Saturday, June 14, 2008

14May2008 Old Fashioned Truths

When newer teachers refuse to even listen to how an experienced teacher does things or why, it can be frustrating. The colleges of education have so biased them against "old-fashioned" teachers, that they won't even consider tried-and-true methods unless it sounds super fun or flashy. Of course few of the tried-and-true methods are flashy, though some are fun once self-discipline is established. I would love to share the things I have gained both from my own experience and what has been shared with me from others. Unfortunately few are interested in taking the time.

Just one example: I have learned that P.E. can benefit academics in many ways. It can be a real incentive to get students to do the "work" part of learning, the part that can't be done away with and still really know, understand, and use that learning. P.E. can be used to discipline the mind, so that a student can think more clearly and logically. P.E. can develop the connections between the lobes of the brain. Dance, such as square dancing, develops rhythm and an ability to do complex thinking that translates to the academics.

Unfortunately many people (including many educators) want what they want and do not want to be bothered with facts, good research, or logic. They have "itching ears" that are attracted to flashy "experts" that tell them what they want to hear. If they don't want to be bothered with P.E., for instance, it doesn't matter that good research shows that students will do better on tests, or whatever indicator is used, if they get more than 70 minutes of structured, organized P.E. per week. They don't want to be bothered with it, so it becomes low priority. They don't have to disagree with the facts. They just prioritize it as of low importance. And with all we have to do, if something becomes low priority, it doesn't get done.

If some teaching method appears to be repetitious, many teachers discard it based on the constructivist inferences taught in their teacher prep courses. It is labeled as busy-work, low-level thinking, or worse -- "rote memorization" (the ultimate condemnation!). It doesn't matter whether it builds proficiency or develops the mental discipline necessary to truly understand a particular topic or subject. Of course it is possible to give assignments that truly are a waste of time. Many constructivist activities like "authentic" projects have a great deal of wasteful activities associated with them, such as much cutting and pasting and lots of counting. On the other hand activities like long division, labeled unnecessary in the calculator-age by constructivists, develop the mental discipline to follow-through and get accurate solutions consistently. This actually enhances a student's ability to gain the deeper understandings in math and other subjects in the long run as well.

There have been things I observed and judged to be, as a new teacher and based on my training, low quality activities, such as written book reports. I opted instead for easier oral reports. Other teachers have turned a book report into a visual project, which of course includes tons of time cutting and pasting. As I grew more experienced, I found that written reports were much more productive than either alternative. Among other things, it provides practice in summarizing. The point is, many things that teachers do, who have STAYED in teaching because they were good at it, are because they work. A new teacher would be well advised to listen and to try before judging.

Another point on this is that teachers change over time. What I discarded early on, I sometimes came to believe in later.

No comments: