Living with My Pedagogical Tension. . .

In a comment on my recent post about Motivational Herrings, Adam asked:  “What do you mean by this statement, ‘After all, in most situations, the one doing the talking is the one doing the learning.’  I think what you are saying is that students need to be able to articulate the learning in their own voice.”

You got it, Adam.  For me, learning has always been about articulation.  A perfect example is this blog, where I reflect on what it is that I think I know about teaching and learning.  Writing—just like talking—-forces me to think deeply about topics because the act of putting what I know into words that others can understand is inherently challenging.  What’s even better is that once I make my thinking transparent, it can be challenged—-and challenged thinking goes through the “refining fires” that lead to true understanding.

What’s unfortunate about schools is that we’re so completely buried in meaningless content that opportunities to talk—-which can be time-consuming, messy affairs—-are pushed aside in an attempt to maintain our “pacing.”  I can’t give my kids 30 minutes to think through a concept together—even though I know it’s the way that I learn best—-because I’ve got 647 concepts to get through this year!

You should live inside me sometime and wrestle with the pedagogical tension that I feel on an ordinary day.  I’ll watch my kids working on a science lab and be completely jazzed by the new knowledge that they’re building together but completely impatient by the process.  In those moments, I’m forced to make painful decisions: Give the kids the answer and stay on a schedule that sees me covering the entire curriculum or let them work out the answer on their own and experience real learning.

More often than not, I end up giving out the answer.

Can you blame me?

Remember, getting through the curriculum is the only thing I’m held accountable for.

8 thoughts on “Living with My Pedagogical Tension. . .

  1. Bob Heiny

    I’m curious, Bill, (thinking as an education policy consultant for the moment) are you saying that you have about 12 minutes for each of 647 concepts in a minimum school year of 180 periods per class of 50 minutes? How many concepts take more than 12 minutes and which less time to meet minimum criteria for learning each concept? How do some teachers handle this in ways that result in increased student scores?
    It seems to me that teachers must be direct with students in class and with homework to meet this schedule. It also seems these are worthy conditions for curricula supervisors and PD consultants (another teacher favorite, Mike :)) to address with teachers, so teachers know direct, specific recommendations to consider when planning lessons on this schedule.
    Kudos and best wishes to K. Borden and homeschooled child.

  2. K. Borden

    Please note this sentence in my post “It seems that both probably think both questions, but difference in which they can elect to practice is a matter of time and numbers.”
    I am clearly not suggesting that one environment for learning is set in a mindset the other is not. It is a matter of considering the very real challenges each presents to meeting goals implied by the questions and even questioning whether the questions themselves must be considered opposites.
    Teaching and learning involve a two way dynamic exchange. A back and forth, listening and talking, giving and receiving. If either party to the endeavor is exclusively switched to tranmit only and not receive, the dynamic circuit closes.
    Classroom teachers have the challenge and opportunity of that exchange not with one student but with many students. Whether it is a common test at the end of process or other assessments, there are goals to reach with multiple participants and time constraints in which to do so.
    I was affirming that I could see the challenges, where frustration may emerge and so forth.
    The field of education is not a settled science with fixed answers to every question. One observation I have from trying to follow the dialouge is that much is known and much remains to be known. Each discovery yields more questions. The science of education, much like the science of oceanic studies, neurology….(fill in the blank) is unsettled.
    Is it shocking to see a reflective teacher state: ” I can’t give my kids 30 minutes to think through a concept together—even though I know it’s the way that I learn best—-because I’ve got 647 concepts to get through this year!”? No.

  3. Joe

    Mike and K. Borden,
    I think we’re missing the middle ground here. Bill (and correct me if I’m wrong here) seems to be articulating a frustration with the requirement to plow through content. As a science teacher in NY, I can definitely see where he’s coming from. What’s lacking in our schools is a freedom for students to explore their own questions in messy, interdisciplinary ways. This is something where the homeschoolers have an advantage. What I have to do in the name of state standards is not organic at all. They’re parroting someone else’s knowledge for the sake of an exam, and it alienates them from school. What I sense from Bill is an aching for something more authentic than what’s currently happening, and it’s the same feeling that’s been crushing me lately as well. I’m interested in models of schooling that allow that inquiry to happen in an organic fashion. We’re so far from that right now…

  4. Mike

    “what will my child learn today?” compared with “what will I teach my students today.”
    Good grief. Unlike some lunatic educational theorists who believe that teachers should be mere “facilitators” who only allow children to “discover” the “answers” and “wisdom” that are within each of them, my business card reads “Teacher.”
    I teach not to hear my lips flap but because my knowledge and methods, over many years, have proven beyond doubt successful in helping students to learn, and in producing real results. Teaching and learning are not opposites, but necessary, sequential steps in the process of human growth in every meaningful way. When we abandon that reality, we become mired in all manner of hairbrained educational theories and fads.
    Suggesting that home schoolers are interested in learning and that teachers are not, is not only foolish, it’s actually quite ignorant. What, one wonders, do home schoolers do? Download data into the USB ports of their offspring rather than “teaching”?
    I’ve no doubt that competent home schooling parents do what teachers do: teach valid materials that students might learn. I wonder why K. Borden thinks this is not what teachers do?

  5. K. Borden

    Somewhere I read that the thinks home educators think as compared to teachers in schools can be describes as the difference in the questions “what will my child learn today?” compared with “what will I teach my students today.” It made me think and stuck with me (I wish I could recall who to attribute it to). It seems that both probably think both questions, but difference in which they can elect to practice is a matter of time and numbers.
    The pedagogical tension you describe seems to be framed in part in that contrast. The tension is as real as the attempt to define effective teaching is perhaps illusive.
    Mr. Ferriter:
    Today, we began our adventure in home education and ended our adventure in school.

  6. Bob Heiny

    Good for you, Mr. Bill. You don’t need to apologize or explain anything. Giving students answers has been a noble instructional method for centuries as has holding teachers accountable for meeting tight instructional schedules, even in the good-ole-days.
    This legacy begs for the question, Why do teachers call time consuming academic hide-and-seek a preferred classroom instructional method, if it doesn’t result in all students reaching 100 percent of measured minimum criteria for learning in the time scheduled?
    We all know pat answers to that Q. But, we also know that h-a-s methods result in more students failing than the other way. Now, that trade-off of preferred teacher methods for lower student learning rates seems unnecessarily worthy of angst. Yes?

  7. Chris A.

    Thanks for your post and especially your most recent piece in Educational Leadership. That article was right on the money!
    I started using feed readers a couple of years ago and consider it to be some of the best professional development available, the reading pushes me to think and reflect daily. I have not followed your blog in the past, because I was unaware of it, but have added it to my Google Reader and look forward to reading your posts.

  8. Joe

    Good post Bill. As always, it’s timely. One of my homeschooling friends sent me this and I’ve been plowing through it:
    Check it out. I’m sensing the frustration in your words here, and it’s a theme that runs through that book as well. JTG puts it into historical context. Really depressing actually…

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