Category Archives: Pedagogic issues

A Personal Reflection on the Seminar

  • by Steve Roushakes          

    My ideal learning structure is the seminar. I’ve always valued personable exchanges of thoughts, and I just don’t find larger learning structures energizing or rewarding. Put simply, I don’t like to be strictly on the receiving end of a conversation, and I suppose too, as an educator, I worry about educational models that disallow a dialectic between the teacher and students.

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    Growing up I disliked school, especially junior high and high school, I think because the learning was structured in such a one-directional way. The teacher spoke, and we, the students, sat quietly, took notes, and went to the next class. I remember liking several of my teachers, wonderfully bright and witty individuals, but I don’t remember ever speaking with them, either in or out of class. I did okay grade-wise, but I never felt my mind genuinely sparked; I never felt part of the learning or that I was adding value in any way by my presence.

    A case in point is seventh grade. I was at Thoreau (just a few miles from The New School), and a couple months into the school year I realized I hadn’t said a single word in any of my classes. Another month went by, and another – it became a game: how long could I go? – and in the end I went the entire school year without speaking in class. I must have learned something, but I honestly can’t recall any meaningful moments from my classes.

    A great change came in college, though, when I entered my first seminar course. For the first time I found myself engaged in a roundtable discussion with a small group of students and our professor. (I remember him perfectly, Dr. Rafeq, and I honestly believe he remembers me too.) We were a focused group, and, having never expressed my thoughts in a classroom setting, I felt uncertain. But I immediately appreciated the effect conversation-as-education had on my mind and sense of self – I also appreciated that I had a responsibility to be part of the learning – and I quickly found my voice.

    Educated-mind

    I had never worked so hard preparing for a course. The demands and expectations were high, but I was energized by the work and looked forward to each class. I find it telling that I felt deeply challenged, yet happy and never anxious.

    The seminar was a real dividing line in my thinking about both myself and education, and I’ve never looked back. I found the learning purposefulinclusive, and humane, and I like to think that my own teaching, twenty years later, is still guided by these three principles.

    Attracting and Retaining Excellent Teachers

  • by John Potter          

    At The New School, the teaching environment is unique and rewarding, and our staff usually stay many years.  Only six out of 31 staff members have been here less than eight years, a striking piece of data by any measure.  Such longevity leads to a very tightly knit group working in a highly collaborative manner.  As a result, bringing in new faculty members is both exciting and daunting.

    Our faculty represent the heart and soul of the school.  New School teachers have freedoms that teachers in most schools would envy.  They create their own classes based on their interests and passions—consistent with our curriculum guide—and we encourage them to develop their own unique approach, always bearing in mind the highly dialogic nature of this environment.

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    On the flip side, being so small means we ask much of our teachers, all of whom wear many hats. They may have fewer students than teachers in larger schools, but they put an extraordinary amount of effort into their classes, their assessments and their relationships with students and their parents.  The effort they put into designing a course for a class of ten takes more time for our teachers because of the latitude they have.

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    As teachers in most small schools will tell you, our salaries can’t compete with the public schools or some of the wealthier independent schools, yet we attract amazingly talented teachers. Why do these talented, creative people choose to work here? And why do they stay so long?

    Juana Gomez-Diez has taught Spanish at The New School for 14 years, having turned down repeated offers of higher paying positions at big name prep schools in Washington, DC.

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    Students often stay with her for four or five years, and achieve a remarkable level of fluency. When asked what keeps her here, Juana says she is endlessly grateful for the freedom to create classes in her own style and the chance to work so closely with her students, with whom she develops a powerful bond. “I am not micromanaged,” Juana says. “I believe in mixing language instruction with cultural studies, often through film. In this I am supported and encouraged, not restricted.”

    So what do we do when an outstanding faculty member leaves?

    I have a system that might make some people wince, but it winnows the field very effectively so that I’m not inundated with responses from those who might well be less passionate.  More times than not, it has brought me excellent applicants. My teacher ads don’t simply ask for a cover letter and resume, they contain a challenging prompt to which the applicants must respond.  For example, a well loved, multi-talented humanities teacher moved to another country after being with us for several years, leaving a huge professional and personal hole in the staff. We had big shoes to fill.

