This blog entry by Katrina Schwartz reveals how the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia is one institutation that has remodeled its approach to teaching along interesting lines that take us beyond the notion of teaching to the test.
A lot of the best and most creative work in education today is focused on how to reframe the role of the teacher, who should be the key player in stimulating and guiding the processes of emerging learning. That means gardening and nurturing it, rather than teaching the curriculum. Curricula are built like a series of named places on a map, to the point that we forget that the territory around each name might be of more interest — in terms of its geography and history — than the spot that gets named. Curricula are designed as “points of knowlege”. Making sense of each spot that gets named requires building familiarity with the territory and having a sense of the multiple characteristics that surround it.
Knowing that Chicago, St Louis, Joplin, Oklahoma City, Flagstaff, Kingman, Barstow and San Bernardino and L.A. are on Route 66 is easy if you listen to the famous song recorded by Nat King Cole, the Rolling Stones and many others, especially if you go beyond listening and actually learn to sing it.
Learning the song might both be fun and help a student pass a test, but it won’t produce much understanding, insight, wisdom or practical skills other than music, which of course is important for other reasons but doesn’t require memorizing place names. Yet that is how the system is structured: teachers are responsible for making sure the learners can reproduce those names on the test plus possibly a few other random associated facts. So they will lecture or in some cases teach the song to help learners pass the test. But imagine a student who gets so interested in Kingman, Arizona she starts researching it in depth and discovers the flow of history around it, going back to the pre-Columbian times. That level of learning wasn’t on the curriculum, so not only won’t the effort and intensity be rewarded or even acknowledged, but they may have distracted her from learning the other names, which is what the curriculum requires.
As the article says, “The focus should be on providing student-centered experiences that bring out qualities in students that aren’t necessarily measurable.” The teacher’s role will be to pre-define or pre-design the framework of those experiences and play the role of coach, adviser, friendly critic and even the consumer of the outcome of each experience. It is indeed a role and requires certain skills associated with coaching, criticism (e.g. peer reviewing) and acting (staying in one’s role), skills that are not associated with traditional teaching. It also means learning to suppress the instinct to spout information or instruct or at the very least to disguise such spouting as advice and encouragement.