Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let Teachers Learn

From a post entitled Let Teachers Teach at The Answer Sheet:

Don’t know what the zone of proximal development is or how to identify it? Don’t know how to design an assessment rubric or how to differentiate instruction effectively? Haven’t got a clue how to grab the attention of an adolescent amygdala?

Then you probably aren’t a teacher.

On the other hand, if you recognize that chatter about "zone of proximal development", "differentiation", "rubrics", and misunderstood brain research is the sign of a clueless educrat, then you're probably a parent.

Really, how did anyone manage to teach effectively before all this jargon was invented?


  1. PsychMom commenting...

    I don't think it ever helps a profession to layer jargon between themselves and the rest of the world. It is kind of like a secret handshake between members of the "club" but in a profession so grounded in dealing with people, little ones and big ones, speaking in jargon doesn't help.

    I've been to many a parent-teacher night and curriculum night where teacher jargon flowed freely. I'm the one who always asks the "dumb" questions, and it always leaves me feeling ..why didn't you just write it in layman's terms.

  2. Californian For TruthinessOctober 12, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    It takes the courage of one's convictions to publish an opinion piece on The Answer Sheet, as many of the commentators will easily disassemble poor arguments. So for courage alone she gets points.
    I agree with LouAnn, teachers should be better educated and trained before being certified. It is and has been common knowledge, to the point of mockery, that Ed. college is geared for dum-dums. Now that's not to say every teacher is dumb or that one must be a nuclear physicist to teach middle-school. But it's not taken as a serious profession because too many of the folks teaching are, frankly, hard to take seriously. I bet I could take a survey on rubrics, zone of proximal development, etc... among the teachers I know and will not get the proper definitions on most of them.

    Teachers here's some hints:
    "Zone of proximal development" does not mean sitting a low achieving student next to a high achieving student.

    "Rubric assessment" does not mean giving equal weight to a collage or sculpture as you give to a researched paper on a biography assignment.

    "Differentiating instruction" does not mean having students flail their arms or gesture and shout simultaneously.

    I don't mind jargon when's it's meaningful, understood by it's group, leads to cohesive thought and expedience, and it should never be a way "to baffle with bullshit" outsiders.

  3. PsychMom, what scares me is the possibility that jargon is being mistaken for actual useful information. That seems to be the case for the teacher who wrote "Let Teachers Teach". She thinks that her knowledge of "assessment rubrics" and "zone of proximal development" means that she's qualified to teach and the rest of us aren't. I am beyond skeptical.

  4. "Assessment rubrics" -- give me a break. We used to get rubrics sent home from school with long-winded descriptions of what the scores 1 through 5 mean, and I would think, "who can stand to read this %^&*!?" They're just as irrelevant to any one particular child as the grades A through F.

    To me, they're just one more attempt to do exactly the same thing that schools have always done, but with some added guff to make it look progressive and new.

  5. Californian For TruthinessOctober 12, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    FedUpMom, I agree writing "how to grab the attention of an adolescent amygdala" is silly.

  6. Californian For TruthinessOctober 12, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    re: Rubrics- For assigning and assessing multi criteria home projects, easy to use,(poorly understood by teacher, in one experience). And! A great way for teachers to have tangible evidence they've given "differentiated instruction!" Ha!

  7. I doubt the author had these darlings in mind when she wrote, "Let teachers teach." Letting Fools Fool, Fibbers Fib

  8. Ugh. Nothing gives expertise a bad name as much as educational experts do.

    I teach writing to law students, and there's a lot of talk in our field about rubrics. My feeling is that they don't do much to enlighten the students about the strengths and weaknesses of their papers. (That's what the teacher's comments on the papers are for.) Instead, they seem to function mostly as a way of lending the appearance of objectivity to the grading. They usually end up leading to some kind of grading "formula": so much on grammar and style, so much on content, so much on organization, so much on use of authorities, so much on citation form, etc., with some scheme for weighting the different elements. I have no confidence that those calculations would yield anything that accurately measures the overall quality of each paper, so I don't use them. I just give a grade based on my assessment of overall quality, and I try to be thorough in commenting on the paper throughout.