    My ad for her replacement read, “Write an essay about what it means to be a Renaissance teacher.”  I received only ten responses, of which four were thoughtful and well written.Of those, one in particular stood out, and that was from Jacob Cholak, whom we ultimately hired. The ad didn’t include the name of the school.  Jacob was so intrigued by the ad that at first he thought it was a hoax placed by his friends to see what he would come up with. Here are a couple of excerpts from his essay:

    Real learning is an act of aggression. One must kill one’s own assumptions and then ransack the past… But there are fragments which, reconstituted, provide new life.”

    “My small apartment consists mostly of books. I try to read three a week. Sometimes I read four.  My students need me to know everything. I can’t and never will. But: Russian symbolism, German idealists, ancient Near Eastern poetry, Zoroastrianism, political economics, Chinese zen painting, paleolithic fertility icons, Ethiopian garage bands, and C# programming. I’m a young, old-fashioned generalist in an old, specialized world. I’m learning Akkadian. I rode through Asia on a motorbike.”

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    Great stuff!

    I also require an applicant to design and teach a class before I make the final decision.Jacob taught a class on the culture surrounding The Great Gatsby, using a film clip,pieces of art, a short reading and an analytical discussion with the class. The students ate it up. I hired him_I2A2194

     

    Echoing Juana, Jacob loves the freedom we’ve given him to follow his passions. As a film school graduate, he badly wanted to start a film program at the school, and he pitched it professionally. He now has the equipment and time to train students to use it, and is planning a film festival for February. He is actively collaborating with the rest of the staff to film exhibitions, unusual classes and school events. Half of his classroom is set up as a living room, with couches, chairs and lamps, over which hangs a large pull-down screen for viewing films.

    Jacob appears to have settled in for the long haul.

    Our new theater director, Steve Elm, had the task of bringing together six high school  students (no warning for them) to coach them into creating a cohesive production in 90 minutes (between 9:00 AM and 10:30 AM).

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    The result was nothing less than sensational.  Steve’s extensive theater experience is breathing energy and inspiration into the department and this is proving to be infectious.

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    We work extremely hard to find and retain people who will add to the richness of the mix we have. It is imperative that we hire people who will not only be successful teachers and mentors, but who will ultimately blend their own considerable strengths with those of the rest of the faculty as they grow into The New School community.

    Ode to the Math Department

  • by Eden Costagliola

    I have two pet peeves about the way people talk about math.

    The first is when people say, “Do the math.” Arithmetic is a very small part of mathematics, and many brilliant mathematicians are slow or inaccurate at arithmetic. From the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements we learned that we sometimes denigrate people in subtle ways through speech, and, for me, Do the math is a put down that discourages potential mathematicians.

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    My second pet peeve is the question, “When are we ever going to use this stuff?” Many students who struggle with math ask this question, which is often a veiled cry for help. Just as an eating disorder is not usually about eating, When are we ever going to use this stuff is not really about the application of math. I take the question as a sign that I need to analyze the situation and figure out how best to help the student, and, as the student begins to understand the math, he/she naturally begins to understand and apply it and therefore understand its value.

    Truth is, most mathematicians work entirely without numbers, and pure mathematics is truly an art form. A mathmatician is motivated by a kind of daydreaming curiosity and the beauty of mathematics, rather than some concrete problem. Students may never need to write a lab report in “real life,” but we still want them to understand the process and habit of mind of the lab report, because it’s the logical thinking of the lab report that they learn to apply in their lives. Higher level math is similarly about habits of mind, and traditionally these habits of mind begin with Algebra 1.

    With this in mind, I’d like to introduce you to The New School Math Department. While we teach traditional material in traditional sequence (i.e., Algebra 1 through AP Calculus), the methods by which we teach are examples of New School pedagogy in action. Our students give explanations and proofs both informally and formally; they teach and design projects that explore real world problems. Most importantly, we teach students how to think like mathematicians – to describe, visualize, represent symbolically, prove, check for plausibility, make conjectures, change or simplify problems, work backwards and closely re-examine problems.

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    The abstract concepts of mathematics are difficult for many students to grasp, but we teach our students to persevere. We find new ways to reach our students to build new and enhanced logical reasoning abilities. I often tell my students that the exercises they’re doing are stretching their brains to be capable of more complicated thought processes. This aspect of our classes cannot be undervalued, for that mental capacity is carried with them everywhere.

