Sunday, January 17, 2016

ICYMI: A Mountain of Must-Read

This is a week in which I have actually written less because I have read more. Every one of these is a must-read.

Schooling the Secretary of Education

John King has gotten one thing right so far-- he held a sit-down with an assortment of teachers (most with high social media profiles) who had not been carefully pre-vetted for their agreement with his policies. This account of the meeting is oddly encouraging, even as it is unsurprising.

About Cost Cutting Measu-es

You know I love a good illustrative metaphorical example. Here's a great demonstration of how brutal a 3% cut can be.

The Myth of Pedagogy

Interesting take on how classroom instruction may still be in the pre-science stage. I don't know how much I really agree with all of this, but it's thought-provoking.

The 13 Best Onion Higher Ed Stories 

The Chronicle of Higher Education collected their thirteen favorite higher-ed pieces from the Onion. Winners one and all.

Does Georgia Have a Teacher Evaluation System Only a Sadist Could Love

Well, the short answer is "yes," but this is a good, clear example of just how messed up it is from a Georgia teacher who's lived it.

How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

In today's New York Times, Robert Wachter looks at how measurement mania is making life miserable for both doctors and teachers. Two great lines: "We're hitting the targets, but missing the point" and "The secret of quality is love."


  1. For the last piece, a saying I heard long ago comes to mind: The operation was a success, but the patient bled to death. (An apt description of education reform.) In other words, by all the metrics of measurement, reform policy is working, but kids are not learning.

  2. The Myth of Pedagogy deserves more attention. At the core of a learning experience is the learner's free will. For little ones, there is a great deal of pure imitation going on. By the time a student must use a degree of exertion, free will is in play. Isn't it true that students will learn individually, even in the same class, just as siblings will mature and think very differently, despite being raised by the same parents?

    This whole test crisis and teacher merit pay crisis are based on the myth of pedagogy with complete blindness to the simple concepts of individual motivation and free will. A great sales person can sell any product when he can anticipate your objections. Great teachers read their students constantly to understand their perspectives, aptitudes and desire to "do well". The teacher's desire to "reach" a student can sometimes reach a student who doesn't want to be reached. Software does not do those things, and mediocre teachers don't either.

    The "give and give" that is essential in instructional settings is simply ignored. People (students and parents) are not who they were 40 and 50 years ago, regardless of their zipcodes. The myth of pedagogy will continue to wreak havoc until it is seen for what it is: a poor explanation for a complex and mysterious process which involves complex and mysterious human beings.

  3. I've been seeing a lot of articles lately talking about "myths" in education. They say, for example, that the theories of multiple intelligences and different learning styles are myths and not true because there's no "hard evidence" or "empirical evidence" or "evidence-based research" that shows it's true.

    It seems to me that there's a drive to convince people (1) that everybody learns the same way and (2) that there's no such thing as "pedagogy"; that is, that there is no science to teaching. Both of these ideas would be justification for standardized learning and the idea that teaching is simply content delivery.

    To me, pedagogy is Piaget, adolescent psychology, and especially cognitive learning theory of Bruner et al. It may be "theory", but so is all of science, and in science, being "theory" doesn't mean it doesn't work. It's certainly worked for me. And I don't believe strategies that come from these theories can't be and haven't been shown to work. I've seen plenty of studies that show they do.

    1. Just to clarify that I agree in this sense, as theory informs your personal pedagogy. But Peter or I may have a different way of applying the theory. I say this because this testing culture and initiatives like Race to the Top (Race till you flop?) are all about coming up with "transferable" strategies. Business people like Bill Gates obviously believe in them. Just like you can't easily reproduce Reggio Emilia's model in another classroom, no one can reproduce your teaching and get the same result. Teaching is an art form, educational psychology is your set of brushes, and you have to choose the paint colors and where to put them. I interpret the current construct of pedagogy to be largely devoid of the artist/teacher's insight and inspiration. I believe that great teachers develop their own pedagogy, and maybe some elements will appeal to someone else, but in the end, it will be as unique as your fingerprint.

    2. I agree that teaching is both an art and a science, and that the teacher's desire to get through to the students is key. I just think that the art part is not per se a part of pedagogy, but comes from the teacher's individual style and experience and how they use the science of pedagogy. I think that these articles I've seen lately suggesting that teaching is solely some kind of mysterious, incomprehensible art and there's no science to it is dangerous. I've also seen a commentator say that if it's an art, then it's all in the eye of the beholder. I'm afraid that if people think it's only an art, that foments the myth of the "hero" teacher, who's just "born." I'm seeing what looks like a concerted effort to de-legitimize the science of it, of the importance of psychology and cognitive learning theory. If you're just "born" to teach and there's no science of pedagogy, then who can argue against TFAers with only 5 weeks of preparation? How can we argue that we're the professional experts in the field and know what's developmentally appropriate and business people should quit playing amateur hour? How can we argue that it's not just content delivery or putting students in front of a computer program? The science of cognitive learning theory includes student motivation, which is an argument for the art side of teaching, for the relationships that have to be forged. I don't feel I'm explaining myself very well, but I'm seeing a trend that really disturbs me.

  4. In fact we are thinking about the same problem from different angles. I fear that while the construct of pedagogy you describe is, indeed, what is needed in the classroom, the charter and business crowd come up with "pedagogy" to solve all the problems THEY think are happening in a classroom, instead. I am referring to an article I read on NPR where the teacher is being coached about what to say in real time (wearing an earphone while being watched by a coach).

    I am the one not being clear: pedagogy itself is not the problem. The idea of a pedagogy that can be created by who knows who and implemented among inexperienced people without real theoretical and practical training is the "pedagogy myth" I am referring to. You cannot hand over a pedagogical manual to John Q. Public and believe he can teach. I also think that teaching is a calling. When you heed the call, you do your best to make yourself qualified. I should add that my dearest friend is a deeply dedicated professor educational psychology. I strongly believe in the importance of a theoretical foundation for teachers. You just cannot package and market that knowledge and capture in a cool software product or stick it in a cloud.

    The other truth about real pedagogy vs. the canned version I have been disparaging, is that it is flexible. I think that classroom dynamics and even the personal development of the teacher will result in a lot of modifications, fine tuning by the teacher over the years. Canned pedagogy is the term I should have used from the beginning of this discussion. Professionally developed pedagogy can and should be based on both science and personal inclination. I really should have put more thought into how
    I worded my ideas. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    1. I agree with you that it's a calling. And yes, teachers have to be flexible and choose or devise the strategies that will work best in a particular discipline, teaching particular concepts or skills to a particular class or individual, also according to the particular teacher's strengths and disposition. Teaching to a script is not pedagogy, and it's sickening that they would call it that. I don't really even consider classroom management techniques, maybe like in the book "Teach like a Champion", pedagogy. I was recently reading a blog called notesfromnina by a teacher from Finland who's working on her PhD here, and she differentiates between pedagogy and what she calls teaching and instruction. Anyway, I guess I wasn't so much commenting on what you said, it was more that the subject made me think about how distressed I am about these articles I've been reading that make me think of conspiracy theories about the reformsters' next move in trying to de-professionalize teaching. My thoughts do tend to go off on random tangents.
      : )