Table of Contents
Code of Ethics (Oct 27/14)
Why Evaluate a Course or Program (Oct 27/14)
- Competencies, Qualities, or Characteristics Essential to Effective Instruction 3 separate articles (Oct 14/14)
- Can the teacher see his or her impact on students’ learning? (see Journal Entries Page – Oct 11/14)
- Essential Questions (see Journal Entries Page – Oct 11/14)
- Good Teaching (October 5/14)
- Changing Educational Paradigms Video (Oct 5/14)
Moodle Journal: Code of Ethics Journal Entry # 2
Code of Ethics
On p. 229 of the text, Brookfield uses the term “ethical pedagogy” referring to continuous assessment. I can remember very clearly taking courses that rested on a final exam worth 100%. This, today, might not be considered ethical. There are other practices and behaviors that would also not be considered ethical. Imagine that everyone in this course belongs to one college faculty. The Dean wants us to draft a departmental statement of ethical conduct in the design, delivery and evaluation of our courses. He asks all of us to submit two practices/behaviors that should be included in the document.
- Instructors must treat all students with dignity, must abstain at all times from words and behaviors that are hurtful, offensive, derogatory, isolating or degrading.
- Instructional techniques used inside or outside of the classroom, or when using on-line learning, will promote respectful dialogue that stimulates authentic learning through critical thinking.
I have two examples of incidents that support these two objectives
- An instructor was approached by a student and the student’s parent to discuss another student’s behaviors; behaviors that were intimidating, slandering and offensive. The instructor’s response to the situation was to place this student in the seat next to the student whose behaviors where unethical. Apparently the instructor’s tactic was to put them together so the student being ‘bullied’ would learn to stand up to the behavior.
- A parent asked their child what was causing her to become so upset and pessimistic about her ability to understand the grade 10 math curriculum (this student is an honor roll student). According to the child (who had spoken to friends who had been taught by this same instructor in years past) this instructor had a reputation of being ineffective and non-approachable when difficulties arose around class assignments. There would be derogatory verbal reprimands when a process or concept was not understood. After some discussion on tactics to manage this situation, including google tutorials, the parent and student approached a student counselor to request a change of instructor. This request was granted and the parent noted a quiet comment by the councilor that this instructor’s behaviors were well known. Several days later, the parent spoke with the councilor and was advised that the change of instructors for her daughter had caused a cascade of requests from other students to be transferred out of this particular class for similar reasons.
Both these situations are unfortunately true. Fortunately the examples of excellent teaching far outnumber the examples of poor teaching. It makes me sad to think that there are instructors out there that do not take their professional responsibilities seriously; after all, one instructor impacts the lives of many hundreds of students over the course of his/her career. The emotional implications of treating students in these two cases have the potential to be catastrophic on their future lives.
As a child and young adult I myself was very introverted and lacked self-confidence. I often found myself in situations where older kids or even my peers would taunt me for no reason that I could determine. I too remember going to teachers for help and being told to deal with it myself. I have a special place in my heart for quiet people in the classroom who find themselves ‘talked over’, never given a chance to speak, or not chosen to be in group projects etc.
I was blessed to be the only person in my family to go on to university; I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream to become a nurse. My mom’s best friend Auntie Florence was my role model and idol; I wanted to be like her. Nursing taught me how to speak up, to be proactive and confident in my abilities. I was blessed to have many wonderfully supportive influences in my life over the many years I have been nursing.
In nursing school I too experienced some interesting instructors but the ones I remember the most are the ones that treated me and others fairly and with respect; the instructors that helped us to memorize endless lists of side effects of drugs or signs of symptoms of diseases; the instructors who helped us to understand concepts and take all that we were learning and “put it all together”. The instructors that taught us how to treat patients with dignity, patience and caring touches when they were so very scared and confused; these are the instructors that I remember and want to emulate.
One of the frustrating things about teaching (and my own profession of nursing) is that it is difficult to identify and manage difficulties with instructors, it is difficult to reprimand and difficult to dismiss teachers with poor performances. Teachers often work alone in classrooms and if someone does come in to ‘observe’ for the day, their questionable behaviors can change for the day of observation only and then revert back to the ‘old familiar ways’. . Unions play an important role in our professions but their protection falls on both the good and the poor practitioners.
