One way to teach them all

As a veteran teacher in New York City, Arthur Goldstein has seen many versions of the one right way to teach come down from on high.

One year, a woman came and explained to us that portfolios were going to revolutionize schools. The kids would do work, it would all be placed in portfolios, and the portfolios would be available, right there in the classroom, for anyone who needed to see them. Anytime you wanted to check the progress of any kids, you could simply look in their portfolios, and there it would be. What more could anyone ask?

The following year, the same woman came around and raved about cooperative learning. The students would work in groups and help one another. Every day would be a marathon of learning. A teacher asked whether this involved portfolios. “Portfolios are out,” the woman responded curtly.

Several months later, some Very Important People came to my classroom and noticed my kids were sharing books. They complimented me profusely on my use of cooperative learning, and I decided it was best to thank them without explaining why I’d embraced this particular methodology. Actually, I only had 15 books for my 34 kids and was doing the best I could under the circumstances.

Goldstein thinks “teachers have different voices, just as writers have different voices.” What works for one teacher may not work for another with a different personality or  different talents. “Why can’t we take a little bit from here, a little bit from there, find out what works for us, and then use it?”

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  1. I should think it was obvious why it just wouldn’t DO to “take a little bit from here, a little bit from there, find out what works for us, and then use it.” You see, unlike writers, teachers are being held accountable for the success (or failure) of future generations of citizens, and therefore shape THE DESTINY OF THE NATION with their actions.

    Thus it is IMPERATIVE that the methods of successful teaching be transferable to other teachers with other students in other classrooms, even if the situations those other teachers and students face are vastly different. If it can’t be repeated, why then, it isn’t really successful teaching. Those “successful results” are unreliable.

    We don’t measure an author’s effectiveness based on their work’s lexile score or the number of AR points it’s worth. But we measure teacher effectiveness based on student scores on standardized tests. And as long as we continue to do that, teachers will have their “voices” squeezed out of them.

  2. I’ll be in favor of educational fads when they test them out in:
    * overcrowded classrooms
    * 1 adult for the entire group (as opposed to many observers – come on, the kids act differently when observers are in the room)
    * the presence of the limiting factors that exist – no copy paper, no working interactive whiteboard, few working calculators, no working computers, no time
    * poor training in the technique by those that have never tried it themselves
    * at least 1/4 of the class has an IEP
    * 2-3 thugs at a time in the classroom
    * EVERY blasted kid has a cell phone, and efforts to shut them down/refer them are thwarted by the admins
    * at least 1/2 of the class comes in with poor ELA and/or math skills

    Too many of these “great ideas that are going to revolutionize education” don’t work – but are only found to be ineffective AFTER the district has spent copious $$$$$ trying to implement the idea.

  3. I think it’s great that the Internet has allowed beings from other planets to comment on issues of common interest.

    The reason I know the Internet has an interplanetary scope is because Clix is obviously commenting on public education on another planet. On Earth, certainly in the United States, the concept of teacher accountability is wildly controversial and not implemented to any significant degree. So either you’re from another planet, Clix or your purposely inflating the scope and importance of teacher accountability for rhetorical effect.

    I’m betting door number two.

    While Goldstein is right about writer’s different voices those different voices are based on a foundation of skills that are demonstrated with every effort of the writer. There’s no need for a teacher to demonstrate, or even possess, analogous skills. If a sense of personal responsibility and pride drives any given teacher to acquire and hone their professional skills well then lucky kids. But the teacher better be satisfied with a case of the warm-fuzzies because there’ll be no professional recognition.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    “portfolios are out”.
    If that doesn’t say it all….

  5. Tracy W says:

    Why can’t we take a little bit from here, a little bit from there, find out what works for us, and then use it?”

    Because you’re practising on real people.

    Would you like a doctor who used best practice, or one who “took a little bit from here, a little bit from there, found out what works for her, and then used it?” How about a pilot with the same approach while he had passengers in the plane?

  6. Tracy W says:

    And, I forgot to add, what a teacher does is cumulative. If the new teacher is busy working out for herself what works for her, and makes some mistakes along the way, the next year’s teacher winds up with students with gaps, and thus a far harder teaching job.

  7. wow. i cannot believe how well this fits with what *i* posted yesterday – “if only we could pick out the good of both” – an interview with Mr. Hollen Mott, who taught in rural one-room schools for 38 years, published in Bittersweet magazine, Fall 1973

  8. …and in the darkness bind them.

    Actually, the quotes sound like a story line from Dilbert.


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