Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teaching Time!

Moving through the teacher training course menu, and it's delicious.

Are you still here? I have a feeling this next piece may feel something like, you know, cancer research. Scott, I apologize for the headache you are about to get. It's just that now we are getting to the real meat, as it were, of teacher training. The guts. The heart. The lungs. It's about to get...involved, possibly gross. It's not that I want the reader of this section to see that "teaching" is sort of complicated, it's just that teaching is sort of complicated.

TO RECAP your instruction in teacher training thus far (and love you for staying with me): You, Pretend Future Teacher, know standards; you’ve learned about lesson planning with those standards in mind; you’ve looked at instructional materials to help you do that. 

Now the BIG STORY: How to “teach” both your subject and the young people to whom this stuff is directed. This stuff, so-called, requires time, so there are FOUR courses to talk about it.

(NOTE: In tandem with the Instructional Delivery Courses I and II, Colleges of Education should be teaching Childhood Development I and II--see the course descriptions that follow this. These are the four big courses to separate the teacher aspirants for the real deal.)

ON METHODS COURSES: An Amendation to the Opening Commentary

            I am now going to address the Professors again: In case you missed it at the opening, fuck Methods. Why? Because “Methods” is not “Instructional Delivery,” which is really what we need to be talking about. I am about to repeat myself, the old familiar reinforcement pattern: UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO TEACH AND WHY YOU ARE GOING TO TEACH IT AND WHAT IT IS YOU NEED TO ASSESS, you cannot possibly give a flying leap about “method.” And “theories”? Figure out the FUNCTION of what you are teaching, and the METHOD of teaching will follow. But let us call it by its true name: INSTRUCTIONAL DELIVERY. “Teaching” is a term for suckers.

            FIRST UP: How do you determine Instructional Delivery? Let’s ask some questions on various aspects of delivery: Explaining, Modeling, Practicing, Applying, and Assessing (which should also be instructional, or what’s it for?). I’m really trying to go all down and dirty with this, so as not to mire you in too many educational specifics.

SO: Think about anything on which you are an expert that you have tried to teach someone: how to play a video game, ride a bike, fix a flat tire, write a résumé, cook a meal, play football, do a card trick, do charades, chug a beer. How are you when you teach? Are you patient? Do you yell? Do you lose track of where you are? There are basic steps in the process you want to teach, but for any of us who have tried and failed to teach something well, we know that everyone except us is a moron. 

Am I right?

BIG POINT: For a person unversed in how to teach, the steps of teaching must be taught to YOU, the teacher. And here are those steps:

1. Explaining: Teachers must think about what information needs to be explained (terms, concepts), and decide how:  In lecture notes? a reading? with pictures? a diagram, a DVD, music, etc.?

2. Modeling: Teachers must offer a model of what they mean. It’s basic. At the point where the teacher models the concept (because a teacher has to SHOW using specific examples exactly what the hell she’s talking about), does he or she use an Interactive Whiteboard? visual aides? audio? written handouts? a good story?

3. Practicing, with an Assist: Teacher guide students through their first practice and ask: What is the best way to do this guided practice? Use a projection? Have students work in pairs at their desks on worksheets? with a computer game? in writing? with a sample reading or problem?

4. Practicing, for the Kids: At the point of practice, does the teacher use the problems in the book? use the reading and the questions in the book? give a worksheet or task? have them write sentences using vocabulary that was taught? assign a partner discussion? work in small groups?  

5. Applying: At the point of application, look at the lesson you’ve taught and the materials you’ve used: Should the kids read another, longer selection? play a game? write an essay or story using the skill? do a collage of images from a text that demonstrates understanding of the skill? devise an experiment?

6. Assessing, or Evaluating: At the point of assessment to demonstrate mastery, think of the best fit: is it a test? a journal? a research project? a speech? a show? How will you assign point- and grade-values? (THIS DESERVES TO BE A CLASS UNTO ITSELF. And in my book, it is: THE ASSESSMENT COURSE. So just mention it.)

            So, College of Education Professor, how does one teach a teacher how to teach? Because in my and often my friends’ experiences, the delivery thing was, as I said earlier, a mish-mash of instructors’ favorite lessons, or greatest hits, with a dash or two of “the latest instructional models” from On High. It was in no way guided or systematic, this course, and for young teachers this is just wrong. HOW do you lecture? HOW do you model? HOW do you guide them? HOW do you select an activity? To offer an analogy: Would you put a kid into a car and not explain when to use which pedals, the steering wheel, the parking brake, the wipers, and lights? Methods courses often say, “This is a steering wheel!” “Here is a brake!”  “Look what the wipers can do!” Now drive?


