Teaching and learning are messy

Learning is just plain messy. While the reform movement is all about standardized testing and accountability, a response from a veteran teacher on constructivist pedagogy validates thinking of teaching methodologies as an interactive process.

In my last post, My kind of teaching, on constructivist pedagogy, I received this thoughtful response from a veteran teacher who chose to remain anonymous. I appreciate it so much because it offers some validation of my thinking and intuition regarding the thorniest of issues when it comes to teaching methodology right now. It seems like in the push to be urgently focused on short-term objectives and obsessive tracking of student learning toward a measurable goal (i.e., performance on standardized tests), we miss some of the point—how students actually learn. Often messily.

Thank you, anonymous teacher, for sharing your thoughts here:

I’ve been teaching for about 12 years now. When I graduated from TC, my advisor told me one thing that I took with me and that guides me still: If the kids aren’t doing something, the kids aren’t learning. He meant that the kids should never just be sitting there listening to me talk, they should instead be working on meaningful tasks used to facilitate learning and later demonstrate what they’ve learned. So I always plan like this: What am I doing? What are they doing? The reform movement, unfortunately, has been very bad for progressive teaching because it is all about standardized testing or “accountability.” It is not always easy to control for what a student has learned. Sometimes students learn something completely different than what I intended. Sometimes, a student learns what I wanted to teach days after everyone else. Does that make me a “bad” teacher? This is a phrase that gets bandied about a lot lately. Many times I learn from the kids. It’s an interactive process. Teaching is messy—that’s the beauty of it. The way kids learn is messy. I also want to point out that alternative certification programs have brought into the teaching field new teachers who are much more traditionalists overall. I think this is because there is so much emphasis on classroom management. There’s less focus in these programs on philosophical issues of teaching and learning as well as developing rich curriculum because the teachers have to be up and running in just short weeks. So at TC we had lots of discussions about what the actual role of the teacher was and what the student brought with them into the classroom. We were encouraged to let the curriculum take care of the classroom management issues. 

Also, make sure to read Alfie Kohn’s new article, “Poor teaching for poor children,” in which he argues that “it’s possible for the accountability movement to simultaneously narrow the test score gap and widen the learning gap.” Scary, but possibly true.

 

[Image credit: sophiemazingarbe.com]

Related categories: ,