    I think the move toward rubrics is just another way to remove the individual teacher's judgment, discretion, and autonomy from the picture. It's part of the obsession with top-down control and uniformity. Apparently we can't count on teachers to think or use judgment, we have to give them a formula that they can just mechanically execute. Better yet, a script to go along with it. Of course, this is just a recipe for driving good teachers away from the profession and filling their positions with teachers who really can't do anything without a script . . .

  9. First, my comments are often myopic- I tend to be thinking and writing about a specific situation or child or grade without clearly expressing it. My apologies. I also tend to give negative comments about my experiences. I think it goes without saying (but just in case)- Not all schools and/or all teachers are "bad" all the time. Each and every day their necks are under the boot of private corporations along side our children's. It all seems so desperate and crazy.
    Chris has a point, well worth considering, that rubrics are a plot to foist autonomy away from teachers in general. In my, albeit limited experience, the teacher was obviously pleased with himself and his progressive assessment skills.
    I wasn't as pleased.
    So, my experience (limited to third and fourth grade son) with rubrics is that they are meant to explicitly lay out criteria and expectations for the student. The first one my third grader got did not have the front end, the rubric itself, just the back end- the assessment. Then the teacher did not weight the different criteria. He combined (err, I mean "integrated curriculum") history, social studies, art, speech into each convenient project. (home based.)
    Every college syllabi I've had, contained "rubric" information and more. It was never called that, maybe we should have an "Orwell Alert!" for bad jargon use, etc..because "rubric" is clearly a recent pretension)

  10. Chris I also wanted to mention, I struggled and worked hard, devoted hours upon hours on writing most of my papers in college and I loved, loved, loved to get my paper back from the prof all marked up- what she/he liked, what was weak, even my spelling errors marked up. Now I know some of that love was narcissism, but a number rank without authentic response from the prof [i]as he read my paper[/i] would have felt "empty" to me. The feedback they gave, spurred me onward and improved my writing skills every time. YMMV

  11. This author actually compares the teacher's "internship" to a doctor's residency? And the Master's Degree is a joke. There are ample seats for every butt in the ed. schools in the US. I wanted to be a teacher until I noticed that the dullest students at my university were being let into ed. programs. What a shame that public school teachers are being drawn from the shallow end of the pool. Can't the ed. schools come up with a rubric or a standard for admissions?

  12. Here's Alfie Kohn on Rubics for anyone who's interested: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/rubrics.htm . (I won't attempt a link this time :-) )

    I find that the effect of rubrics on kids is to make them cynical about the whole (un-)grading process. Since rubrics are often given to the students when assignments are handed out, they know exactly what they have to do, or not do, to achieve a given level. This is often reinforced by teachers. For instance, my daughters' science teacher, when explaining an assignment, says things like, "if you want a level 4 then do this [eg, go all out], if you don't care if you get a level 2, then do what you want." So in addition to making kids cynical, rubrics end up curtailing their willingness to experiment or try out new things, since if it isn't listed as a requirement on the rubric it isn't seen as worthwhile.

  13. Just finished the article. Yikes!! In my experience, the bad teachers are not only mediocre they are immature and unprofessional. If they feel a parent is "telling them how to teach" or "being disrespectful" they will "take revenge" on the parent's child. If you went to a Dr's office and mentioned a certain treatment you have read about (differing from the Dr's idea for treatment), would the Dr. be so threatened as to give you a harmful course of treatment? Of course not. However, I have seen teachers become vindictive when they feel they are not being respected or "told how to do there job." The comparison to M.D.'s is laughable. An M.D. can be sued for malpractice if he willfully causes harm. However, I've seen elementary school teachers who think it is o.k. to shame or belittle a child because a parent has stood up to them on some issue like homework or too many home based projects. Until teachers treat their students and paretns with respect, it will be very difficult to garner respect.

