Is teaching an ART or a SCIENCE? This was the rhetorical (but I’ll answer it here) question posed by Dr. Williams during her weekly Podcast (accessed 1/12/12). While seemingly simple on the surface, it’s really a much more complex question that I originally anticipated. As a compliant learner, I dutifully paused the podcast to jot down my initial thoughts:
“Teaching is both an art and a science; effective teachers are able to switch seamlessly between the skill sets of each discipline. The “art” part of teaching comes to the crafting of lessons, interaction with students and the creation of a classroom culture through both mind-set and physical space. The “science” in teaching comes into play in the matching of taught and assessed curriculum to standards and utilizing research-based practices” (Rayl, January 12, 2013).
While not a fully realized statement, one can clearly see where I was headed in my thinking. A painter cannot realize a masterpiece without a canvas from which to begin; a sculptor needs materials from which to mold and form their shape. So we can say that the art and science of education are not mutually exclusive dispositions that are carried out in isolation. Though not always occurring at the same moment in time, the art and science aspects of teaching nevertheless intersect in serendipitous ways that complement, support and extend the other, but only if we are careful listeners to what is happening in our classrooms. It is the listening and responding appropriately that’s tricky.
The instructional strategies enumerated in this week’s reading, Classroom Instruction that Works 2nd Edition (2012) is rock-solid teaching science broken down into a framework to support instructional planning:
Creating the Environment for Learning
- Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
- Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition
- Cooperative Learning
Helping Students Develop Understanding
- Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers
- Nonlinguistic Representations
- Summarizing and Note Taking
- Assigning Homework and Providing Practice
Helping Students Extend and Apply Knowledge
- Identifying Similarities and Differences
- Generating and Testing Hypotheses
In my original discussion post, I commented that the third section was where I believed the “art” of teaching came into play, “This is where the “science” and “art” of teaching collide to form an amalgam that students can build upon long after they have left our classroom; this is the sweet spot in a teacher’s day, when those little light bulbs first kindle then burn bright. It’s hard to extinguish a love of learning once ignited” (Rayl, January 12, 2013).
I still believe this to be true, but as I continued to interact with the assigned reading materials and other student’s posting in the online discussion, a thought began to form in my mind. I began to ruminate on these myriad strategies and the reported research-based effectiveness of each, which ones I used, when and why, and finally I wondered, so now what? It takes more than just throwing a bunch of instructional strategies in my back pocket to be an effective teacher. And really, do I just want to be just effective? Because the truth is, I don’t. I want to be that teacher. You know the one I’m talking about. So I decided to dig a little further, to take a look at where the inspiration for the art comes; to ask myself what is it that I believe as an educator? I’m not finished processing the following question by Dell’Olio and Donk (2007), but I find it to be personally profound, “Are you the first person in your immediate family to attend college? Historically, it has been true in many U.S. families that the first child to attend college becomes an educator” (p. 41). Wow. I think it would take many moons of reflective thought and perhaps some professional discussions to fully dissect all the ramifications of how this descriptor applies to me. But, I can say that being part of this demographic very much affects my philosophy of education. While I have a tendency to see at least some value in each (academic rationalism, cognitive processing, curriculum as technology, self-actualization) I believe that I am most influenced by social reconstructionism. As Dell’Olio and Donk (2007) point out “Of the five philosophies of curriculum, social reconstructionism is the most explicitly political. One hallmark of this philosophy is the idea that teachers should be active agents for social change…the purpose of education should be to help solve the problems of society” (p 41). While education cannot fix all the inequities present in society, it can offer a way out for so many of us.
I find that reflection on my past and current thinking and practices as a teacher would be a good place to start in deconstructing my personal philosophy of education and how I can effectively work as an agent of change. I took a “Mastery” self-assessment in Robyn R. Jackson’s (2009) book Never Work Harder Than You Students. In this text, Jackson argues, “All of us know the facts of teaching” and asks, “How much better might our teaching be if we focused on developing a mindset toward teaching instead?” (p. xiv). Jackson maintains that there are seven master principles:
- Master teachers start where their students are.
- Master teachers know where their students are going.
- Master teachers expect to get their students to their goal.
- Master teachers support their students along the way.
- Master teachers use feedback to help them and their students get better.
- Master Teachers focus on quality rather than quantity.
- Master teachers never work harder than their students.
(2008, p. 4)
I took the self-assessment, calculated my results and discovered that…I don’t believe the results. Why I scored rather high, I believe that is due in part to the positive influence and new understandings, mostly in the area of standards-based assessment that I have gained through the M. Ed. program here at SPU. This is great, right, but I have not had an opportunity to be back in the classroom actually implementing these practices on a regular basis. So, the theory is coming together and I know what to do, but the everyday practice hasn’t happened yet; I would feel somewhat like a fraud claiming to be a master teacher at this stage. But the exercise was useful and provides a tangible artifact for my self-exploration. This is an example of one page of the Mastery Self Reflection.
I believe that the road to mastery will be strenuous but achievable. It will require honest self-reflection and evaluation of my instructional and assessment practices, principles and philosophy, and perhaps some deep exploration of my own background as a learner and how that affects my practice. I am at a place in my career where I am ready to initiate this dialogue and I am listening.
Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone. 2012. Classroom Instruction That Works 2nd Edition. Washington: American Psychological Association.
Dell’Olio, Jeanine M. & Donk, Tony. 2007. Models of Teaching: Connecting Students Learning With Standards. California: Sage.
Jackson, Robyn. R. 2009. Never Work Harder than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Rayl, Kimberly. (January 12, 2013) A New Way of Thinking About Instructional Strategies. https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_63636_1%26url%3D
Williams, Tracy. (Producer). (Accessed 2013, January 12). Classroom Instruction That Works. [Audiopodcast]. http://www.screencast.com/t/geEyT0GSmUDA.