Teach How We’re Taught, Learn How We’ve Learned
It’s a cliche to point out that new teachers teach in the way they were taught. There’s often a bit more to it, and every teacher I know has at least a handful of oppositional models (“I’ll NEVER do it the way it was done to me”) that propel their practice, though I’m unsure if that’s actually much better.*
Recently I’ve been wondering about how teachers learn and the effects of that unexamined practice. Teaching to our own personal learning style is one of the classic and cardinal teacher sins, and exposing that unspoken practice was one of the core goals of curriculum differentiation. How did that all work out where you are?
I wonder if it’s reasonable to expect teachers to approach their students, subjects and curriculum in a mode that’s completely distinct from their own learning experiences. Everyone seems to have a story about some infamous PD about differentiation or learning styles that’s presented as a time-crunched one-to-many lecture with xeroxed binders of support materials. Maybe the better PD option is to push teachers into new and unfamiliar learning experiences of their own, rather than try to describe the experience.
This thought haunts me when I watch teachers jump in to the “flipped classroom” process without any experience learning in a blended or distributed environment. I know that I’ve gained far more insight about the mechanics of teaching and learning in that new mode while following MIT’s Open Courseware Python material than I did from sampling Kahn Academy videos for familiar math skills. When I’m watching someone describe how to factor polynomials, I’m still living in my teacher brain, looking at the clarity or accuracy of particular statements, but I’m hardly invested in the process.. When I’m actually learning something new, an unclear phrase can destroy an evening! How can teachers judge the strength or effectiveness of their new practice without similar personal learning experiences on which to draw?
As a meta-teacher I’m looking for ways to make this process a tangible part of our school’s academic culture. As we move more and more of our learning resources into the public space, I want our faculty to enlist as active students in courses outside their departments and curricular comfort zones. Let’s make grappling with an alien set of ideas, with only a set of videos and Google Hangout as support, a part of every adult’s learning experience as well.
Maybe its just the bleak skies of November, or maybe it’s just a moment on the cyclical emotional calendar of the school year, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’re coming closer and closer to a radical shift in how we practice and enact school. More learning, less schooliness.
* Then again, I distrust oppositional binaries.