Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teaching A Series of Techniques?

I've read this story twice now. At first I thought oh it sounds pretty good. Let's examine quality teachers and see if we can spot some common characteristics. Unfortunately we have two problems.
  1. The common characteristics are opinions based on anecdotal evidence.
  2. They are teaching techniques not teaching methods or strategies.
Yes, yes I know there is no one right teaching method and classroom management is very important, but I hate to burst your bubble but there is no one right method of classroom management either. Some very effective teachers would take the 49 techniques and throw them out the window. On the other hand I do know some teachers who could use a good lesson or two on how to manage a classroom.

With that thought in mind here are some selected quotes from the article and some comments by me.

The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculum and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on.
But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans.
So the question begins: what do we do when children don't listen?

That belief has spawned a nationwide movement to improve the quality of the teaching corps by firing the bad teachers and hiring better ones.

The belief that good teachers are born not made means we fire all of them and only hire back the good ones?

Yet so far, both merit-pay efforts and programs that recruit a more-elite teaching corps, like Teach for America, have thin records of reliably improving student learning. The smarter path to boosting student performance, Lemov maintains, is to improve the quality of the teachers who are already teaching.

...what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise.
He isn't describing teaching, but rather classroom management techniques

No professional feels completely prepared on her first day of work, but while a new lawyer might work under the tutelage of a seasoned partner, a first-year teacher usually takes charge of her classroom from the very first day.
No real mentoring in any teacher education program. Why not first year with daily one on one mentoring and second year maybe 5 on one mentors with lots of time to observe and be observed?

Cook County Normal School, run for years by John Dewey’s precursor Francis Parker. The school graduated future teachers only if they demonstrated an ability to control a classroom at an adjacent “practice school” attended by real children; faculty members, meanwhile, used the practice school as a laboratory to hone what Parker proudly called a new “science” of education
Still not talking about teaching, but rather classroom management

Many education professors adopted the tools of social science and took on schools as their subject. Others flew the banner of progressivism or its contemporary cousin constructivism: a theory of learning that emphasizes the importance of students’ taking ownership of their own work above all else.
Yet I don't see why this in any way conflicts with learning classroom management techniques. (Remember this one for later)

Yet schools can’t always control for the quality of the experienced teacher, and education-school professors often have little contact with actual schools.
Why the hell not?

His heartfelt lesson plans — write in your journal while listening to music; analyze Beatles songs like poems — received blank stares.
That's a lesson plan?

The official title, attached to a book version being released in April, is “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.
The video's are all elementary students, do they work with middle school / high school students? While the techniques look nice they don't talk about how to set them up; oh wait I have to buy the training to do that. The real question I have is what do you do with the student who consistently disrupts class, but the dean has made it clear he doesn't want to see the child in the office all day everyday and you are only allowed to suspend the student 10 days per year. What happens when you call 30 different home numbers but none of them work. The parents don't care. The administration has given up. You can't get the kid suspended or expelled even when they threaten your life. Basically, nothing in your arsenal of classroom management techniques has any effect. What then? If this student puts his/her head down and doesn't bother anyone I can teach the rest of the class, but if I spend 10 minutes everyday putting out fires he/she starts how can I bring the rest of the class up? What do I do when a student transfers into my classroom two months into the school year and missed all my precious "teaching my students how to be students lessons". What is that student is disruptive and 4 years below grade level? He/She has no records and it takes 9 months to get all the paperwork done to get him/her the help they need. What if they move to a new school and don't tell anyone? That new school has to start the paperwork all over again. I can have great classroom management techniques but I also need support on all levels, parents, administration, and sometimes police.

The romantic objection to emphasizing it is that a class too focused on rules and order will only replicate the power structure; a more common view is that classroom management is essential but somewhat boring and certainly less interesting than creating lesson plans. While some education schools offer courses in classroom management, they often address only abstract ideas, like the importance of writing up systems of rules, rather than the rules themselves. Other education schools do not teach the subject at all. Lemov’s view is that getting students to pay attention is not only crucial but also a skill as specialized, intricate and learnable as playing guitar.
So what you are saying is all other education schools suck. Teachers should learn classroom management first and in some cases only.

Is good classroom management enough to ensure good instruction?
Finally, and yes the answer is no.

One of those researchers was Deborah Loewenberg Ball, an assistant professor who also taught math part time at an East Lansing elementary school and whose classroom was a model for teachers in training.
These videos seem to be more about allowing students to think and discuss concepts and very little about classroom management. It's all about letting students use their brains. This looks suspiciously like a teacher who cares about quality education first and classroom management second, but yet still manages to do both. Note that the "Sean" numbers lesson was actually a lesson that went off track, an action that is frowned upon at "Uncommon Schools"

Teaching, even teaching third-grade math, is extraordinarily specialized, requiring both intricate skills and complex knowledge about math.
What teaching is specialized and requires intricate skills and complex knowledge?

Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it. Then they need to take each mind from not getting it to mastery.
Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching
  • which visual tools to use to represent fractions
  • sense of the everyday errors
  • “Teaching depends on what other people think,” Ball told me, “not what you think.”

She had been teaching for only two months, yet her fifth-grade math class was both completely focused on her and completely quiet.
Why do we assume this shows proof that she is a good teacher?

advanced to a technique
techniques are not teaching.

We almost had some good writing in the middle there, but we ended on a sour note. Really this articles seemed more like a 9 page advertisement for "Uncommon Schools" and their new book coming out in April.

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