Hey there! You want a good educational system? Listen up!


Charlie Rose, on his PBS discussion program (Thursday, 7-10-08), hosted a small group of nationally recognized teachers. The topic wasta-da! “Teaching”. They treaded water on a number of the peripheral issues, such as merit pay, “No Child Left Behind”, unions, and so on. BUT! They did not dive into the central core of teaching and swim in those deeper waters.

What are the basic questions in teaching? They used the word “learning” occasionally and “teaching” often, but they never stopped to question the definition of “learning” or “teaching”. What “learning” is, is a good starting point. What “teaching” is, is also a good starting point.

Learning is behavior change, the modification of human behavior, whether intellectual, emotional, or habitual. Teaching is a pedagogical process that inculcates that behavior change in other people, big or small, old or young, beast or bug.

What is that process that changes human behavior from ignorant to intelligent, unskilled to competent, clumsy to adroit? What is that process that is managed by the teacher? What does the teacher do first, then second, then third, then —and so on? What are the steps, stages, phases?

Picture each learner as a cold steam engine on a track. The first fire is stoked by the teacher, generating the first head of steam, keeping the fire hot and the steamer roiling unto a point when the learner becomes a perpetual-motion machine, heading with a full head of steam for the roundhouse to be set on whatever track the pupil/student may take in life. But I must not overlook the role of the parents and siblings in preparing the kindling for building, from birth, that fire for learning. I am mainly concerned here about the schooling environment.

The unschooled “teacher” has no clear conception of the process. Selected, prominent teachers who are asked to participate in a round table in a nationally televised discussion of teaching flail around with the high-sounding words on the fringes of teaching, but do not evidence they have absorbed, ingested, taken in, consumed, assimilated the essential ingredients of teaching to the point where they can easily express what makes a good teacher.

Good teaching in the schools must be systematic. There is a system, defined as a collection of functions performed by, and starting with the superintendent, and going down the organizational chart to everyone employed by the school, administrative, counseling, specialists, feeding and custodial. But the central focus is on the teacher.

What are the target behaviors? Teachers are to set up aims and goals in math, science, language, athletics, etc. The teacher should be a master of the criteria for judging standard performance in the field of study, and be able to formulate a simple statement of aims, goals, and objectives, behaviorally described. (Could that be a teacher-test question?)

The starting point is pre-assessment in the target behaviors. Where are the learners now, before instruction? Observe them in the critical context. Give them tests. The schools should have assessment experts to assist the teacher. Pupil pre-test performance is compared to the statement of the objective, and a (often too simplistic) judgment is made.

Given any bunch of learners in one classroom, there will be different levels of COMPETENCE. There will also be different levels of previous ACHIEVEMENT, to which the teacher must adjust. That gave rise to sectioning for competence and the resulting stigma attached to the “slow” learners. Sectioning also took away the “gifted” learners as models of target behaviors, pupils teaching fellow pupils. What remedial adjustments were made for different levels of achievement? Ah, me, what to do? Individualized instruction is one ideal solution. With 30 learners in the room? Ah, yes, team teaching might be a minimal solution. But that would require hiring more teachers at higher pay. (NCLB? Seriously? You have got to be kidding me!)

The gifted will be gifted. You cannot retard them. They will leap ahead.The gifted will not necessarily be gifted in all subjects. In intellectual pursuits high, but in other skills, like athletics or mechanics or shop perhaps not high. Pre-assessment will identify the strengths and weaknesses. Every learner will have an area of high motivation and drive, and the teacher will know what that is.

Take stock, good citizens, of all that you have laid at the threshold of both the school and the classroom door! To be solved! With as little cost as possible to taxpayers.

The next step is the learners setting personal objectives regarding weaknesses they can define for themselves. Learners may express their “wants”, but teachers will have to have the skill of expressing the learner’s “needs” related to the everyday world of work and play. The teacher’s persuasive, motivational skills are very important, and it is especially important for the teacher to be respected (both loved and feared) by the learner. The teacher stands as an actor on stage at an aesthetic distance (both in the play but outside the play) from the pupil. The learner’s personal statement, clear and succinct, should become a matter of record.

The teacher then sets up experiences in the context of the behaviors to be practiced. Writing experiences. Speaking experiences. Study experiences. Reading, analysis, discussion, field experiences. Experiences directly related to the objective. Designing experiences is the test of teacher creativity.

Learning experiences require teacher feedback and critical observation. The teacher’s knowledge of the criteria by which performance is to be judged is tested.

All along, the teacher must be making assessments of the level of learner “motivation”. Is the learner’s effort highly energized, or is there a low level of energy being applied to the task? A discussion with the learner concerning motivation has to go into the feedback process. Adjustments will have to be made if motivation is low. There are many factors to be accounted for in a case of low motivation. Positive reinforcement should always be given as a reward for standard achievement and above.

Such is the pedagogical process that should constitute the basic tool chest of the master teacher. Yet, so few can articulate it.

There is much, much more detailed about pedagogy on my web site where my other writings are contained. (Blog roll to the right.)

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