Saturday, May 07, 2005

It's a GOOD thing....or is it?

Over at her blog, Jenny D. is contemplating the age old question of what constitutes good teaching. She writes about her data:

I can tell from doing a simple analysis what teachers did. I can tell you how often they did one thing or another. Or how often they did a couple of things, and by grade, and so on.But here's what I wonder: what SHOULD teachers have done? In other words, what might great teaching look like in my database?

As I scoured the edusphere, I found many of our education colleagues have picked up on her query, and are weighing in with a multitude of ideas.

From Cowboylogic: “What you are looking for are patterns of behavior (instruction techniques) which arrive at the desired result (a well educated child, which, in it self, is a rather subjective goal), then try to correlate the behaviors and determine if they are replicable. Also, you need to determine whether the techniques used are uniform in the results attained in various settings and to what degree they are uniform. This task is made more difficult by the subjective self-reporting of the teachers contributing.”

Ms. Frizzle: “Those (teachers) who don't have a strong & realistic feedback loop between what they wanted to happen, what they did, what resulted, and what that means for doing it again, don't tend to get better at teaching very quickly. They don't even know they need to get better! “

And From
Instructivist: “Since good teaching is largely an art full of imponderables, dynamics and synergies for which one either has an aptitude or one does not, it is largely a futile effort to try to quantify good teaching. Of course, a good part of the RESULTS of good teaching are measurable.”

Like most teachers, my interest in this is more than philosophical. This question comes up almost daily in conjunction with my work with preservice and colleague teachers . You’d think after over 20 years of classroom experience, I’d have a really great answer. I don’t.

Part of the problem is that education fads/trends/ pedagogues shift with the wind; even now, the constructivists and the traditionalists fight for theoretical dominance, and the pro/anti NCLB folks wage a similar war.

The other problem is that as the researchers work to define good instruction, elements of real world teaching situations (disruptive student behavior, for instance) sometimes get ignored. That’s one of the reasons I am hopeful about Jenny’s research.

But “I know good teaching when I see it”….. Instructivist (see above) allows that while hard to quantify, good teaching can be described. I see this argument as the TEACHER AS AN ARTIST schema. It’s more than the way my intern moves around the room, providing support, offering alternative routes to the solution, and asking pointed questions. It’s the changes in her voice, the way she selects just the right practice activity to meet the need of each individual kid. I once observed an expert second grade teacher lead her class through a 30 minute language arts lesson that flowed as smoothly as a professional rendition of Shakespeare-in-the-Park.

“Are the students learning? Then it’s good teaching.” This view reflects the TEACHER AS A TRANSMITTOR OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS. Assess the kids. If they pass, they were the recipient of effective teaching.

I remember when my intern led her small group through a well-planned science lesson, but the kids’ behaviors made the delivery less than pretty; she did her best, but no one would have called it an example of stellar teaching. The kids did a fine job on the assessment though, and I encouraged her to find pleasure in that. Of course, we weren’t accounting for previous knowledge, and I believe that’s what got our students through.

And what about the difference between an effective instructor and a GOOD, memorable teacher?

It’s all so complicated.
Well, good luck, Jenny! I, for one, am routing for you!

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