Monday, July 29, 2013

Why didn't you tell us about that?

I never heard about any of this in my school of ed

Statements like this occasionally pop up in my Twitter stream - usually during something like #edchat. Given my involvement in teacher preparation, it is easy to get defensive about these Tweets. So I try to ignore them. Last week, however, was Twitter Math Camp (TMC) and the following was Tweeted at the end of the sessions: "None of this stuff we've talked about these last three days came up in my education program." Sorry, I couldn't ignore this one.

I am not here to defend the current state of teacher preparation. There are certainly issues that need to be addressed. But introducing the latest popular instructional approaches is not the answer. In fact, chances are your education classes were talking about ideas that were popular at some point in time.

Hattie (2011) suggests that schools of education often put too much emphasis on particular methods of teaching, thereby ignoring what is most important - learning. Reading this reminded me of a time when I made sure all of my preservice teachers were proficient in writing Launch, Explore, Summarize (LES) lessons. What I considered to be one of the best middle school mathematics curriculum, Connected Mathematics Project, used this format and I wanted my students prepared to use it. Then I got an email from a former student who had just got a teaching position in a middle school that used Saxon Math which follows a much more traditional approach. She was at a loss about how to apply the LES format. I was preparing teachers to use a particular method but not necessarily to support learning.

For Hattie, teaching for learning requires educators to gather data on and analyze the effectiveness of the instructional methods being used. Reading this was affirming since after several episodes like the one described above I moved from pushing the LES approach to encouraging a certain stance. I wanted the preservice teachers to see themselves as educational researchers in order to determine what was and wasn't working for their students.

The push-back from some of these future teachers has been interesting. I usually get a few each semester who ask, "Why don't you just tell us the best way to teach math?"

I respond, " I don't know what grade level you're going to teach. I don't know where you're going to teach. I don't know what text you're going to be using. Deciding the best approach to use is dependent on these factors and many more. My goal in this class is to provide you with opportunities to practice using the tools that will support you in making those decisions. I want to help you to develop educational phronesis: practical wisdom that allows you to consider what's currently available to foster learning and what's worth doing under the circumstances."

Does this mean that my students might not be familiar with 3 Acts or foldables or "My favorite no" or some other great ideas the mathtwitterblogosphere comes up with in the coming years? Probably. But if these preservice teachers become educators who attend TMC and critically consider how to adapt what they hear for their students, then I will be happy.


  1. I am honored to say that I am one of your (& John's) pre-service teachers. I learned how to think more critically, work collaboratively with others and take the positive out of a situation and build upon and/or adapt for my students.

    I think it is ludicrous for people to think they could have learned everything as a pre-service teacher, unless they wanted to be in school their entire career. Besides, if they did learn "everything" as a pre-service teacher, what would be left to explore? I wonder if these people will say, "why didn't I learn this in my 5th, 10th, etc. year of teaching?"


  2. This is a fair point, David.

    From talking to the particular teacher who brought up this point, they seemed completely surprised by the discussion we had, and I do not think your students would have that experience. They would probably know that they were being equipped with tools for furthering their own learning, rather than everything you know about teaching.

  3. I think this post is right on the nose. We have to be lifelong learners and students of our craft in order to be effective educators. If we all decided to stay in college until we learned everything there is to know about teaching, we'd all be dead before setting foot in a classroom (and I don't think zombies are eligible to become certified teachers, as far as I know).

  4. I'm actually surprised at how much emphasis my school of education placed on learning and what really constitutes doing math, especially when I compare it to the experience my wife had at a different, more traditional school, at which she learned how to write lesson plans in very specific formats and how to write on the chalkboard and overhead projector. What I'm sad about is how I didn't really understand how different the way I was being taught to teach was from how I was taught math as a student. I assumed that what I was learning to do as a teacher was what my teachers had learned, so it took a long time for me to realize that the way I learned math could have been done better.

  5. I've presented Hattie's research to students enrolled in the Middle Level Education curriculum course at a local university. While this institution is a major presence in teacher education in my area, not one teacher-ed student heard of Visible Learning.

    That being said, "Why don't you just tell us the best way to teach math?" needs to be re-phrased to, "Let's learn about the strategies that have the greatest, positive impact on achievement."

    What does goal setting and progress monitoring look like in a math classroom? How are formative assessments used to drive instruction so that the math teacher delivers timely, effective feedback that can be immediately applied? What is the criteria for success?

    It's hard to argue that feedback and the like will fall out of favor because their effects are so great. But 3-acts, foldables, my favorite no, etc. may fade away with new instructional models replacing them because we don't know their impact.

    I love your statement about developing "practical wisdom that allows you to consider what's currently available to foster learning". What an opportunity to introduce Hattie's research and for teacher-ed students to learn how to analyze their own practice using pre-test/post-test calculating their effect sizes.