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    I like to believe we’re good at inspiring mathematical curiosity in our students. Our students continue thinking about mathematical ideas beyond class, and they sometimes come up with original ideas that they are curious enough to explore. Our math students also learn to appreciate the beauty of mathematical advancements, ideas, and logic in their historical context. Pure mathematics is an art form with a rich history and we share our love for that aspect with the students along with the practical applications.

    Critical Thinking is Creative Thinking

  • by Steve Roushakes           

    The most common expression in education today is the need for schools to teach critical thinking, and I couldn’t agree more. The problem, though, is that the term “critical thinking” is so widely and effortlessly used – it seems to be a catchall mission statement these days – I’m afraid it’s becoming meaningless. George Orwell rightly said that imprecise language leads to imprecise thought, and schools and educators need to define – for themselves – what they mean by critical thinking, if they want to make it the mission of their pedagogies, and if they want those pedagogies to serve their students well.

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    Of course there are many ways to define critical thinking, although most definitions, I find, revolve around the application of reason, as in:

    • Evaluating arguments
    • Solving problems
    • Distinguishing fact from opinion

    These are all good and equally valid definitions of critical thinking, and certainly great lessons and curriculums may be developed from these goals. I suppose, too, that such definitions are closest to the actual meaning of critical, which implies a keen and discerning judgment – an essential skill, for sure.

    But I like a more constructivist definition of critical thinking, one that emphasizes originality of thought and allows for the greatest possibility of informed ideas; a definition that defines critical thinking as a creative, rather than a judgmental, act. For me, critical thinking means:

    Creating meaning from information.

    Aren’t these – Meaning and Information – the two real platforms on the scale of education, and hasn’t Information been given greater weight in American education at the expense Meaning? 1492, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, stars convert hydrogen into helium through nuclear fusion, all dogs are descended from wolves, Martha Graham pioneered modern dance. All true, but where’s the corresponding meaning to these facts? Where’s the critical thinking?

    13566047401274783345scale2-2And the most important pedagogical question of all: How do you create meaning from information?

    At The New School, we believe that open-ended questions – essential questions – are the best approach towards teaching critical thinking. For example, for my English class on Romanticism, I began with the question What is the essence of Romanticism? which the students had to answer in a 30-minute presentation and Q&A – what we call an exhibition – at the end of our nine-week study. We read Rousseau, Goethe, Mary Shelley, Frederick Douglass; we examined the art of Friedrich, Blake, Turner; we listened to Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert; we studied nationalism and the rise of nation-states; and we sought to define the particularly Romantic concepts of the sublime, irony, and the self. Most importantly, we always read and discussed these works in the context of the essential question, which made the students engage those works critically throughout the course; after all, they would each be responsible for an informed answer to the question at the end of the class.

    I’m particularly fond of essential questions because they allow for this kind of student choice, which I think inspires engagement and motivation, and therefore leads to student success.

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    On exhibition day, no student gave an imbalanced presentation of pure information, because the essential question – What is the Essence of Romanticism? – engaged each student to create an informed and meaningful argument. Note, too, that an essential question has no one, correct answer and therefore allows the greatest possibility for student responses.

    What a fascinating series of presentations that day. The essence of Romanticism is…

    • A celebration of the uniqueness of each individual and the importance of self-realization (based on a close reading of Rousseau’s Confessions and Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave).
    • A fascination with the less rational forces in human nature (based on a close reading of Shelley’s Frankenstein and Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).
    • A defense of the importance and truth of human emotion (based on a close reading of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther).

    It’s exciting to teach in such an environment, where you provide a space for exploration and originality of thought – always grounded in informed reasoning and relevant information. And after fourteen years at The New School, I still feel the same perennial excitement as I look forward to a new year of student possibilities.

    Welcome back to school.

    September 2014

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    What is Educational Ownership?

  • by John Potter

    Typically, when students enter The New School, they have had few, if any, conversations about what it means to take charge of one’s education. They understand “education,” they understand “ownership,” but educational ownership? How do you own something as intangible as education?

    In these United States, where homeownership, car ownership – the mere notion of ownership – is so important, it’s puzzling why talk about educational ownership is so worryingly absent from our national discourse.

    At The New School, we believe that educational ownership is the foundational habit of mind of a quality education; and after 25 years, we understand, too, that it’s challenging teaching students to self-advocate and approach their learning from the concept of ownership. They’re just not used to it.

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    Making a point.

