Monday, October 4, 2010

Odds and Evens- October 2010

The following is excerpted from the essay, "When Pedagogic Fads Trump Priorities" in the 9-29-10 edition of Ed Week. The author is Mike Schmoker, an author, speaker and education consultant. 
"First we need coherent, content-rich guaranteed curriculum - that is, a curriculum which ensures that the actual intellectual skills and subject matter of a course don't depend on which teacher a student happens to get...

Second - and just as important - we need to ensure that that students read, write and discuss, in the analytic and argumentative modes, for hundreds of hours per school year, across the curriculum...

Third, we need to honor, beyond lip service, the nearly half-century-old model for good lessons that all of us know, but so few consistently implement:

Good lessons start with a clear curriculum-based objective and assessment, followed by multiple cycles of instruction, guided practice, checks for understanding (the soul of a good lesson) and ongoing adjustments to instruction... multiple checks for understanding may be the most powerful, cost-effective action we can take to ensure learning. Solid research demonstrates that students learn as much as four times as quickly from such lessons.

For decades we have put novelty and the false god of innovation above our most obvious, proven priorities"...
I've been in touch with Mr. Schmoker to congratulate him for the courage to speak the truth. I hope to continue the dialog. He also takes on "differentiated instruction" and mindlessly incorporating technology into lessons as if "that will rescue poor instructional plans from failure."

I rarely say this, but, if you disagree with him, you are either wrong or hypocritical! Yup, dems fighting' words!

And now for something completely different...

"All Truth passes through Three Stages: First, it is Ridiculed... Second, it is Violently Opposed... Third, it is Accepted as being Self-Evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer (1778-1860)

" You've got to be taught To hate and fear, You've got to be taught From year to year, It's got to be drummed In your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught." --from South Pacific


Sue VanHattum said...

"Wrong or hypocritical"? Sounds like you're shutting down disagreement before you even hear it...

Because I respect the work you do, I still would like to disagree with Schmoker.

"First we need coherent, content-rich guaranteed curriculum - that is, a curriculum which ensures that the actual intellectual skills and subject matter of a course don't depend on which teacher a student happens to get..."

You cannot 'teacher-proof' a curriculum. To teach well, the teacher must understand the mathematics (and lots more). The student with the poorly (mathematically) prepared teacher will not get the same intellectual content from a course as the students of a good teacher, regardless of the curriculum.

I'm sure you're well aware that a good teacher often figures out from the student's mistakes and attempts at explanation, what the student's misunderstandings are. This trouble-shooting requires a deep understanding of both the math and how students learn.

I also disagree with his third point. It may be good to conduct most lessons in the way he describes, but it's also important to have students work longer at one problem sometimes, and open-ended problems are an important part of learning.

It's not as simple as he pretends. And saying it is shows little regard for all the intelligent, hard-working teachers who struggle to improve their teaching.

(I do agree that the U.S. has a big problem with following the fad.)

Dave Marain said...

First of all I apologize for not publishing your comment until this morning. poor etiquette on my part.

Speaking of poor etiquette, I know that I was confrontational and showed poor judgment in appearing to shut down argument. Thank goodness, you had the gumption to call me on it and I appreciate your giving me the benefit of the doubt!

Mike's essay in Ed Week was far more extensive than the few excerpts I posted and, on second look, they can be misinterpreted.

He was never suggesting "teacher-proof" materials. His position, in congruence with mine, is that of uniform content. A first year algebra class should cover the same core content no matter where it is taught. You know my position on that, and, if I had not abridged his statement, that would have been clearer.

As far as the structure of a lesson, he was in no way calling for it to be scripted. I am a strong proponent of collaboration and encouraging student communication. I always attempted to ask every student at least one question in each class period using a variety of questioning techniques. I taught for both conceptual understanding and skill-building. HOWEVER, IMO, THE ISSUE OF FREQUENT CHECKS FOR UNDERSTANDING IN A LESSON IS A SINE QUA NON FOR EFFECTIVE TEACHING AND IT TOO OFTEN GOES MISSING. Walking around the room, having students going to the board, guided practice is part of it. BUT, the "art" of asking questions which clarify, guide, probe for meaning, challenge, and encourage the student to "see" their own error, is a supreme challenge for all teachers.

Your point about the importance of having strong math teachers who can recognize, and, more importantly, anticipate the reason for common student errors, is of exceptional importance.

Teachers do make a difference, in every context of that phrase.

Sue, thank you for getting past my petulance! I think we do have much more to say about all this...

Sue VanHattum said...

Hi Dave, No problem about the delay, we're all way too busy in our lives.

I still find his tone unpleasant. It seems he thinks this is easy, and it definitely is not.