Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Another year...

It is January.  Happy New Year.  Two years ago I started this blog about teachers and teaching.  As I said in that initial blog teachers are extraordinary people wanting to get students to learn.  Indeed, one of the characteristics that I have observed in teachers is that they HAVE to teach.  Many of the teachers I have seen in classrooms could have other careers.  At one time a major store chain told our career and job placement department that they would take any of our educational graduates and place them immediately in management training at about the same salary they would be getting as teachers.  I don't know if any of our students ever took them up on their offer.

So in my best teaching manner, let's review.  I know that we have a number of readers who have just recently started reading these blogs.

My philosophy is based upon the idea that education is necessary for our species to exist and to move forward (whatever that means).  As a species we have one of the longest periods of time to train or educate our young so they can survive on their own.  Other species have a few days to several months to a year or so before the young are adapted at living on their own.

As human kind, we are a social animal, i.e., we need each other to survive. Unlike some animals who only get together to mate, we need each other to live and to enjoy life.  This is an important point in which you may wish to debate me--however, as I have watched children and young adults grow up to become responsible adults, this process has made me more focused on the idea of the human as a social group.

Like John Dewey, I firmly believe that if we didn't have an educational system the human population would slowly fad, go backwards, become less civilized. And to have an educational system we need teachers of all sorts.  Yes, we could have home schooling--quite frankly we have many examples of excellent teachers at home.  But it is hard work and not as efficient as an educational system.

So there!  I believe in an educational system, in the most part, public schools. Within an educational system I have two guidelines.  After all these years peering into public and private schools, I can only find two guidelines.  One, Success breeds success.   I've seen students bullied by the teacher, spanked by the principal, punished by the school for not learning, made to repeat a grade or more, hit on the palm of the hand with a ruler, and various other negative type reinforcement.  None of these aforementioned punishments hold a candle in motivation to a "Hey, nice going.  A perfect paper--give me five!"  When you see a smile on a face of a student after being successful at a learning task, I don't care what age or grade, you know they are learning.  And we teachers know how to accomplish that success for the student.

My second guideline is simple:  time on task.  It takes time to learn things.  Reading, mathematics, geography, or how to play kickball.  There may be "aha" moments but only after time on task.  Some kids need more time then other on different subjects.  But all children and young adults can learn.  

So, for the benefit of some who have recently started reading this blog, let me state that I think there are only three ways to learn.  For those who have been with me for a while, this will be a good review.

One way to learn is by the expository method...simply a method to describe or explain something.  By writing this blog I am employing the expository method of transferring a message from me to you.  If you were to write me condemning or praising me on a point, you too would be employing the expository method. Reading a book is an expository form of gaining a message(s).  So when the teacher writes something on the Smart Board and says to the class, "This is one method of diagraming an English sentence," this teacher is using the expository form.

Parents use it all the time.  "Have you done your homework?"  Talk is expository and listening is part of the process.  By and large we have a sender of the message (in voice, print, pictures, sound, etc.) to a receiver(s) who takes in the message.  They may not understand it but they have received the message.  Expository.   We use this form much of the time.

A second way of learning is through the investigative method.  Give a small child a cooking pot and they will bang it on the ground making a noise.  Watch closely as they investigate how hard to hit, where to hit, when not to hit and so on.  We adults use the investigative method much of the time.  "Can I park in that small spot at the store?"  "Can I get up earlier and still feel good?"  "Can I eat this cake and not have my sugar count go high?"  Much of our learning is through the investigative method.  I will admit that mistakes can be made but we learn from our mistakes.  I think "mistakeful learning" is powerful.  

The third method of learning I call Performance.  The football team doing something special is learning.  But I have had marching bands learning from their performance that I doubt if I could have taught in any other manner.  I am quite convinced that my method of having fifth grade students stand on a podium with their book on a music stand and read aloud to the class was a performance.  Yes, you could say it was expository but by making them stand in front of the room up on that podium--it was a performance.  I can't explain why the kids read so much better after that exercise in reading.  

There may be other methods of learning but I have not discerned them as yet.  Maybe you can help in this area.  Write me if you think you have some other ideas.  Let's talk (write).  

But here is an interesting point.  How do you teach children or young adults to pass those standardized test?  The method that teachers have to employ is the expository method--they have to talk to the student. And the student has to recite back.   You have to leave out both the investigative (which has mistakes) and the performance (which needs time). No wonder teachers as well as the students don't like testing as a motivational method.  All expository and no performance or investigative makes Jack a dull boy.  (Sorry, had to write that).

Teachers decide on what method is important in teaching for each child.  How do you connect with twenty to thirty students each day--or that many students in five classes each day?  That is why I think teachers are extraordinary in every way.  

Did you read that article from the New York Times that good kindergarten teachers are worth $400,000 per year!   Somebody is agreeing with me.

Now that we have the rules of the game established and the three methods of teaching/learning, in the next blog we'll talk about objectives.   I want to put another nail in the coffin of testing.

Thanks to all you teachers for hanging in there and making sure your class is learning.  Nice job, teacher.

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