    A good case in point is incoming ninth graders. The majority of our new high schoolers have been steeped in an educational culture where the school does the owning – where the student’s curriculum is prescribed (English 9, Biology 9, etc.), where assessments are based on the memorization of facts and teachers’ opinions, where students are not even present at parent-teacher conferences. In contrast, our pedagogy and values make the student the center of his or her education. We allow students to choose their classes; we insist that students participate and add value to classroom learning through direct investigation and dialogue; and we require students to lead their academic conferences, with parents and teachers asking thoughtful questions.

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    Explaining..

    Indeed, ownership is largely derived from dialogue. This is not to say that there are no other contributing factors, but active, ongoing respectful dialogue between students and teachers in the classroom is crucial. Equally crucial is that students feel their ideas are valued. The classroom must carry a sense of egalitarianism (notwithstanding the fact that the teacher is in charge). This is one reason why students here are on a first-name basis with the faculty: it’s an equalizer, and it’s a factor that makes students colleagues, rather than passive participants, and brings them closer to the notion of ownership.

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    Collaboration

    If a woman owns a house, it’s safe to say that she chose that house; if a man owns a car, then it’s understood that he chose that car. It’s not hard to imagine how we would feel if the state dictated those kinds of ownership. We certainly would be far less invested in the state’s choice of car or house than if we made those choices ourselves. Translated into educational terms: giving students control, e.g., allowing them to choose their classes and giving them a space for their voices to be heard, results in them having a greater investment in their work. There’s nothing particularly radical about this idea; it’s the bread and butter of liberal arts college programs.

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    Problem solving

    Clearly we have to take means into account.  For an adult purchasing a car, it’s about money. For a student, whether in our program or that of a liberal arts college, it’s about motivation and acquired skills. Some may venture to say it’s about smarts as well. So in helping our students make choices about what they learn, we have to take their means into account. And that we do. The stage is then set for the student to develop his or her sense of ownership to a higher level. The higher it is, the easier the transition into college becomes.

    In a broader context, this sense of ownership can be incredibly powerful and often leads to empowerment and improvement in other parts of a person’s life. Ownership is a key component of educating the whole person in addition to preparing them for college. Ownership for young people is about growing up and having agency in their own lives.

    Art… An Extraordinary Expression of Self

  • Self is the core of who we are.

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    Jehee

    It is an infinitely deep well of renewal, connection and creation. My creative process is the search for and exploration of my infinite Self, to know and be present to my Self. In knowing my Self I know how I am different from all others and how I am the same as all others. I am extraordinary and ordinary. Connecting the two is the creative process. It is expressiveness going extraordinary. I want my students to find their extraordinary expressiveness.

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    Dmitri

    To truly open to one’s Self the artist should resist judgments and categorizations, be curious, be moving, shift perspective, boldly go where they have never been before. We are held by gravity, which allows us, equally, to fall and to fly, just as a bird pushed from its nest takes flight from its falling.

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    Kamryn

    In building an educational art studio that harbors and encourages the creative process, I strive to give the young artist-students protection and armor from the judgments of others, positive and negative, benign and aggressive. I am realistic about the futility of suppressing such powerful human traits, but I am convinced of the necessity of struggling toward that safety, while at the same time flirting with the danger of being wrong and failing. Necessary and inherent in the creative process is failure and, simultaneously, the faith that I am, in reality, worthy and, ultimately, safe.

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    Wang

    How do I teach the creative process? I don’t. Being creative is inherent to humans. It does not need to be taught. I get out of the way. I protect the space. I give them time. I display faith. I patiently wait for them to do what is inevitable: be creative. Persistently and very gently I prod their creative process along.

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    Dmitri

    I provide resources and media. When asked, I teach techniques. I remain curious about what the students are experiencing and what they are doing. I encourage them to doggedly go where their curiosity and excitement takes them. If they get joy from the process they will play long and hard at it. Their technical abilities will naturally grow and mature. They will work through the blocks and “failures.” The failures cease to be “failures.” The “failures” become information opening up directions, resources, and possibilities hidden by the students’ habits, assumptions, tendencies, reactions and finite vision. The creative process is a portal to the universe of infinite possibilities.

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    What Exactly IS a Liberal Arts Education?

  • By John Potter and Steve Roushakes      

    We describe The New School as a unique liberal arts education, but I sometimes wonder how people interpret the term “liberal arts” and subsequently envision our school. The term certainly does not mean an art-focused education, and we are not, then, an art school (though it’s true we have a reputation for excellence in the fine and performing arts). Rather, the liberal arts comprise a variety of disciplines that, together, form a foundation for higher learning. For us, it’s about creating a whole, thoughtful person with an agile mind. Let’s take a closer look.

