Its been a while since I’ve posted on my blog but I thought the below was worth sharing – Bruce
Teaching the Best Practice Way
By Harvey Daniels and Marilyn Bizar.
A valuable book for teachers wanting to develop a modern learning environment.
The other day I heard an interview on National Radio expressing the sad fact that a great number of students leave school with no idea about what they want to do.
It made me wonder about what’s the point of school? For me, school ought to be premised on developing the gifts, talents and interests of all students.
Sadly, primary education is still centred around literacy and numeracy, all too often taught as self-contained subjects, and most secondary schools are still based on fragmented subject centred timetables. No wonder so many students leave without know the direction they want to head when they leave school!
With this in mind I thought it might be useful to share the Seven Best Practices presented in the book ‘Teaching as Best Practice’. by Daniels and Bizar (Stenhouse Publishers USA).
The books great strength is that it combines a progressive education philosophy (in line with the intent of the NZC) with practical examples of the philosophy in action across all levels of school. The book relates to the ideas of such educators as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, James Beane, William Glasser, Howard Gardner etc. and the examples are based on experiential hands on learning fuelled by the passion of extraordinary teachers. The book is antidote to the standards movement and hyper accountability of past decades.
The Seven Best Practices.
1 Reading as thinking.
Reading is seen as transcending debates about phonics and is more about reading as thinking embedded in the context of broad and interesting integrative units where students are continually representing to learn in writing, art, and performance.
Since reading is thinking students need to be provided with rich text worth thinking about, and strategies to help them think. Proficient readers are seen as ‘co-creators of meaning’ Context is everything; it’s about getting students ‘to think like historians, mathematicians, and scientists. Practical classroom examples in the book clarify the approach.
2 Representing to Learn.
This method is based on the premise that humankind has always had an impulse to represent experience and that this goes beyond using words including strategies that are commonly classified as art, drama, dance and music, and today multimedia
There are a range of genres to explore and opportunities to extend and amplify a full range of intelligences (as researched by Howard Gardner). A range of practical examples are covered in the book.
3 Small group Activities.
Students need to be given opportunities to practice democracy and work together to solve problems (the writings of John Dewey). Many structures are provided, and practical classroom examples given to ensure groups work productively.
Group tasks must be ‘have enough inherent structures to operate automatically, to remain engaged, on task and relevant’.
4 Classroom Workshop.
The authors see the classroom as a workshop a useful metaphor or ‘working laboratories or studios, where genuine knowledge is created, real products are made. and authentic inquiry is pursued.’
In the workshop, learning laboratory classroom students choose individual or small group topics for investigation, inquiry, and research using long chunks of classroom time to do this.
Teachers take on new roles modelling thinking, conferencing, offering well timed compact mini lessons and providing help as required. In the early days of workshopping teachers keep the time short lengthened as students become more independent. In workshops students learn to act, plan and question like a scientist. Classroom examples clarify the approach.
5 Authentic Experiences.
For many students schools need to get real and many people from John Dewey onwards have argued for school to be more lifelike, more genuine, more authentic.
Just as in real life these experiences are inherently multi-disciplinary and messy problems; these problems need to be identified, complexity needs to be faced, and solutions found. Inquiry into authentic questions need to be generated from student experiences. Students need to become researchers, gathering data, asking questions, conducting experiments, recording information and discovering
This kind of inquiry becomes possible when the conditions that support Best Practices are in place; when the classroom is a community with students eager to take responsibly for hands on experiential learning and with opportunities to express what they are thinking, and able to use technology to advance their inquiries.
The authors believe ‘that technology can leverage some of the best teaching if used widely ‘and that it can ‘play a lead or supporting role’ once the appropriate pedagogy is in place.
Once again a range of practical examples are provided.
6 Reflective Assessment.
Students need to be helped become self-monitoring, self-regulating, able to be in control of their own learning, able to set ambitious goals, keep their own records, adjust their efforts, make good decisions and grow by healthy and measured feedback.
This is in contrast to the toxic current accountability movement which the authors state simply correlates to student socioeconomic status of students, is inconsistent with what is known about how students learn and distort teaching often resulting in streaming, tracking and ability group segregation. A range of practical alternatives are provided.
7 Integrative Units
The writers save the best for last.
The last best practice blends all the other six methods into days or weeks of rich, cross disciplinary investigations driven by student interest and scaffolded by teachers who model, coach, and manage the inquiry process.
With integrative units teachers step emphatically out of single subject instruction and
lead their students into inquiries as complex and multi-disciplinary as the real issues grown-ups face as workers, parents and citizens.
Teachers believe that students can learn subject matter (including basic skills) amid holistic, integrated experiences. This approach doesn’t mean that traditional subjects are disrespected or abandoned. On the contrary, as James Beane writes, ‘the disciplines of knowledge are useful and necessary allies of curriculum integration with knowledge being called upon to support student investigations as required.
Nome of the above will be new to progressive primary teachers and those secondary teachers busy transforming their schools, often in new purpose built environments.
For many the book will be a practical inspiration to confirm or transform their teaching.
If widely applied in our school system students will leave with their talents, interests and passion tapped and amplified, equipped with appropriate learning skills, and will not leave schools not knowing what to do with their future – they will have seen the point of their schooling.