The actions and behaviors of an instructor have limitless influence on their students, influences that can and do last a lifetime. I have often wondered why certain instructors behave the way that they do; how did their instructors treat them? In his book The Skillful Teacher, Brookfield goes to great lengths to describe effective teaching and the characteristics of the skillful teacher. Imbedded into all of his characteristics are respect, authenticity, inclusion, fairness & honesty.
The instructor’s role is to promote learning through multiple techniques and activities; to engage with the students to gain a better understanding of their thoughts and perceptions in order to help them determine what ‘the next step’ will be in the learning process.
I also believe that teachers are to be role models for students. It is unavoidable that the learner will pick up the attitude and behaviors of the one guiding them through their learning journey. Instructors should be someone the students can feel free to come to when there are issues or situations that they feel unable or unprepared to manage on their own. The instructors role is not to solve the issue for the student but to guide them in ways to solve it themselves, to empower them and build their own problem solving skills and self-confidence. I must state that sometimes there will be personality differences or some other reason why a student and instructor have a difficult time working together; all the more reason to follow the processes stated in a well-documented and presented ‘Code of Ethics’.
I do not have ready answers to solve the above two issues, that is not the point of this journal entry; each situation requires individualized attention and care in order for it to be resolved amicably and successfully. I do believe that if the above two codes of ethics were adhered to the environment in our schools and institutions would benefit greatly and become places where asking for help is safe and expected; where instructors and students would have immeasurably greater and more positive impact on each other.
Upon reflection of these two codes of ethics, my goal is to be more aware of them and to ensure that they are a part of my practice. I want to portray these codes of ethics not just in the classroom but in my life in general. The office that I work in has a ‘Code of Ethics’ that is on the wall and utilized if appropriate when dealing with issues that arise amongst staff. It provides a baseline for everyone to follow and a tool to guide discussions when ‘sticky’ issues arise.
When we are clear about what we feel are appropriate and professional behaviors right from the start of our careers, right from the starting gate, we have guidelines on how to manage situations; we will not be floundering in the dark or be at the whim of our emotions; we will be in better control and have better insight and foresight.
I think that I would like to put a copy of the ‘Our Legal and Contractual Obligations’ document developed by Rocheleau & Speck (2007) on my office wall to remind myself and others of what I stand for, what I expect from myself and others. Maybe over time, I will develop my own personal ‘Code of Ethics’ – it’s certainly food for thought.
Brooksfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco
Rocheleau, J & Speck, B.W. (2007). Rights and wrongs in the college classroom: Ethical issues in postsecondary teaching. Boston, MA: Ankor Publishing.
Why Evaluate a Course or Program
Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation Model: Step 4: Results: What were the tangible results of the program in terms of reduced costs, improved quality, improved quantity, etc.? What has this training had on the business or the community?
My experience with evaluation of education provided has mainly been from the perspective of the learner. I receive the evaluation questions (often in the form of ‘survey monkey’ a few days after the class occurred), complete them and return them to the instructor or program. I have not found the information requested & gathered to be very insightful or in-depth. When I look at the questions I wonder why they are gathering the information because I do not see how it will provide information on what worked in the course and what didn’t’.
I have asked for feedback from my co-workers on my leadership skills and communication methods but never specifically on a class that I have taught. Even here I have found that the questions that I used were not designed in a manner to elicit the information that would be helpful to provide me with insight into what I have done well and what I should be focusing on to improve. After reading the assigned materials I will have a better understanding of how to formulate questions and what to ask
Either way, I am learning that in order to get the level of information that is useful to make improvements or to support the status quo a lot of thought needs to go into the questions being asked. My experience is that often the questions asked are the same from course to course, that the information gathered is not something that can be used to gather deep, insightful & thoughtful information.
I think the part of these evaluations that I struggle with is the ‘Impact’ of the course. Often people in my organization attend courses on leadership, mentorship, health literacy, Interprofessional collaboration, communication styles, etc. These are courses that hopefully promote a change in behavior but how is that measured? I may learn a lot during a course but how does it transcribe into a change of my practice?
I would like to see the summative evaluations of these courses better reflect what changes the learners will incorporate into their practice, how they plan to incorporate these changes and what will be a hindrance to incorporating these desired practice changes.
