Sunday, March 15, 2015

At, To, and With

I’ve spent some time recently thinking about the real differences in the teaching styles of different teachers I know, to see if I can pare it down to the essentials.  While on the surface it would appear that there are many different teaching styles, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are basically three different ways that teachers run their class.

First, there are the teachers that talk at the students.  These are the teachers who have students falling asleep in class, texting in class, completely (or at least essentially) disengaged from the class, and the teacher doesn’t care or doesn’t notice. The teacher sees teaching as delivering the material, and as long as that happens, whether or not the students receive the information is irrelevant.  The teacher believes that in delivering the material, they have done their job, and the rest is up to the kids.  If the students aren’t learning, it’s their own fault, because the teacher has told them exactly what they need to know and what they need to do.  There is no real interaction between the teacher and the student in this scenario, and from what I can tell neither the teachers nor the students want any interaction.

Second, there are the teachers who talk to the students.  These teachers still see teaching as delivery of the material, but they also are concerned about whether or not the students are receiving the information.  These teachers notice when kids haven’t done their homework or aren’t taking notes in class, and will have a “conference” with the student to tell them what they need to change about their behavior to be more successful in the class.  Conference probably isn’t the right word here, because this is actually a monologue, with the teacher doing the same thing during the conference as they do in class: they tell the student what needs to happen, check whether or not the student has understood what was said, and it’s left at that.  While there is certainly more interest in whether or not the students are learning, the means by which the students are being given the opportunity to learn the material is one dimensional: the teacher is the fountain of all knowledge in the class, and the students must “give the teacher what they want” or they will not pass the tests.

Sadly, I believe that this form of teaching is the one that is valued by the teacher education programs.  At least from the perspective I have of having student teachers in the building and seeing the forms that the cooperating teacher is supposed to fill out, as well as seeing what it is the  professors are looking for when they visit, this second type of teaching dominates the paperwork.

The third way of teaching relies on the teacher talking with the students.  These teachers see interaction between the teacher and the students (and between the students) as vital to the learning process.  The emphasis in these classrooms is not on the teaching, but rather on the learning.  I have seen this style of teaching happen in classrooms dominated by discovery and those in which the teacher delivers lectures, though the lectures in these classrooms are much shorter than in the other styles described above, since there is time built in to every day for the students to work with one another to practice what they have learned, and for the teacher to discuss the material with the students after the lecture to check whether or not the students have understood the material.  

It is difficult for me to imagine a student teacher doing well on an evaluation being this type of teacher, when it is completely possible that the student teacher would be in front of the class for less than five minutes during an observation, which would make several sections of the form that needs to be filled out meaningless.  

Clearly, anyone who knows how I currently teach knows that I’m a “type 3” teacher, and that my opinion would be that the research supports the idea that a “type 3” classroom is the best for the students.  Go back four years, and I would say I was a “type 2” teacher.  And I would say that most of the teachers I know are “type 2”, though I also know a few “type 1” teachers.  The other thing that I have noticed is that the new teacher evaluation system being implemented in Ohio values “type 3”, seems like it will be ok with “type 2”, and will not be kind to “type 1”.  My opinion would be that, from the standpoint of educational and neuroscience research, this is absolutely the right thing to be doing.  However, it also seems like we are setting up the new teachers for difficulties since the way they should be teaching is not the one being emphasized in their training.

Hopefully, the education and neuroscience research will begin to have an impact so that teachers will move toward being a “type 3” teacher.  The move is possible. The only thing missing is the desire.

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