  14. @Suburban Chicken Farmer wrote "I loved, loved, loved to get my paper back from the prof all marked up..."

    That is the problem with these rubrics in a nutshell. The jargon isn't really the issue; it's that learning has become irrelevant to the teaching process.

    When I was in school, my papers came back not only with a grade but also with specific markings on sections with problems. I could read those comments and learn exactly what mistakes I had made so I could do a better job the next time. Today, all my kids get is a rubric sheet with a "3" for "content"...what does that mean? How are they supposed to learn from their mistakes?

    Same problem with tests. If a test happens to be a state or county assessment, they aren't allow to keep (county) or ever see (state) the test to look at their mistakes.

  15. PsychMom says;

    Suburban Chicken Farmer wrote "I loved, loved, loved to get my paper back from the prof all marked up..."

    I'm sorry but I can't tell if this is sarcasm or not. When I went to school teachers always marked things up in red ink and it was never a good thing. No red meant you did a good job. No teacher ever said to me, "I put all these comments to help you be a better writer", even if that was their intent. I wish now that they had, it may have taken some of the pressure off. Red signified "wrong", and who wanted to be wrong???

    Funny, that the word rubric is derived from "red" lettering.

  16. PsychMom, that's an interesting point. Your story is an excellent illustration of the difference between achievement and learning. You were a high achiever, but probably not learning as much as you could.

    Alfie Kohn points out somewhere that students are less likely to read and think about the teacher's comments if there's also a letter grade. The grade has a much higher psychological weight.

    However, I agree with Chris and Matthew that comments from the teacher, and even the dreaded tests, can be useful if the focus remains on learning. How can the next paper be better? What does the test show I didn't quite get, that I need to review now?

    I agree with Chris and Matthew

  17. PsychMom rejoinder.....

    I agree too...a good teacher's comments that are aimed at helping the student be a better thinker...Yay, I'm all for it. No need for marks.

    The testing part, I'm not so keen. There is never really a chance to improve upon what you got wrong because the next test is always on something new. And then improvement according to who...are you just learning to give the teacher what they want? Are you becoming a better BSer because you've figured out what the teacher likes to see. I became proficient in that myself. I could never figure out how I could have something nailed something for one prof, but the next year, I was a complete disaster at doing the same exact thing for another prof.
    You see what I mean...it was never about the student. It was a game to figure out, to mold oneself as it were, to what the prof wanted and then spitting that out on a consistent basis. Check, done and done. Give me my A or B.

    Very sad, but true.

  18. PsychMom proofreading....
    "......I could never figure out how I could have something nailed something for one prof,"

    Should read...I could never figure out how I could have nailed something for one prof"


  19. Psychmom, I was sincere- I should have written more precisely. Instead of merely "marks," Profs annotated, usually positively. The professors I've had never expected me to figure out and adopt their personal values or POVs.

  20. From PsychMom...I'm thick sometimes..thanks for clarifying.

  21. differentiation=waste of time
    rubrics=waste of time

    "zone" and brain research is good stuff...just watch a reflective person who knows about that stuff interact with kids and you would know that. Too often, "zone" and brain research is taught as procedural one-size-fits-all garbage. Then it is useless...as any research is to a static teacher. Any good teacher's identity and integrity is changed as the result of reading great research...which thens translates into treating kids differently. If it just changes their lesson plans without changing who they are, then the changes in the classroom are just superficial.

  22. I could tell by watching a reflective person who knows about that stuff interact with kids that that person is grabbing the attention of the adolescent amygdala? Are all adolescent amygdalas the same? Does age matter? Do other structures influence the amygdala and are they all the same for all adolescents? Does the reflective person judge the structure by behavior of the adolescent or vice versa?