Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Art not Science

April Fools Day,  our spring break, Tiger Woods  at Augusta...yep there's a lot going on.  We'll use it to catch our breath.  But for our loyal readers(all 3) we thought we'd put up something of substance, or at least that impersonates that. 

"Miles, just play the solo like its written."
Too many influential individuals methodically and mistakenly work to simplify and streamline approaches to instruction, experienced teachers continue to strive in the fluid environment that is and always will be the classroom.  Most don't pay much attention to things like Common Core until they start hearing it in faculty meetings.  The love affair decision makers have with data continues to push those shaping teaching to view it as a science that can be adjusted in such a way to produce a definite outcome. Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared on the Washington Post's The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss.  It comes from an experienced teacher in New York state Jeremiah Chaffee.   His experience with the Common Core Standards and lessons connected to them show this divide.  But first some comments on Common Core.

A quick perusal of the website led me to realize that Roy Romer really likes them.  Roy Romer...that's the featured endorsement?  But watching it becomes clear Roy might not see eye to eye with teachers on everything. He says they are set of tools.  If presented as that I am on board.  But I must admit to caring less about any standards and more about my students.  So read a bit more:

"The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

 That sounds like a bit of an oversell.    That all we were missing in education was this set of standards and presto, we are "positioned successfully" in that global economy thing.  That actually sounds like what I am supposed to be doing.   In the FAQ section of their website many of my questions appear and are answered.  The responses sound sterile, well rehearsed and too scripted.  I am left unsatisfied, especially the part about more tests.  I bet that feeling is a lot like what students would encounter if we reduce things to a homogeneous set of anything.  I think what students, parents and teachers need to succeed is a lot more complex than a list of what to teach.  For my students it means well planned and engaging opportunities to learn.  A goal that I must admit to falling short of providing on occasion.   But I adjust and tinker until I get it right.  When I view that process as complete I should be fired.  Like any quality artist I work to create something unique and valuable that suits the moment all in the name of learning

The romantic view that students just need access to curriculum and knowledge is forged far from the student themselves.  Teachers can't and shouldn't just unbox content and use a script, from common core or anywhere else.  I doubt anyone(other than those full of bad ideas) really expects that.  But it seems some forget the role teachers fill for students.  For certain kids can and do learn on their own.  But wishing for a "better" way to teach and kids to learn doesn't make it so.

These lessons are models, prepackages ones.  Sometimes I find these useful, sometimes not.  The best teachers I had in life never used them.  They scalped from them and did their own thing.    I find the years of experience I've gained are priceless and are far more valuable than resources. Would a pilot reading a manual written by an experienced pilot give you much piece of mind?  I suspect not.  The best things I do are often the result of improvisation and reading the pulse of the class and students. That dynamic is different every period, every day, every year.  As I leave you reading Chaffee's thoughts brought to you by someone I almost always agree with,  Valeria Strauss,  I think about it this way...great concerts and musicians provide much richer experience live than simply listening to a recording.   But if you want it done the same every time for every audience, just plug in the CD player. 

Scripting lessons is based on several false assumptions about teaching. They include:

* That anyone who can read a lesson aloud to a class can teach just as well as experienced teachers;
* That teaching is simply the transference of information from one person to another;
* That students should not be trusted to direct any of their own learning;
* That testing is the best measure of learning.

Put together, this presents a narrow and shallow view of teaching and learning.
Most teachers will tell you that there is a difference between having a plan and having a script. Teachers know that in any lesson there needs to be some wiggle room, some space for discovery and spontaneity. But scripted cookie-cutter lessons aren’t interested in that; the idea is that they will help students learn enough to raise their standardized test scores.

I can tell by what Chaffee says he is probably a good teacher.

1 comment:

  1. Hi There,

    I was doing a bit of research on common core issues when I came across this page on your website: Thank you for the great resource page!

    While browsing, I noticed that the link " faq section " under the section [Are not Science] is broken. Unfortunately, it now leads to a non-existent page.

    I just wanted to let you know that if you are looking for a resource to replace this broken link, Open Colleges has a great one:

    If you're not the right person to talk to about this, can you please point me in the right direction?

    Thank you for your time and have a great day!

    Kind Regards,

    Chenee Marie Quia-Eo
    Community Outreach Specialist, Open Colleges
    | m: 09328504568
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