Re: Standards protect Scriptchyt
- Subject: Re: Standards protect Scriptchyt
- From: James Armstrong <ja7@I-C.NET>
- Date: Mon, 1 Nov 1999 20:47:39 -0500
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
I'm just now catching up on my email. Sorry this is late. I agree with many of
the things you say below, but let me just respond to two issues:
1. I'm not sure I know what you mean by "scripts", so let me be clear on what I
was talking about. I think that teachers need to have some training in
instructional design and various teaching strategies that are designed to help the
learner achieve whatever objectives have been written for the curriculum.
2. You wrote, "Of course we will all use pedagogical methods, sequences, and
"scripts" as we develop our pedagogies. I don't think that's what we're
talking about here, and I hate that graduate seminar straw man game a lot of
orally clever people learn how to play glibly before they've proved they can
actually do anything.
(Sorry for the flame. It's my comeback to "Bull")..."
Quite alright, George. You are allowed to flame. But, really, you may see this
as a "straw man game", but I'm quite serious when I say that knowledge of subject
and of students is not enough. Many teachers, particularly on the college level,
simply have no clue about the best ways to present or teach a subject, a skill, or
a lesson. They just do it the way their teachers did it. College professors see
their students as passive vessels to fill with knowledge. They give little
attention to teaching strategies and, furthermore, have no clear objectives to tie
any teaching strategies to.
So I don't mind your passion, but don't think I'm being "glib."--Jim
George N. Schmidt wrote:
> James Armstrong (and colleagues),
> I may not have said all that I meant, but I did say what I meant (and I won't
> repeat it and waste people's times). The art of teaching is going to require
> a balance between our knowledge and our pedagogies, adjusted throughout our
> careers. The kinds of scripts we're discussing here have not worked for urban
> schools since I began teaching, and I do not believe they will for several
> reasons, some of which there is time to discuss now and much of which will
> continue down the road forever. Neither content knowledge nor pedagogy alone
> will assist learning for each learner, and nothing will ensure that every
> child (or teenager) will learn each thing to the same level of or practical
> What I railed about was the trajectory towards substituting scripts for
> lessons. My point was that scripted learnings have been the formula for
> mediocritizing schools.
> And we've been discussing teaching and what you need to do it.
> I listed two conditions in order or importance, which may require some review.
> First, I suggested you have to "know" something in order to teach it.
> (Yesterday while reorganizing our office annex I came across Locke, Hume and
> Berkeley, and we're not going all the way back to that one...). Knowledge of
> "content" is required. If this mail were written in Romanian or Khmer or
> Gujarati or Tagalog there wouldn't be much communication going on here, for
> the majority of us at least.
> I teach English. During 30 years of classroom teaching, I've taught "language
> arts", U.S. History, plane geometry, World History, Algebra, journalism (and
> how to make a newspaper), sheet metal shop and machine shop (plus a few other
> things I've probably forgotten). I have refused to teach EBD (and ED and BD
> back when they were separate), EMH, and LD, as well as physics, chemistry,
> and algebra trig. It was unfair to the kids because I didn't "know" those
> things (or have the training to do justice to them, in the case of the
> special education areas). Back in the late 1970s when New York and Chicago
> laid off thousands of us because of the "financial crisis" of those days, I
> was advised to "go into" special education and I refused (risking my
> unemployment benefits at one point) because, as I tried to explain to the
> person making the suggestion, I wasn't wired to do those jobs.
> "You don't hire a good electrician to do your concrete work, do you?" I'd ask
> and get a blank stare. On a bad day I'd go on with the analogy and just get
> in deeper. My point was that I knew how to teach (young adults, American,
> English, French, Russian and German) "literature" and writing (fiction,
> reporting, essays, some types of formal reports) well -- so why should I
> change when kids abounded who didn't know how to read those literatures well
> and who couldn't write in any other those ways. But there was this mindless
> belief that "teaching" was independent of what we taught. I gave up arguing
> the point and just stuck to the things I knew or could figure out with the
> help of a few colleagues.
> But my first point was about content, and I like the example given because it
> gets to the heart of the matter.
> To take the example of fishing, I would not try to "teach" someone how to
> fish (unless we were all starving beside a well-stocked body of water)
> because I don't know how to fish, never fished, and don't have the love of
> fishing that it takes to understand the subject in its complexity and try to
> convey it to a group of learners. Were I to recommend someone from my past or
> present to someone who wants to learn how to fish, I would have recommended
> one of my mentors from college (Norman MacLean, of "A River Runs Through It"
> etc.) or my friend (and fishing fanatic and recently retired Chicago math
> teacher) Jim Daniels. Norman MacLean was an expert (Montana Rockies) fly
> fisherman, and Jim knows that and how to fish places like Chicago's Wolf Lake
> (where they regularly fish up the bodies of gang murder victims).
> I'm very serious about this part. I don't believe you ask people to teach
> what they don't know. And I think we teachers should have a bit of modesty
> about what we do and don't know. This is also one of the reasons why we (here
> at Substance) place such a premium on urban teaching experience in our staff.