    In the original sense, in classical antiquity, the liberal arts were those disciplines one studied to become a freethinking, “liberated” individual who is capable of independently responding to the world, and therefore fit for participation in civic life. Although the discipline make up of the liberal arts has changed over time – from classical antiquity, through the medieval and renaissance periods, to today – the term has always signified a broad, multidisciplinary basis of knowledge. Mathematics, science, art, and language are, together, the common core of the liberal arts.

    Today, the term liberal arts is most commonly used to describe undergraduate college curriculums that focus on fundamental skills of critical thought and informed expression through the study of the sciences, the arts, foreign language, and humanities. Liberal arts colleges also tend to have small classes and a faculty dedicated to teaching first, rather than research and publishing.

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    Socrates: an icon in the Pre-Dawn of Liberal Arts

    It’s with this liberal arts college model in mind – small classes, dedicated faculty, a broad curriculum encompassing mathematics, science, art, foreign language, and the humanities – that we like to call our school a unique liberal arts education.

    It’s the approach to the disciplines that makes the distinction; in a liberal arts education, the skills and competencies of each discipline are studied on their own terms, but they are treated as part of a larger goal of developing a well-educated individual. This difference is evident in virtually every aspect of our curriculum.

    In our view, a liberal arts education teaches a person how to think critically, how to analyze, synthesize, rearrange and integrate ideas and priorities. We feel that approaching liberal arts the way we do initiates the process of freeing a student’s mind to begin to realize its fullest potential. We feel strongly that our curriculum gives our students a very strong start in transitioning to college, particularly if it is a college focusing on the liberal arts.

    Constantly encouraging students to think and learn across disciplines is the core of what we do. Encouraging critical thinking, independent thinking, and applying reason through dialogue provides students with a range of skills that ultimately should be the foundation of all professions — particularly in a complex and rapidly-changing world.

    Schools that Engage Students: How Do We Create Them?

  • by Travis Cooper

    Before you read this post I’d like to ask you a favor. If you’re a teacher, I’d like you to take 30 seconds, close your eyes, and remember or imagine your favorite student. For parents, imagine the kind of student you’d like your child to become. Take a few seconds to think, remember, and smile.

    Thanks for playing along.

    If I can attempt to read your mind, I’d like to describe the student you’re thinking about. The student you’re remembering or imagining is motivated. She is interested in the topic at hand. He thinks broadly and makes connections between class discussions and the outside world. She works hard, collaborates with teachers and students often, and goes above and beyond what is expected of her. In short, these students are motivated and engaged! They represent the proverbial fire in the William Butler Yeats quote, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

    Because there is almost universal agreement about the importance of cultivating student engagement in schools, the guiding question for all of us is, “How do we engage students?” Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, suggests that there are three building blocks of motivation when creativity and higher level thinking are required: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Pink defines these terms as:

    Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives.

    Mastery: The desire to get better at something that matters.

    Purpose: The yearning to act in the service of something larger than ourselves.

    I think these three building blocks are a great place to start when we think about what kinds of schools are most likely to engage students.

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    Schools that put autonomy, mastery, and purpose at the heart of their curricula will have common elements. These schools will maximize student choice, foster a student’s ability to improve at his own pace, and help students identify connections between their own passions and the larger world. These schools will recognize that the responsibilities of learning should be largely placed on students. Teachers in these schools are viewed as coaches that help students improve on skills that both student and teacher have identified as areas for improvement.

    There are also barriers to building schools that focus on autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The large size of many schools makes offering a sufficient level of autonomy to create an individualized schedule and pick one’s own classes more difficult. Due to relatively structured schedules and time limitations, mastering academic and social skills at one’s own pace can be hard.

    Heavily structured curricula can also be the enemy of engagement. When students have no say in what they learn, they take a passive role in the classroom. Students in these environments are there simply to receive information, instead of to help create classroom content that offers a unique direction to the class.

    When we imagine the kinds of students we hope to create we must consider the environments and curriculum structures that we hope will cultivate these characteristics in our students. Schools that offer flexibility, individualization, and a platform for students to be purposeful offer the best model for engaging students. If we can build educational institutions that place autonomy, mastery, and purpose at the heart of what they do we can give the world the greatest gift: our favorite students.