COURSE OVERVIEW: For the Professor

Objective: To demonstrate and practice effective instructional delivery options for lesson plans developed for a 9-weeks or 6-weeks period
Materials: •State standards documents   •Textbooks or other instructional materials   •Models of instructional plans •Models of delivery options

1. After reviewing the importance of understanding state standards, doing good planning, and what a lesson plan contains (Objectives that meet standards, Materials, Instruction, Activities, Assessment), you need to discuss Delivery as a concept.

2. Share the following basic models:  Whole Class At-the-Board Instruction; Partner Work; Small Group Work; Individual Work. Inside those big categories you place items like: Lecture Notes; Readings; Discussion; Question and Answer Activities; Written Activities; Research Projects; Speaking and Listening Activities; Hands-on Activities/Projects.

3. Model what it means to DO each of these things.  One by one by one, show good ways to do all of the modes listed, and anything I have left out. I have to assume you can do these things well, professor, because that is your job. Model the writing of (and effective speaking delivery of) lecture notes, assigning readings, preparing discussion topics, etc. Demonstrate how to plan, organize, and deliver Whole Group instruction, from demonstrations of at-the-board lessons to class discussions. Model how to arrange Partners and Small Groups and how to establish parameters and outcomes. Model all the aspects of setting up a long-range project. Model what makes a good Individual assignment. (See my Theater Production models to come.)

4. On Practice: After you teach “Lectures,” for example, have the student teachers practice their delivery of lectures. After modeling how to arrange and instruct in small groups, have student teachers practice in small groups, etc., until you’ve had them practice all of these modes in every conceivable arrangement of students.

5. Finally, model segues. Ways to effect transitions from, for example, lecture notes to activities, and from activities to presentations, are rarely taught in anything like a systematic way, other than in one-off situations in college. This baffles me.  Change it, won’t you?

To assess this course, Professor, here’s what you are grading:  
a) Have student teachers use one set of their nine- or six-weeks’ daily lesson plans. They are to revise and refine these plans in light of what they are learning in this course. Have them outline, moment to moment, what parts of their lessons should be delivered in what way.

b) Start with ONE DAY. Have student teachers write out IN FULL any lecture notes, create any handouts, write out any directions, build something for an interactive whiteboard, select a video, photocopy any readings, what have you, and present these in small groups. Allow the groups to critique and then let students revise, as needed. They should turn in each day’s “delivery plans” for a grade.

c) Select student plans to present to the class and offer constructive feedback, both positive and negative, and remember to evaluate the segues from one activity to the next. Two presentation grades.

d) Lather, rinse, repeat, deep cleaning until every student has several weeks’ or a quarter’s worth, of total “instructional delivery programs,” and has delivered at least two full days’ worth of that instruction to their classmates.

e) Bitch to grade? Probably.


            Child Development is perhaps the single most important course student teachers need.

            It is often totally disconnected from the College of Education.

            Early Childhood Development (and its siblings) is generally taught in the Psychology Departments of universities, and there is generally a requirement for education students to take this course at some point--any point--in their four years of college. States mandate it. Student teachers take it, when they can fit it into their schedules. As a result, this VITAL course is almost always devoid of context. Therefore, I propose, nay demand, that this course is taught during the same semester as the Instructional Delivery Course. I also propose that there is more than ONE such course.

            Therefore, I have two other demands for the Child Development course: First, there needs to be a specific class just for future TEACHERS, so that in Part I, student teachers learn all about how kids learn, develop, grow, and socialize, based on the most up-to-date research available vis à vis the educational field, in the realm of “normal,” whatever that means. Second, student teachers should have to go into daycare centers, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools and actually observe children, interact with them, and then discuss how what they observe compares to the research. This will be a bitch to organize. Failing this, make and show documentary films.

            This sort of course, contextualized, is ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT. I do not know how to stress this enough. Shall I type !!!! in blood? The shame is that not until student teachers spend a few weeks as teacher’s aides in their senior years do most student teachers do any actual observations, other than a one-off during one afternoon. It’s absurd.

            Colleges of Education, you have all this research, you know all this: how children, from womb to age 18, develop when they are healthy, well-fed, and cared for; how that development is altered when they are unhealthy, disabled, undernourished, or unloved. You have to take your student teachers through all this information, show them real-life examples, and not just give them chapters to read, facts to memorize, quizzes to take.

            What has been sorely missing is the application of all this information to TEACHING. This is why I am demanding that Child Development I be taught in tandem with Instructional Delivery I. First, I would focus first on the "normal" child, as we understand that. In the later courses, with that base, you can then begin to ask: How does a teacher instruct a child who is ready to learn on grade level, and instruct one who not ready to learn on the same level? How does one work with a learning-disabled child? a child who does not know English? a child who has been traumatized?

