Mark Ahlness brought Doug Noon’s excellent post “Contested Ground” to my attention today. Several ideas Doug brought up grabbed me in this post. The first was this paragraph:

Being a teacher means too many things for me to say that I know how to do it well. I surely don’t know how to move a group of kids to universal competence when their needs span the curricula for 4 different grade levels, and when they come with varying interests, talents, and beliefs about themselves and about school. But I do know how to connect with students through conversation. I am a noticer of insight, and I am a celebrant of the very good question. I know how to encourage kids to make strides on their own, working for things that I could never teach them directly.

This speaks of what I consider the heart of teaching: forming specific relationships with individual learners, and differentiating both instruction and assessment based on the knowledge about the learner and the relationship with the learner that the teacher obtains and cultivates on an ongoing basis.

Doug takes issue with the idea that there are best practices “written in tablets of stone” when it comes to teaching. He quotes Christopher Sessums and argues for a paradigm of understanding teacher knowledge as “dynamic process of discovery and analysis” instead of a static, “received commodity.” This takes me back to the educational philosophy of Paulo Freire, who wrote on page 23 of “Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage” the following:

Teacher preparation should never be reduced to a form of training. Rather, teacher preparation should go beyond the technical preparation of teachers and be rooted in the ethical formation of both selves and of history.

Being an active listener, thinker, and contributor within the edu-blogosphere epitomizes for me this ideal of lifelong learning about the teaching practice, and being a reflective practitioner. This isn’t something I every “complete” or finish, it is an ongoing process of analysis, reflection, inquiry and growth.

Doug (and many who have commented to date on his post) are right about the enduring need we have to encourage teachers to constantly reconsider their roles and even identity within schools. The role of the “sage on the stage” has been modeled and reinforced in traditional classrooms for years, but this is not the exclusive learning model we need to prepare students for success in the “flat world” or the one our students want.

I like the idea of referring to classroom members as “expert learners” and “novice learners” that Tom Carroll discussed at the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Forum recently. At a basic level, teachers need to get comfortable with the fact (it’s not just a perception) that they do NOT “know it all” and that in some contexts, their students know more than they do and THAT IS OK! We need to move beyond the transmission model of education, and stop reinforcing a mindset that all which matters is that which is measured on the bubble sheet.

I passionately want the teachers of my own children to challenge them with good questions, instead of force-feeding them a regimen of approved curriculum. I want the teachers of my children to form relationships with them so they can inspire, motivate, and challenge them based on their own unique ways of looking at and thinking about the world and what’s in it. There is nothing standard about children, and a corollary to this is that there should be nothing standard about education other than the fact that a high quality one should be available to everyone. The quality of that educational experience has everything to do with the teacher and the ways s/he invites students into the learning process, and very little to do with standards, tests, and legislative mandates.

Rather than encouraging our teachers to all me the same and “standard,” we should be encouraging all teachers to be ALIVE within an authentic growth process of reflective inquiry and change. Our call should not be to test-based accountability, but rather continual learning and self-improvement. In short, we should be encouraging teachers to continually GROW and CHANGE. What?! Ask teachers to change? Yes, absolutely. Most if not all of the “master teachers” I have personally known have been ALIVE in this sense of constant pedagogical inquiry and growth. Unfortunately, that is a very different message from the ones we hear championed in our legislatures and board rooms.

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On this day..

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One Response to Thoughts on teaching and authentic learning

  1. joe says:

    nice article. i am in fact a teacher in the inner city of los angeles.

    my school system is pretty effective but it’s a very confusing place to teach for reasons you outline here..


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