August 03, 2011
The following was written by Bob Sickles, President and Publisher of Eye On Education. Bob invites you to share your comments below.
This provocative question has stimulated discussion in the education community and has implications for teacher preparation programs. Although colleges of education once held a monopoly on teacher training, alternative teacher preparation programs are emerging. One such program claims it is attempting to remove what New York State’s Commissioner of Education David Steiner calls the "divide between the schools of education and the work that teachers do in the classroom."
For years, too many teachers have been awarded their degrees without being prepared for the realities of the classroom. A recent article in the New York Times puts a spotlight on one alternative program, the Relay Graduate School of Education. The article states that the Relay program replaces traditional courses with "some 60 modules, each focused on a different teaching technique. There will be no campus, because it is old-think to believe a building makes a school. Instead, the graduate students will be mentored primarily at the schools where they teach. And there will be no lectures. Direct instruction, as such experiences will be called, should not take place for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. After that, students should discuss ideas with one another or reflect on their own."
Preparation programs like Relay are built around best practices and classroom applications and they deemphasize theory and research. Will this approach achieve the twin goals of improving the quality of teacher training and boosting student achievement?
The Times article includes a quote from a third grade teacher in the program: "Right now, my kids need to learn how to read…I can study Vygotsky later." This sentiment is disturbing to some. For example, Teachers College Associate Dean Lin Goodwin voiced a concern that the Relay program "dumbs down teaching and takes (teachers) back a few steps in terms of (being seen) as professionals." The article reports on concerns that the "tight focus on pedagogical technique would mean less intellectual rigor" and that a teacher needs to be "trained in advanced work in his or her field as well as be versed in child psychology, cognitive theory and educational philosophy, so he or she can work in any setting."
I’m fascinated by this debate. Will these innovative programs improve the quality of teacher training and boost student achievement? Or are they moving in the wrong direction?
I’d like to invite readers of this blog to join in the debate. What do we mean when we refer to a teacher as being a "professional?" There’s an old saw that there’s nothing more practical than a good theory – does it apply to Piaget, Bruner, Diamond, Gardner, Vygtosky, etc.? How important is it for school teachers and leaders to be masters of child psychology and cognitive theory? To help me answer this question, I am challenging readers of this blog to send in comments which would describe specific actions you might have taken, either as a teacher or leader, which relied on what you learned in graduate school about educational theory and research. Will future training programs suffer if they back away from theory and research?
Please let me hear from you.
Bob Sickles, President and Publisher
November 29, 2011 7:04 AM
Wow, what a provocative discussion and an important one! My M.A. is in Communication; however, I'm an anomaly since my B.S. degree is in post-secondary education. I can say without a moment of hesitation that I use the theoretical and practical teachings within my undergrad degree every single day of my academic career--far more than the Burkean theory that I studied in my Comm program. How? First, without my Ed Psych class, I would have never known about Caine and Caine's brain-based theory of "immersion". I set up my entire curriculum based on a learning hierarchy (Read About It, Write About It, Do It) to give students multiple ways to tackle (the immersion) the material from a cognitive and performance-based levels. When I developed an online public speaking class with this model, I ended up gaining national recognition for it--twice.
Second, both my Ed Psych class and my Tests and Measurements classes taught me how to properly develop assessments, and gave me vital practice in learning about objectives. My objectives work led me to serve on campus-wide education outcomes committees at two institutions--and from that vantage point, I was able to see some frightening objectives in many departments (including my own!) that were not measurable, nor able to be deciphered by the student.
When I first started teaching, I didn't readily identify that my Ed undergrad degree had so much immediate value for me. Now I know that it shaped the educator I became, and I have the ability to share what I learned with others. In fact, I am currently working on the Gates Foundation's Open Course Library grant, which will bring open source curriculum worldwide in October 2011. Because my immersion model is noted in my syllabus, individual faculty designers replicated it and now their courses are being presented with the Read About It... etc. design. I have also been able to help shape more problematic objectives than I can count. I recently wrote to two of my profs from that program saying hello and thanking them for providing me with the foundation that has impacted my entire career--and hopefully, thousands of students. Ellen Bremen, M.A. @chattyprof http://chattyprof.blogspot.com
November 29, 2011 7:04 AM
Read About It, Write About It, Do It. I like all three together. Great approach. @SicklesBob
November 29, 2011 7:04 AM
To assure all of those who are in the profession of teaching and learning that teaching is, in fact, a science as well as an art would be to compare the discipline to a glass half full or half empty. If the glass was half empty then the science of the pedagogy for teaching would rely on the shoot- from- the- hip approach to learning and thus not be conclusive to a true profession. It is with this idea that I would argue that the glass is filled to the brim with supporting factors that teaching is a profession. Those myths that ponder from long lost myopic stigmatism of past practices are assured that the new science of teaching has emerged over the sunrise of the 21st Century.
Yes, it is important that teachers and school leaders become masters of child psychology, and that learning theories become integrated into essential practice. To know the students meta-cognitive process is to know how specific instructional strategies are applied. To create learning environments where students mental abilities are challenged at the correct level of complexity and difficulty means that teachers must apply professional standards of classroom practices. After all is that not what Marzano does, translates Merlin Whittrock and redefines it into meaningful practice, those practices that have been proven over time and substantiated through research?
For example, when we look at future growth models for education, what we want to obtain is the ability to stretch the learning curve every time we set foot into the classroom. In order to accomplish this task we must bring the fundamentals of professional pedagogy to the forefront of how instructional interaction supports leaning. To accomplish this task, teachers must know with crystal clarity, the effects they have on student learning through questioning, checking for student understanding, providing meaningful feedback and designing high engaging lessons; and definitely knowing and understanding the principles of constructivism through the Zone of Proximal Development.
The key to a successful learning experience is not at the stand alone knowledge level which in many cases classrooms of today formulate through mastery of concepts and to a lesser degree on the idea of scaffolding for reasoning. To ensure that students are prepared for the 21st Century we must continue to revisit theses practices and grow with experience. The professionalism is in the language, and in the language we define practice and in practice we experience tipping points of growth in pedagogy. The science is clear.