Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Tight Rope of Pedagogy/Practitioner Knowledge vs. Content/Expert Knowledge

I am commissioned to teach a content-area literacy course. In it, we read a fusion of research in the field and practitioner knowledge that works in actual classrooms. Perhaps I'm a jerk, but I really do wish there was a better balance between the two. In one world, there is a lot of language and citation, and in the other world, there's a lot of teaching tools with little substance.

It is as if higher education and K-12 schooling are in different universes.

Okay, they are. It is true.

We did a sticky note activity today as it was suggested by a practitioner-based text. This, too, was somewhat supported by a renowned academic text. Sticky notes help young people to communicate.

The problem is, human beings are imps. At some point, most students (kindergarten to graduate school) figure out the "teacherly" game of instruction and it quickly turns into a game of, "Why are we doing this? What's the point? Are you kidding me?"

I wrestle back and forth. My humor as a teacher often chose "game theory" to say, "Okay, here is what the researchers say. I'm a practitioner. I'm giving it a try. Now, what do you have to say? Are we learning?" From there, I learned what worked and didn't work.

My point? There is no solution that is effective with all learners. I can have all the teaching tools in the world to effectively reach learners in my class. At some point, however, there needs to be content. There has to be something that we're actually teaching and it can't be a pedagogical exercise alone.

Now, with that said, I had a man ask, "But how do we know what content to measure? Do we test students and say, know this, or you can't move on?" I added, "Do we ever have a test that actually measures what we know? Is that possible? Are assessments only a partial measurement of what learners to know?"

I ask this after three Masters degrees and entering at doctoral program. My question was, "How do I have all these degrees, but I 've never been trained in the realm of the "researcher"? This is noted only to point out that even as an educated man I remain truly ignorant. I am insure if tests or papers indicated my knowledge after a particular course. Portfolios, I might argue, were more robust in demonstrating my skills (and the dossier I must keep continues this particular story). Quizzes and tests? Term papers? Not so much...but I did them.

It's a language game, I guess. I had to learn it in the doctoral program so I could enter a new community of 'educated' people. I suppose that is what every teacher does --- provides the vocabulary for entrance into communities students desire to take part in.

BUT (big BUT), a teacher can't only have classroom skills and management. They also need content of what they're teaching. Determining this is the rub. What content? Whose content? And what about the politics of who decides? 42 years and I am still learning, often questioning, "how have I not known this before?"

I 've always put the questions into the minds of my students so they can wrestle with them. My colleagues and I always taught, "Learn everything. Keep an open mind. Stay inquisitive." This, however, contrasts with top down management of curriculum that decides, "You must learn this on this day. Know this on that day." It is silly, actually....if not frustrating and inane.

Where are the questions? How is it countered? What about resistance?

It's a tricky business. I meet people who know a heck of a lot of information, but they can't teach it to others. Then I meet practitioners who master a classroom, but really have nothing to teach. I guess I'm calling for a balance between the two. That's the answer.

So, sticky note pedagogy? It works....for some. For others it is an ultimate FAIL. But, it's advocated by practitioners and researchers....and it is what we have as "effective" at this time. So, last night we used sticky notes to hold our comprehension.

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