> Our staff has always consisted of teachers who learned to be reporters, not
> reporters writing "about" public schools and classrooms. But that's an aside.
> The second (and subordinate) condition is pedagogy. If you know something and
> there is a reason to teach it to people who have a reason (even if only the
> compulsion of mandatory attendance policies) to learn it, you still have to
> engage in the appropriate pedagogy or the learning might not happen.
> Only part of this is subsumed under any notion of "methods". The place I (may
> have) oversimplified in my earlier (hasty) "Scriptchyt" posting is to reduce
> pedagogy to "knowing the kids". It also means organizing the sequence of the
> presentation of materials, reviewing the materials presented (to ensure some
> kind of learning), assessing the learning (both incrementally and at various
> points for what used to be called "summitive" purposes), etc., etc.
> I'm glad we're having this discussion, but to get back to the earlier point,
> which I don't want to lose sight of (even on publication deadline here and
> with a lot else happening including a Monday court date) --
> SCRIPTED LESSONS ARE HEAVEN FOR (_____) TEACHERS (i.e. those among out
> colleagues who don't want to devote much energy to their pedagogy)...
> EVERY SCRIPTED LESSON FOISTED ON CHICAGO DURING MY 30 YEARS HERE HAS BEEN A
> FAILURE ESPECIALLY FOR THE MOST 'AT RISK' KIDS IN THE HEART OF THE INNER
> THE CURRENT STANDARDS AND ASSESSMENT MOVEMENTS HERE IN CHICAGO ARE ALREADY
> UTILIZING SCRIPTS AND THEIR TRAJECTORY IS TOWARDS MORE AND MORE SCRIPTS...
> Rest assured, if you are still a novice (some of us call that level of
> experience "FNG"), that you will constantly update both your content
> knowledge and your pedagogies (yes, plural).
> One day (after 30 or 40 years or after you get sued for a million dollars by
> your employer and suspended), you might retire (as one of my mentors did) and
> spend more time fly fishing in Montana. Or you might be unlucky, as we
> reported in our most recent issue of Substance, and have your job taken away
> from you in the name of "standards" and "accountability", go into a crisis,
> find no way out, and stand in front of a commuter train on its way to the
> suburbs at noon and let others clean up the mess.
> Of course we will all use pedagogical methods, sequences, and adaptable
> "scripts" as we develop our pedagogies. I don't think that's what we're
> talking about here, and I hate that graduate seminar straw man game a lot of
> orally clever people learn how to play glibly before they've proved they can
> actually do anything.
> (Sorry for the flame. It's my comeback to "Bull")...
> Let's try to circle the point in a different way...
> Scripted learnings are only useful with a subset of all learnings and with a
> subset of all learners. The younger the learners, the more likely it is that
> their learnings will have to involve their emotions at a very high level. If
> the teacher doesn't know them and they don't have some feeling for the
> teacher they probably won't learn as much as well.
> Don't count on the future being predictable or the script being as masterable
> as the disassembly of the M-1 or M-16 by feel in the dark. Most complex human
> activities, when taught, seem to require complex pedagogies, part of which
> gives a nod to the learner's real world and real experiences. Believe me, the
> kids who are traumatized by gang violence (roughly 95% of my recent students
> from 1993 - 1999 at Bowen High School in Chicago) will respond differently to
> simulated death (i.e. the kind we teach in "literature" and fiction) than
> those who have not experienced intense traumatic violence during what we used
> to call their "tender years."
> In a similar but different way, our teenage children from war torn countries
> -- Cambodians, Eritreans, Serbians, Bosnians, Vietnamese, Salvadorans,
> Guatemalans, and Iraqi Assyrians were the ones I personally had in my
> classrooms -- had to be understood, at least on a very low level of empathy
> (from the teacher), before effective teaching was going to be possible. I
> don't know how to say it otherwise. These are children who have experienced
> some very unusual events (let's understate, then use a grotesque but
> authentic example). One day they're watching a Khmer Rouge inject bamboo
> juice into their (living) father's spine, and a few weeks later they're in
> front of us.
> Although our main job may be to develop an effective pedagogy so that they
> can master "content", let's at least admit that they may have some
> experiences which need to be recognized beyond the generic platitudes that
> (in my '90s experience with my student teachers) seem to have been passed
> off. A few years back, the Erikson Institute did a study of the children of
> trauma -- Beirut, Belgrade, Belfast and Chicago. (I quipped at the time we
> could use "Bowen" the school where I was teaching and where, during one year
> -- 1997 - 98 -- we had seven of our students murdered during one 10 month
> period after school and outside the building). While it is important for us
> to avoid wallowing in those traumas and to continue to focus on our main job
> (communicating content and ensuring that the children learn at least some of
> it during our pedagogic time with them), the fact is they aren't gonna be
> learnin' much if they tune us out, while at the same time they aren't gonna
> pay too much attention to us if we try to be "cool" in inappropriate ways.
> This is all I have time for for the next couple of days, but your points are
> well taken.
> George N. Schmidt
> Editor, Substance
> 5132 W. Berteau
> Chicago, IL 60641
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