Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nine Decision Points in Teaching....Ugh!

As I wrote earlier in this blog I would expound upon the nine decision points or categories of teaching and learning.  Very academic.  Sleep inducing for some.  And yet, a tool for analyzing what a teacher does.  Teachers use these nine points all the time but I doubt if they even realize it when they do it.  For some it's intuitive.  They just do it....and correctly.  Let's do a quick skim over and see what develops, okay?

We go from the boring to the sublime.  Let's start with the easy, that being the environment of learning.  Three categories.  They are 1) the individual, 2) small groups and 3) large groups.  There are no other possibilities when doing a teaching/learning act.  Let's take a quick analysis of each environment.
  1. Individual.  "I going to teach you the bassoon.  Sit up in your chair and hold it this way."  This is the classic student on one end of the log and the teacher on the other end.  We can go at my speed or if I'm a good teacher, the student's speed.  If I write a book and you read it, you are the student and I am the presenter, the teacher, the instructor.  One on one.  I can even give you instruction over the internet--one on one.  Very big log.
  2. Small groups.  There have been tons of sociological research on what constitutes the best small group, however, teachers are use to teaching two to five students in a reading group or a high school group of student doing a group civic report.  There is some research that girls (women) learn best in groups [more about this in a later blog].  For the purpose of this blog, the definition of a small group is where a student cannot "hide" from the teacher, i.e., hang back, be quiet, don't say anything, let the others do the talking.  that is a small group.
  3. Large Groups.  Much debate has gone under the bridge as to class size--how big is too big.  Parents want smaller classes to be sure that their child gets maximum instruction.  However, one university had a professor who taught Irish History to 200+ students.....and they flocked to his class because he was such an excellent instructor.  Boeing taught large classes to its employees with the opening line, "If you do not learn the following you will be given a pink slip and two weeks notice."  So there--that should get your attention.  I believe the debate on class size will go on for some time in the future.
The next three points are classified in just about every educational textbook as (drum roll)...Objectives.  I hear the collective groan from all the teachers reading this.  They are so tired of "objectives" and yet, they are the past masters of setting up objectives for their students.  One high school English teacher might say, "I need to get Charles to write more complex sentences in his short stories,"  or an intermediate grade teacher saying to a colleague that she needs to work on their long division.  All objectives.

Historically, there are three categories of objectives.  1) Cognitive Domain, 2) Affective Domain and the 3) Psycho-motor Domain.  Let's briefly examine them here.
  1. Cognitive Domain.  This domain is pure knowledge--from knowing your alphabet to understanding sarcasm.  The encyclopedia is chock full of information--cognition.  From the simple to the complex.  We teachers are really cool at teaching knowledge.  With one hand behind our back.  History of the world?  No problem.  Parts of an insect?  They will pass the test on Friday.  The big, no, BIG problem in the Cognitive Domain is deciding on WHICH knowledge is of most use.  What should we teach in our schools?  How much "stuff" do you know that is now totally useless that you learned in school.  Which brings us to the WASL and No Child Left Behind tests--is this the cognition that you want the students to learn?  You choice.  (more of this in a later blog)
  2. Affective Domain.  This deals with feelings and values.  Do you like Mathematics?  "Like" is in the affective domain.  I can teach a child to read.  That is cognition.  But if that same child after learning to read, would choose to read then watch television, that is the affective domain.  Perhaps I have taught a value.  I once took a specialized phycology class--dislike the instructor so much that even now I don't read about that type of learning--I know the material, I just don't like it.  We teachers teach a lot of the affective domain and sometimes we don't know it.
  3. Psycho-motor Domain.  Probably the least understood of the domains--but we're learning.  Anything that deals with brain/muscle connection is in this domain.  First grade teachers have to teach the students how to hold a pencil to write.  Left or right handed.  Turn the paper this way or that.  Move your arm this way.  All psycho-motor.  A high school chemistry teacher teaching first year students how to hold a petri dish to distribute the bacteria in a scientific manner.   Psycho-motor skills.  A high school band teacher getting a band to march in unison is a psycho-motor skill.  Shooting a three point basket?  Psycho-motor skills.
The last three categories that teachers decide on I call the teaching/learning domains.  Again, there are just three.  Write me if you can think of more--I'm open to suggestions.  They are 1) expository, 2) performance and 3) investigative.  Let's take a look at three very complex categories.
  1. Expository.  Anytime a teacher tells a class something about a subject or process, that is expository mode.  When asked a question and a student responds with words, both the question and answer are expository.  If you read a book or magazine article, that is expository mode.  Listening to "talk radio" is another example of expository mode.  We're not talking about whether the information is good or bad, correct or incorrect, if it is from a sender to a receiver, that message is in the expository mode.  We teachers are good at expository teaching.  "Please sit down and get your books out."  "Turn to the Development of Europe." "In carrying, you take this number from here to there." "Tell me, Jane, what is the correct spelling?"  All these examples are in the expository mode. With me so far?  Good. (I'm being expository!)
  2. Performance.  Anytime someone "does" something in a learning situation, they are in performance mode. A local high school did an amazing performance of Les Miserabes.  I heard some students in the halls afterwards saying things such as: "I was so scared standing on that stage!"  "I was surprised that my voice would even sing." "That was the greatest night of my life."  All expository statements about their performance.  Those students learned much about themselves (Affective domain) by doing the performance.  Collecting 25 different bugs for a high school biology class is performance although writing about it is expository.  There are many times that "doing" is mandated for obtaining the  expected learning.  Performance.
  3. Investigative.  I doubt if there is a child born that doesn't naturally take to investigative learning.  The two year old who looks at Mom and then knocks something off the coffee table....deliberately.   That two year old learns that Mom didn't like that, or that is one way to get Mom's attention, or I am the center of attention.  How about a youngster who has just learned to ride a two wheel bike and tries to turn too quickly and falls.  It may not have been intended as a learning situation, but learning has taken place the result of trial and error--investigative learning.  Have you ever cooked something and added a spice and decided afterwards not to do that again?  Investigative learning.
It is true that we merge these teaching/learning modes quite often as we do the same with the learning objectives.  But in the analysis of the teaching moment, you can see the 1) environment, 2) the objectives which the teacher is trying to reach and the 3) teaching/learning method in which to reach those objectives.  

Teachers make these decisions intuitively thousands of times per day.  Who does she give the answer to and who does she say, "go read that chapter again."  "Class, class, you're not getting it.  Follow me while I do this problem again on the blackboard."  All are decisions made on the fly.  Interesting enough, the philosophy of the teacher, the school or district may well dictate some of these decision.  But that is another blog at another time.

So don't forget to thank a teacher for all those decisions........ 

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