01 February 2010

On the point of teaching

An excellent piece on being able to see the wood for the trees in relation to teaching;
In discussions of “effective” teaching, we often hear about the “objectives” that teachers should spell out and repeat, the “learning styles” they should target, the “engagement” they should guarantee at every moment, and the constant encouragement and praise they should provide—all in the interest of raising test scores. The D.C. public schools IMPACT (the teacher assessment system for D.C. public schools) awards points to teachers who implement such practices; Teach For America addresses some of them in its forthcoming book.

Except for the misguided notion of targeting learning styles, none of these techniques is wrong in itself. But together they raise a barrier. Instead of bringing the subject closer to the students, this heap of tools proclaims: “No entrance! The subject is too hard without spelled-out skills, too boring without adornment, and too frustrating without pep talks and cheers!”

Worse still, such techniques take precedence over the lesson’s content. A literature teacher is evaluated not for her presentation of specific poems, but for stating the objectives, keeping all students “on task,” reminding them about the relation between hard work and success, using visuals and manipulatives, and, ultimately, raising the scores. It matters little, in such a system, whether the poem is excellent or trivial, what kind of insight the teacher brings, or what the students might take into their lives."
My sentiments exactly, as I've note before on the blog  and on the site. And thanks to Sheffner for saving me the trouble of looking up those urls for myself!


  1. James, you're welcome. And by the way, I found those urls by searching in my own blog archives, after realizing that your blog does not include a search function. Why not add one? It's very easy to do with Blogger.

  2. Thanks, Mark. Actually there is a search facility in the navbar, but for some reason the actual search box has disappeared; however, I have changed the colour to silver so pne can at least see what one is typing in it.

  3. Teaching is more of an art form. Too often the teaching experience is boiled down to list, and forms to fill out. When there is a good teacher, the students know it, and someone who has a passion for education knows it.

    (Expand the discussion at a new site, www.theneweducationnetwork.com, where we seek to open the lines of communication to better the system.)

  4. Mark,

    I could not agree with you more about style taking precedence over content. But, I suppose this goes back to the notion of accountability in HE as opposed to trusting teachers or lecturers that they can do their jobs properly!

  5. Anonymous3:41 pm

    Hey, sorry for commenting here where my remarks have no relevance to the Post, but I am in a hurry so I don't know where else to comment. I 'bounced up' (Trinidad slang from Trinidad and Tobago, W.I.) on this site when I was trying to clarify the phrase "frame of reference" for my own website /blog (www.homeschoolingtt.com) and was directed to your 'On learning to See' section which I just only slightly browsed and was amazed at the relvance to my own search. I noticed that it was targeted at adults - past the age of compulsory education, I think it was said. And seeing I don't really believe that any education should be 'compulsory', I think I can apply your mind maps and material in my own search on learning. I need to spend some more time examining your content, but I'm sure that I could probably forward potential home schoolers over to your site/s to 'learn to see' among other things. Thank you and God bless.

  6. A single line near the end of the piece says "They should learn to handle what they do not yet understand."

    I could not agree more.

    Carry on the good work

  7. nice post. Thanks for sharing such effective tips with us.

  8. Anonymous4:12 am

    Very well put...This was something I always thought and you have put it into words very beautifully...


Comments welcome, but I am afraid I have had to turn moderation back on, because of inappropriate use. Even so, I shall process them as soon as I can.