When I read the post How Teachers Fail from favorite blog TEACH EFFECTIVELY, I immediately recognized John Wills Lloyd’s bias against teaching strategies that are not research based. I kind of like this about the professor, and about his blog overall. Reading his postings reminds me to maintain this high standard (“What is the evidence?”) as I plan for my special ed students.
However, Dr. Lloyd’s list seemed a little tongue in cheek; after all, I couldn’t imagine a “teaching expert” of any ilk advancing the use of study carrels as the number two strategy for success. So when I went to the About.com site hosted by Sue Watson, I saw a list of suggestions that could be found in any number of ADHD/LD sources. In fact, I recently gave a colleague some of these same ideas as she tried to manage the behavior of a new, highly ADHD and learning disabled student.
This got me to thinking: must everything a good teacher tries be evidenced-based?
When I teach, I start with an assumption that is fairly universal and steeped in common sense.
There is no one way to teach every child.
Consequently, I vow to try to vary my approach based on what I know about students’ particular needs. For example, just because my school has selected a particular reading series or program, I don’t immediately match a child with what we have on hand. Instead, I meld information from students’ recent formal testing, in-class assessments, and observations, etc. with what I know to be effective evidence-based instructional techniques. I try what I can, based on my expertise and input from other trusted colleagues. If something is not working, I don’t give up altogether or keep hitting my head against the proverbial brick wall. I try something else, most likely another research based strategy. But I admit, I’m willing to try whatever makes good sense to help a child find academic success.
Watson essentially said the same thing in her quick list. “Vary your strategies until you find out what works, persistence will pay off”.
Dr. Lloyd calls this list “pure bologna”!!
Yikes… here is my take on a few of the items on the list.
* I LIKE giving squirmy kids extra opportunities to move around! It feels humane.
*And in my experience, study carrels and isolated desk areas DO provide some kids with a sense of privacy and less stimulation. (This sometimes translates into better educational outcomes, but it often just helps a child and his/her classmates better tolerate being in the same close space.)
*Playing soft music at different times of the day (I do it at sustained silent reading time) has helped some of my students relax, which helps them be ready for the rest of the day’s challenges.
I’ve never seen documented evidence that these classroom modifications make a difference in children’s learning. I haven’t completed my own, formal classroom research project to disprove or support their worth.
Does that make me a bad teacher? NO.
A crummy teacher would continue to do these things even if became evident they were detrimental to the achievement of his/her students. A crummy teacher doesn’t even bother to figure out if these strategies are helpful in his/her particular classroom. Blind acceptance of ideas is the tell tale sign of a poor teacher, not the desire to meet kid’s individual needs.
Maybe what I need to do is be more on the lookout for information about educational research and evidenced-based instructional techniques. Oh yeah…. That’s why I read TEACH EFFECTIVELY in the first place!