    The Challenge of Putting “Technology” in Perspective

  •  By John Potter and Billy Pasour      

    “At the point of encounter there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know.”
    Paulo Friere

    In his important July 15th article, “Nothing Can Replace a Good Teacher,” Jay Mathews outlines the plight of Melvin Marshall, whose reading is four years behind grade level, and whose language arts class was taught entirely through the computer. Melvin had little to no interaction with his teacher on a daily basis, and recently a lawsuit has been filed on his behalf seeking to set right the flawed educational practice of “virtual learning.” We applaud Mathews for insisting that education without student-teacher collaboration is not, really, education.

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    Virtual learning “solves” two problems; it gives the teacher more time for clerical tasks, and standardizes assessment. Assessment is the real issue here. The argument is that standardized assessment acts as an early warning for ineffective teaching. Parents and politicians are deeply apprehensive of children’s minds being spoiled by overzealous or inept educators, so the methodologies of the teacher in the classroom become diverted from best practices and directed toward acceptable practices. In the case of Melvin Marshall, the teacher was diverted to the point of not actually teaching. This is the unintended and obvious consequence of policy based in fear.

    Learning is a human endeavor. It happens when two or more people with open minds convene in dialogue. Those in such a dialogue must recognize that their knowledge is incomplete, as is that of their dialogue partner, and faithfully work to integrate new ideas into their understanding. This type of dialogue is quite natural among friends, but is largely absent from our schools, where the knowledge conveyed by teachers, textbooks, and, now, software seems absolute and immutable. Learning becomes a matter of memory, yet memorizing is nothing like truly learning. Learning is to delve into the unknown and conquer it through reason.

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    Textbooks and their baggage

    To properly teach, teachers must be aware of their own ignorance, and accept that
    it is qualitatively no different from the students’ ignorance. The curriculum and methodologies in the classroom must support an exploratory approach that allows every member, including the teacher, to dialogue as equals, deepening each other’s relationship with the subject and other group members. In this setting, students are not locked out
    of knowledge by assessment, but rather assessment comes from the teacher herself, who best knows each student’s capabilities and contributions. Student and teacher alike are invested in the material, and the all-too-common question – when am I ever going to use this – doesn’t arise.

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    “People who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know” P. Friere

    Any educational aid which circumvents, rather than fortifies, the student-teacher relationship is not merely insufficient but altogether wrong-headed, and more attention needs to be paid to what we expect education to be before we try to design a solution to its shortcomings. As adults, former students fondly remember the teacher who touched their lives, not the worksheets that drilled information. What gives the art of teaching lasting value is a partnership between teacher and student forming deep intellectual connections that last a lifetime.

     

    High School Fundamental #1: Dialogue, Dialogue, Dialogue

  • By John Potter and Matt Willmott

    Jay Mathews, in his piece, “A visionary’s final ideas on fixing high schools,” observes the work, style and inspiration of Ted Sizer in a nicely measured and appropriately enthusiastic way. For member schools in The Coalition of Essential Schools, the Ten Common Principles provide an extraordinarily reliable set of guidelines.

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    By exploring the considerable academic advantages of oral exams, Mathews is touching on one of those principles in particular, that of the importance of authentic assessment. Coalition schools often use both student portfolios and student exhibitions as assessment tools, and when these are applied optimally there is heavy emphasis on the oral components (presentation, fielding questions and engaging in discussion).

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    Authentic assessments such as oral exams have many advantages over standardized testing: they give teachers a more nuanced sense of students’ actual accomplishments, and they let students know that they are expected to be able to do more than pass a standardized test. Moreover, they affirm to students that the educational experience is one that cannot be reduced to or summarized by a simple standardized test. It is something much richer.

    It is not uncommon to hear Coalition schools describe their pedagogy as “dialogic” — that is, involving an ongoing academic conversation among students, between students and teachers, and among teachers. The importance of an ongoing dialogic experience in high school is critical to an optimal learning environment. Students who participate in a dialogic model can feel a sense of ownership of their education; they see education as an evolving process, and they discover that, in that process, they have a voice and a role. In the end, they can emerge not only having the academic competencies one hopes secondary education will provide, but as self-aware, poised and inspired individuals.

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    Mathews is right. Finding ways to increase the emphasis on meaningful dialogue and orals could begin the essential transformation our education system so desperately needs.