            How do you teach the state standards and also reach these children?

            Teach the courses separately for Part I. Let them be what they are: Instructional Delivery is complicated. Child Development is loaded. But what is important is that you are teaching Part I of each course at the same time. Let the students do the connecting for this semester.

            I am not going to provide a step by step Child Development curriculum, because YOU KNOW THIS ALREADY. One thing Colleges of Education push is coursework in Child Development, Special Needs, and the like. What you have not done, Colleges of Education, is own the courses, contextualize the information in the courses, and relate it to Instructional Delivery. Now you will.

            And so we get to Part II.

(“Problems” and “Challenges”)

            In these follow-ups to the last two the aforementioned courses, you have an opportunity to apply the learning students have gained, and show how the courses actually marry, on a deep level. In Instructional Delivery II, you can now look at the various kinds of instructional delivery options and explain/model/ practice/apply systems and assess which works best with where kids are. Explain and model whole class instruction, small group instruction, partner work, and individual instruction, as before, now with all this child development stuff in mind.

            In the Child Development II course, you are giving students additional information, richer information, on all the ways that children may not adhere to the usual models: Special Needs, English Language Learners, slow learners, different learning styles, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, physical disabilities, and the like.

            In both courses, with their specific emphases, you will show teachers how to engage in one-on-one drive-by teaching, floating around the room; do instruction in small groups; keep a whole group engaged while acknowledging and addressing the needs of struggling kids. You have to prepare teachers not only to build on a child’s great insights, but to deal with a variety of learning disabilities, outbursts, disruptions, rages, frustrations, and shocks that a young teacher might encounter from her charges. Therefore, the courses should be cross-referencing all the time.

            In BOTH COURSES: Explain case studies. Model approaches to challenges. Guide student teachers to modify their existing instructional plans to meet the challenges. Practice with actual scenarios that will require adjustments on their part: Of 25 students, you have: 5 special education students; 7 English language learners; 10 kids on grade level (one in a wheelchair, one deaf); 3 below grade level (no impairments). Assign research projects based on such circumstances. Have the student teachers plan and DELIVER instruction to meet the needs of these students. That’s the point of a second Child Development course and a second Instructional Delivery course.

            I am not fully outlining these courses--it’s a deeper version of the work from before, and you know this stuff. I hope it is absolutely clear why YOU MUST DO TWO COURSES OF EACH (Instructional Delivery and Child Development) and why you must teach them together: It is in no way redundant, any more than teaching more than one year is redundant. The most important thing a teacher must do is INSTRUCT the children. In order to instruct properly, a teacher must understand CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT. You must, must, must make these courses work together in order for any teacher to be effective.

            I’ve heard teachers say, nobly, “Teach the reader, not the reading.” Bullshit. It’s both. You are teaching the child and the content. And you have to do both effectively, whether in kindergarten or college. Make this happen.
P.S. THERE’S YOUR GODDAMN METHODS COURSE. Have a nice class. No, don’t. Instead, you’ve skipped that class, and taught the STANDARDS, LESSON PLANNING, INSTRUCTIONAL DELIVERY I and II, and CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT I and II courses, and, in the final stretch, you are about to hit ASSESSMENT, to say nothing of the upcoming CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT course that your College of Education may actually realize they should be offering at a university near you. Provided they read my blog-book. And now to set up the fifth (really seventh) course in the string: ASSESSMENT! (Yes, I say, yes, a whole semester for this! I’m coming to that. And here it is!)


            The single most important thing teachers do in a tangible sense is assess.

            It is NEVER TAUGHT. Perhaps I exaggerate. But I have yet to meet a teacher who has had a full, concentrated course in how to design assessments. I’m talking a whole COURSE needs to be devoted to this: Model with actual lessons that teach standards, showing student teachers how to devise assessments for those standards. Show examples of lousy assessments and model how to fix them. Review standards, devise a lesson, write an assessment. Repeat. Deeply.

            Here’s the tricky part: In real life, you have to start any planning with assessment. What do you want students to know? Then you have to devise that assessment. Here we are working backward so teachers can move forward. Like the New York subway system on weekends, that’s just what construction demands sometimes. (I offer assessment pieces in the Theater Production portion of the blog-book as models of this. You may hate them and use them as models of what not to do. Anything for teaching!)

            “Wait,” I heard you say, “isn’t that the evil ‘teaching to the test’ we’ve all heard about?”

            “Yes,” I say.


            “I know. But it isn’t that simple. Stay with me.”

            “Will there be beer?”

            “Only if you buy some yourself, Nick.”


