Monday, December 21, 2009

Today's Random Thoughts

-Pittsburgh has decided not to levy a 1% tax on college tuition as the mayor and 5 out of 9 council members (and possibly nobody else) wanted.  Council was due to vote on the measure today, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had promised the vote would occur unless non-profits volunteered $15 million per year in funding for the city.  Instead, the city has joined with a group of non-profits to form the "New Pittsburgh Coalition," which will work toward finding a solution to the funding problem.

-Jay Mathews takes a teacher to task for not updating his/her class website so that parents could follow along with assignments and such.  Fair enough, but let's not forget this is a two-way street.  During my first year of teaching I went out of the way to create a class website and spent hours updating grades and telling parents to check them.  Three months later only two parents had logged on.

-Robert Pondiscio asks if teachers should care about research.  My immediate reaction was "of course."  But one teacher says she doesn't care what researchers say b/c she knows what works best for her students.  This is the type of thing that makes researchers cringe, but it's also the type of thing researchers don't adequately address.  The degree of hubris involved in many researchers' school and classroom interventions annoys me to no end.  Countless studies have failed b/c teachers and administrators did not implement the curriculum or reform in the manner intended by the researcher(s).  And guess who gets blamed for this when the research is discussed?  Not the researcher(s).  Once again, it's a two-way street: both parties depend on one another and have a lot to learn from each other.  While research can, without question, help teachers researchers also need to respect the vast body of "soft" knowledge that teachers have acquired over their years in the classroom.


Brian Rude said...

Corey, you say, "Countless studies have failed b/c teachers and administrators did not implement the curriculum or reform in the manner intended by the researcher(s)." Well, I have no experience to base this on, but a picture comes rather insistently to mind. The picture is of teachers being resistant because they are asked to do something that seems pointless or counterproductive to them. Whose judgment are you going to go with in this situation, the researchers or the teachers? As I say, I have no experience with this sort of thing, but my gut instinct is go with the teachers, not the researchers. I am assuming it is educational research we're talking about here, not physics. Are the researchers acting on one of those fuzzy premises that have been around for a century but never developed, and are just as fuzzy today as in the nineteen twenties?

Do you have any specific examples in mind, something I can find on the internet describing the ideas that the researchers wanted to test, what they wanted the teachers to do, and so on?

I said I don't have any personal experience with this sort of thing, but maybe I do. I teach college freshman math, and I just gave the last of the final exams for the fall semester today. Making those final exams is complicated a bit by the requirements of a statewide "assessment" study. That means I have to put certain problems on the final exam and then tabulate and report the results. It's required. I do it. But I wouldn't mind being called a "resistant teacher", if anyone cared to characterize me as that. The "study" seems pointless, basically a count-something-and-do-stats thing in order to fulfill some requirements dreamed up at some high level and passed down. The specific procedures are then worked out by a committee somewhere and passed on to teachers like me. The results will be reported, tabulated, analyzed and at some point will be available for me to read. The final report will say things like "Forty-eight per cent of students in Algebra 105 failed to meet expectations on the problem . . . . . . "

Brian Rude said...

My example is pretty innocuous. All it involves for me is a little work and a little irritation (though now that I think about it, probably ten hours per semester would be a reasonable estimate of my time required).

Not so long ago Diana Senechal, in some comments on somebody's blog, talked about "accountable talk" and what it required of teachers. That sounded a lot more serious than a bit of extra work and a bit of irritation.

You say, “countless studies failed . . . “ How can a study “fail”? To do a study is to ask a question, is it not? We might ask a question by counting something and doing stats on the results. That can very productive at times. Or we might ask a question by looking closer at something and trying to observe from different angles. We might ask a question by asking practitioners about their practices. We might ask a question rhetorically and see if it produces productive lines of thought. Or there might be yet other ways. But to say a study “fails” certainly invites the suspicion that it was not a study so much as a project.

I have never been a fan of B. F. Skinner, but I think he was the one who said "the mouse is always right". The scenario here is of a researcher setting up an experiment with a laboratory mouse, and blaming the mouse for not doing what it is supposed to do. A researcher who says "My study failed because the teachers were resistant" is like the psychologist who blames the mouse.

From what I read in the blogs it appears that researchers are becoming more aware of the need for “buy-in” by the teachers who must implement whatever it is that needs implementing. But I don’t get much impression that anyone is doing what I would think would be the first thing to do. And that is to look at what teachers are actually doing now. Describe it, analyze it, explain it. But be slow to criticize it. Especially be slow to criticize it based on century old fuzzy ideals that have never seemed sensible or productive to many practicing teachers.