Monday, May 31, 2004

How we teach teachers how to teach 

Joanne Jacobs links to a very interesting article in the New York Sun on some research at Harvard about what education schools teach on pedagogy:
There is a deep division among those who engage in and write about teacher preparation.One school of thought,represented by such figures as Eric Donald Hirsch Jr. and Diane Ravitch, argues that teachers should focus on the basics.

Like piano teachers who stress the discipline of scales and finger technique before encouraging deeper interpretive performance of demanding music, Mr. Hirsch and Ms. Ravitch argue that the best education � especially for the least advantaged � requires direct teaching of the three R�s and the other elements of cultural literacy (to borrow Mr. Hirsch�s term).The attainment of such knowledge and skills should then be assessed through state tests.

By contrast, another school of thought stresses what is called �constructivism�and �progressivism.� Broadly speaking, constructivism is the view (drawn from the work of John Dewey and Jean Piaget) that the teacher should not be a �sage on the stage�but a �guide on the side�encouraging children to discover and create according to their natural impulses.Progressivism is the idea that teachers should focus on the particular voices and experiences of repressed minorities, tailoring instruction accordingly.

In educational theory today, these two ideas are often fused into one view � constructivistprogressive � that is opposed to high-stakes testing and state-mandated, standardized school curricula.

Given the divide between �back to basics� and the �constructivist-progressive� models, one would expect education schools to expose students to both points of view. Our research (which covered 165 syllabi of required courses in the foundations of education, the teaching of reading,and teaching methodology) strongly suggested, however, that at many of our highest ranked schools of education, the constructivist-progressivist arguments are being taught to the almost complete exclusion of the other, direct instruction model.

We found that texts by Mr.Hirsch and Ms. Ravitch and other likeminded authors were required readings in only one or two compulsory courses in all of those we examined. Yet in the majority of programs that required any philosophy of education, education policy, or educational psychology, readings from John Dewey, Henry Giroux, or Howard Gardner were prominently featured.
They also find in their study -- which they admit is a first study and subject to additional research that could refute their points -- that few student-teachers are ever taped and critiqued, and a heavy use of adjuncts to evaluate student teaching.

SCSU was at one time St. Cloud Normal School, and is still considered a major producer of teachers in Minnesota. I doubt the Harvard study looked at us, but a view of this website would probably support their hypotheses.

Our Statement of Philosophy commits us to principles which guide a democratic community and emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, and the importance of students becoming active participants in their own professional development.