Objective: To demonstrate and practice effective assessment options for lesson plans developed for a 9-weeks or 6-weeks period

Materials: •State standards documents •Lesson Plans, with Instruction Delivery completed  •Models of various assessments

1. Explain the concept of assessment. The whole thing boils down to two things: 1) How do you know that the kids have learned what you wanted them to learn? 2) What is the best way of finding this out?

2. Explain and provide models for the various modes of assessment, including but not limited to: the Quiz, the Test, the Exam--oral and written; Class Participation; the Discussion; the Essay; the Response Paper; the Research Report; the Project.

3. Look at a full-meal, soup-to-nuts example of a Standard-Objective-Materials-Instructional Plan-Activities scenario. Ask, What is the best way to assess a student’s mastery of this standard? At what points should we assess it? For example, some things you can find out in a chat. Others require writing. Some require a content-area test. It depends on the standards, the materials, the number of times you are practicing and applying are all factors in determining how and when you assess.

4. Extend this model to assess the learning of a standard through: a single lesson; a unit; a quarter; a semester examination.

5. Have students use the assessment tools you have taught them so that they may revise lesson plans they have previously created.  Assessment must drive instruction. If you cannot figure out how to assess something, you aren’t doing proper instruction to teach the standard. If what you want to assess has become clearer, revise the lesson plan to meet that assessment.

6. Ask, What makes a good quiz or test question?  what guides a useful discussion? how to choose a good paper topic? how to create a good research project? how do I modify assessments for my struggling learners? Show assessment models that demonstrate the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and show how to make them Better.

7. Teach how to assign point values to elements in each assessment. Teach teachers how to grade assessments and how to write useful comments. SHOW THEM. SHOW THEM. SHOW THEM. Over and over and over. This will also involve teaching time-management techniques so that grading does not consume their lives. (See Theater Production for models.)

8. Model grading scales used by schools: e.g., 0-64, F; 65–70 = D; 71–73 = D+; 74–80 = C; 81–83 = C+; 84–89 = B; 90–92 = B+; 93–100 = A.  Show students how to average grades by hand to make sure they understand the concept of averaging. Do quizzes for this. You think I am kidding.

9. Make sure students understand the concept of “weighting” grades. For example, a test might count three times, a quiz twice, classwork or homework one time. A final essay might count three times, the draft once. MODEL these choices. Model how to score tests. Model ways to give points for class participation. (For example, when I did seminars, I kept a narrative on my legal tablet, writing down the names of students whenever they talked, and what they said. You could use a pre-printed roster and place check marks. All students had to talk 3 times for 100; 2 times was an 80; once was a 65; none was a zero. Over three full class sessions, no kid had an excuse not to talk at least once and have a passing participation grade. I even reminded them. The way teachers measure “substance” is up to them.) DISCUSS ALL OF THIS. Discuss not only assigning of grades, but the entering of grades. Most young teachers have NO IDEA how to enter grades. You really need to teach this. NOTE: Most schools require a certain number of graded assignments per week. My last school required two graded items a week, though I often had three or four. Kids have a better chance of passing when more grades are entered, especially grades for participation and classwork. Discuss various expectations from various schools.

10. Have student-teachers fill in grades in imaginary computer gradebooks for some fictional students. Again, teach them how to average grades by hand, just in case.

11. Lather, rinse, repeat, for a full six weeks of lessons, with grades.

12. All components: Bitch to grade.

And we’re done here! Whew. Sorry--yes--a question.

            “What about educational theory?”


            Yes, fuck them, too, as I said. Nothing new there.

            When someone wants a Masters in Education, take Theory THEN.

            I had to take way too many of these kinds of classes, or too much theory was part of the courses I took. I even had to take a full course in how education is handled in Japan. Why should I remotely give a shit how they teach in Japan? I’m going to rural Virginia. I am not, as a student teacher, trying to reshape the course of education in America, not today.

            You know when theory matters? About two years into your teaching, when you start to feel insane, there is nothing so refreshing as taking a class in educational THEORY. What a relief! After two years of witnessing the most intensely bizarre behaviors you could never have imagined, you will discover that Piaget, Bloom, Maslow, and any number of others are right there with answers! It’s wonderful, and so much more nourishing than margarita happy hours.

            Theory courses are positively REVIVING at that point.  Before that? WHY?

            So. Please, Colleges: Jesus fucking GOD. Eliminate these theory classes from all undergraduate education course work. ELIMINATE. Focus on childhood development. If you want to show that there is theory to underpin your teaching instruction, offer extra reading or a special seminar for the interested.

. . . and tomorrow, our big Finale: CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT! Color me in rows!

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