use politicians and political movements to make change it seems to me to reduce what we do to cliche.  Can’t we trust ourselves and have the important conversations on a local level where it counts? Are we too afraid to talk about what needs to be done with each other?  Our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and students?  Our local universities, our teachers, our parents, all talking about what we need to do to make education count? This is likely to be more real, more powerful, and more persuasive than any platform from elected folk.

…we should not change it. Sometimes good things have to move over for great things to get started.

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Right Brain vs. Left?

Posted on May 1, 2010. Filed under: art and creativity, classroom related, right-brained, thinking aloud |

Is it just me?  Or do folks in education tend to espouse extremes on edu-issues? I am thinking whole language versus phonics, arithmetic versus “new math,” and now standards&testing versus whole-child&inquiry. Once the end of these false continuums have been selected, they get bifurcated into our two political parties: Republican and Democratic (does that happen in other countries, too). Lest you think I am exaggerating, try this completely unscientific test for which side of these education ideas are Republican versus Democrat. Select below which party you think is best identified with the following edu-practices/issues:

  • Phonics?
  • Whole Language?
  • Math Concepts?
  • Arithmetic?
  • Grammar?
  • Creative Writing?
  • Whole Child?
  • Content Standards?

I am guessing, perhaps incorrectly, that folks placed Phonics, Arithmetic, Grammar, and Content Standards in the Republican camp and Whole Language, Math Concepts, Creative Writing, and Whole Child in the Democratic Camp.  Although today, given the ed-policies of our current federal government, perhaps people found the division less distinct, more muddy than they would have 4 years ago.

In any case, it is the “either” “or” of splitting these ideas that drives me a bit bonkers.  I call these false continuums: whole language vs. phonics; math concepts vs. math procedures; grammar vs. expression; and so on.  I am unclear why I am advised to pick one or the other as if these edu-topics are sides in an issue or ends of a continuum, when I know they are parts to a whole, an integrated universe in the classroom. I would never want to participate in a writing class that spends every moment identifying parts-of-speech and where to put commas.  Nor would I want to participate in a writing class that ignored the role of grammar in my ability to express myself. Is higher math accessible to children who learn only concepts or who learn only calculation?

I bring this up because right now the bifurcation appears to be testing vs. learning.  Really?

  • Does testing mean we do not bother learning anything but what is on the test?  Everything important will be on the page?
  • Learning?  Really?  Students cannot really do any deeper learning if testing is included? Testing somehow removes our ability to teach creative and critical thinking?

Frankly, I do not see these as polar, and I become worn on the debate.  I guess they need to appear polar to make the discussion clear?  Is that it? Maybe I am just too obtuse to see why these are sides.

It reminds me of a decade back when I was really “into” right brain versus left brain reading materials.  Being an art major turned math methods instructor, I was probably trying to figure myself out.  I finally ran into some brain reading that stated that the splitting of these two brain regions into “artistic/creative” versus “linear/traditional” were very incorrect ways to perceive the two roles of the brain hemispheres.  The left brain is better equipped to deal with logic, sequence, and calculating, and the right brain is better equipped for spatial awareness, music, and facial recognition.  But the point is, these two hemispheres work together to allow us to create, express, learn, and so on. They do not, and really cannot, work alone, not even in the minds of creative people.

I suppose critical and creative thinking in the classroom can happen without tests, so I am choosing an inadequate comparison here.

I am also reminded of the qualitative versus quantitative research in my doctoral classes. Both forms of research together, constructed over time and in various sites and studies, were much more convincing and powerful to me than either form of research alone. Of course, scientifically-based has somehow come to mean quantitative, so I am back to the same conundrum.

Why do we polarize? Maybe that is my real question?

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Content ?Versus? Pedagogy

Posted on April 25, 2010. Filed under: classroom related, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, thinking aloud | Tags: , , |

I am struggling with  a teacher’s need to know the content.  Does it get in the way of good teaching?  Does it help make teaching better?  Seems an obvious” yes,” content knowledge is important.  On the other hand, when we begin to deal with issues of inquiry and constructivism, should teacher content knowledge matter?  I was having a recent twit-talk with a couple of ed regulars: tomwhitby and jerridkruse, and they (or one of them) had proposed that teachers should be experts in learning, not content.  They should learn beside the kids.  Here a few thought-provoking tweets from them:

tomwhitby Wouldn’t it be reasoned if we thoroughly understand learning and teaching methods,we could aquire content as needed?

jerridkruse sometimes when I’m unsure of content my teaching more authentically models real learning cause kids & i in it together

And I was going to answer the following: Pedagogy, content, and learning are tied together, as each progresses, so go the others.

Then I deleted my comment and decided to examine whether I really mean that. Here is where my thoughts took me:

Pedagogical Content Knowledge or Content Pedagogical Knowledge (depending on how you want to prioritize) is a solid concept being examined by leading researchers.*1 and *2 My own dissertation process was tied to this idea of content and pedagogy being linked into a new type of teacher knowledge, PCK.  It is a type of knowledge that develops as a teacher develops.  It allows a good math teacher to recognize misconceptions as students fall into them; it allows a social studies teacher to know the perfect graphic organizer that will lead students to a deeper understanding of a particular historical perspective;  it helps a science teacher to hone student questions to a place where they have the materials and tools to pursue true answers. PCK says content knowledge does matter for pedagogy to be at its best, and PCK says that pedagogy does matter for content to be at its best.

I have seen this PCK in action when I see a teacher versed in history, extremely well read, but not versed in pedagogy–the result being a lecture that seldom engages the students.  Or the teacher versed in pedagogy who loves to do cooperative grouping, organizes her students beautifully, brings out the math manipulatives, but has no idea how to engage the students in productive math talk because her content knowledge is weak and she does not know where to begin or the right questions that might provoke student inquiry.

Ironically, concurrent with the twit-talk, one of my listservs on math was having a similar discussion about whether the text or the teacher should be in control of the math content provoking Michael Goldenberg to write a blog here and say:

“And that’s why ultimately it must be the combination of the PCK of the author [textbook author] tempered by that of the teacher that rules.”

And so I am back, in a way, to my original idea that “Yes, content knowledge matters.”  But I still get what jerridkruse and tomwhitby are saying about how learning about learning is the key to inquiry. Where teachers fail in inquiry is often at the point where we choose not to re-learn what we think we know–right beside the students.  I also believe we cannot use inquiry to have students entirely relearn all knowledge that exists in each discipline.  I know students do not need to know everything in a given discipline, but must not a core be solidified for students to make discoveries that move ahead of the discoveries that have already been made?  It is a delicate balance, the inquiry versus knowledge-giving role of educators.  It is why I think good teaching is much, much harder than most people (many teachers included) believe.

🙂 Bonita DeAmicis

** thinking here of Deborah Ball http://www-personal.umich.edu/~dball/ and Shulman http://www.intime.uni.edu/model/teacher/teac2summary.html

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