This fall, I started as an adjunct professor in the MFA program at WCSU, a new field of teaching for me (grownups!!) which I'm really enjoying, because as always, I find I'm learning from my students. Two weeks ago, I attended a training session for new adjuncts, and one of the speakers was the Director for the Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching on the topic of "Enhancing Student Learning." I learned some very interesting things about studying and learning - apparently I got through college (graduating magna cum laude) and grad school by using ALL THE WRONG STUDYING TECHNIQUES!! According to my adjunct training , the research shows that everything I did to study has little or no efficacy and , one thing - highlighting and underlining - "may reduce performance on "higher-level tasts that require inference-making." Mes amis, au secors! Do you think I go back for a do-over?
To those of you who are students of the Brave New World of EdReform, guess what IS supposed to be highly effective:
I bet there's a purely altruistic tech company out there just waiting to sell us a tablet and a "personalized education program" with ready-made practice tests. Because it's all for the kids!!
As a new adjunct, I kept my mouth shut for most of this. It's my first time teaching adults, rather than young people, so I am open to learning as much as I possibly can about how I can be effective. But this is where I couldn't keep quiet any more.
I raised my hand and said, "I beg to differ. Just in my own home I have two very different kinds of learners. In the small writing workshops I teach, I have to alter my approach to reach kids effectively."
The speaker directed me to this video by a Professor at UVA, Dan Willingham:
I watched this, and his last sentence encapsulates what is wrong with edreform in general because it's what happens when we take the art out of teaching and try to reduce it to science.
"Good teaching is good teaching and teachers don't need to adjust their teaching for individual students."
I've been brooding on this ever since that training, but felt compelled to write this blog post after teaching a new group of students for Writopia Lab yesterday. The wonderful Lena Roy our fearless leader in Westchester/Fairfield, coordinated with a group of homeschooling parents - we will be working with the students weekly at the Greenwich YMCA. Christine Pakkala and I were working with the younger group (7-8 year olds). In our group, we have a wonderful mix of kids. We played some writing games and then sat them down to write. Some of the kids wrote diligently. Some needed more assistance - issues with word formation, spelling. But what was really interesting was that two of the kids - boys - drew instead. One of the boys first drew a grid, then proceeded to draw a series of images in the grid, like a graphic novel. I told both boys they would have to tell us story about their images when it was time to share.
Now you could say - these kids should should be writing! They are there to WRITE!! And I will tell you - they will write. But first I want to get them to tell a story, and understand what telling a story is all about.
And here's the most fascinating part, and the reason why I say the Dan Willingham's of this world don't get it when they say "teachers don't need to adjust their teaching for individual students."
Because when I asked the kid who'd drawn the images in a grid to share, his story was by FAR the most well thought out, richly-imagined, and complex of any of the ones we'd heard. It blew me away - and this was the kid who was fidgety and taking his name tag apart and hiding it under the carpet at the beginning of the session. I asked him if he'd like it if I brought my scanner in next week and scanned his pictures into my computer, and then he could dictate what he'd told me into the computer, and then we could have his story with the pictures. His eyes lit up - he was thrilled by the idea, and said "And I can draw the rest of the pictures for my homework!"
Now Christine and I could have just said to that kid - "Stop drawing and use words! You're here to write!" But a) we would have totally lost him if we'd done that and b) that isn't the Writopia way. Writopia is the anti-edreform way of teaching kids writing. It's about making kids better writers by making writing fun - not through drill and kill. It's the antithesis of David Coleman's "as you grow up in this world you realize people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think." At Writopia, we're telling kids - "You have a unique story inside you and we're here to help you find your voice and tell it well."
So the "effective teaching strategies" of the Center for "Excellence" are duly noted - but I'm going to continue to use what works for me with REAL KIDS. Because frankly, I do give a shit about what they think and feel. That's part of my job as their teacher.