For example. One course is on Self Care Management, the goal is to change the focus of Home Health nursing, rehab etc. away from telling people how to manage their own chronic diseases and difficulties to more of a focus of them learning how to help themselves, how to manage their own diseases, to take ownership. The purpose is that people who know how to manage their own health issues will be more independent and successful in their lives in general, and less costly to the Health Care System.
The hope is to be more preventative in chronic disease management than reactionary. I can see the value in these courses and the tools that are provided to carry out the new way of seeing the health care professional’s role in the management of chronic diseases. But…I also know how difficult it is to change your practice. I would like to see our summative evaluative process include ways that the learners feel they will be able to incorporate these new techniques into their own practice as well as have them identify what they think they will not be able to incorporate. It’s easy to sit in a room and develop new techniques but if they are not practical, what’s the point? It is a waste of money and time.
Competencies, Qualities, or Characteristics Essential to Effective Instruction
Three Competencies, Qualities, or Characteristics Essential to Effective Instruction
- Inquiring nature
-This characteristic is essential, in my opinion, for effective instruction because the teacher must also be a learner. To effectively teach, one must keep up to date in their area of expertise and constantly be asking the important questions to ensure that the content, delivery, media selection, evaluation techniques, etc. are up to date and relevant.
-Another reason why I feel that this is an important characteristic, more specific to my field of practice which is nursing, is that as clinical instructors we must constantly be questioning and asking “why” to our students to stimulate critical thought. If a nursing instructor approaches a clinical placement group without a healthy dose of inquiry then a great deal of student assessment may be missed when observing and evaluating student practice.
-To effectively instruct one must be patient. Rushing through a lesson or rushing a student to physically or mentally achieve the intended learning outcome will inevitably lead to frustration and missed teaching and learning on both ends of the experience. When I first started instructing I was so enthusiastic to tell the students all that I knew and share my knowledge with anyone who would listen. I have since learned that this method of one sided knowledge sharing does not facilitate growth within my student population. Instead I have learned to plan seeds based upon my knowledge and to let the students grow the thoughts and connections themselves. This process then allows the students to have a degree of ownership over the knowledge (since they had to work for it). This method has provided me with great success but it requires patience in heaps. I must allow the students to fumble with their ideas, draw informed conclusions, present them to me, and often send them back to the textbooks to revise their conclusions (this is often out in clinical practice). In the end patience is key and I find the more patient I am the more comfortable the students are in my clinical group.
-As a nurse this characteristic is paramount in all aspects of my way of being (classroom, clinical, personal practice, and life in general). In the clinical setting is it easily clear why compassion is required; it is role modeled for my students, it benefits the patients, and it allows my students to feel cared for and supported as they are bombarded with new sights, sounds, smells, and skills. In the classroom setting compassion is also required because life is happening to these learners at the same time that they are studying nursing. There will always be outside interferences and speed bumps along the way that will require compassion from me, as instructor, to help my students achieve their academic nursing goals. I know that this characteristic is not one that all people will outline as one of their top priorities and in fact some may view it as a hindrance versus a tool toward efficacy. I stand firm by my assertion that in my nursing instruction, compassion is key to a successful relationship with my students and to their overall learning
In my job as an Adult Basic Education math tutor, I teach students who are upgrading their education by taking foundational math, which is equivalent to Grades 1 to 8 Math. Most of my students have had very negative experiences with math when they took it in school, with the result that they don’t believe anyone can teach them how to do math, and they don’t believe they can learn math. My job is to show them otherwise and the most important first step in having my students make progress is that I have to establish my credibility. And like Brookfield states in Chapter 4 of The Skillful Teacher, I do this through possessing expertise, presenting as experienced and providing a rationale for activities throughout the course (Brookfield, 2006, pp. 55-74).
As Brookfield points out, it is important to students that teachers are able to demonstrate that they are Subject Matter Experts as an indicator of credibility. I know from personal experience how important this is in establishing credibility with your students because I had a High School English Teacher who corrected my use of quotation marks, incorrectly. Further, he brushed off my objections. He was actually a PE teacher and was teaching Grade 9 English to fill out his course load, but this experience made me realize that he wasn’t a Subject Matter Expert and couldn’t be trusted as credible.
A second indicator of credibility that students look for is experience. They want to be reassured that no matter what the problem or event in the classroom, you’ll be able to handle it. Whereas demonstrating expertise reassures them they you can teach math, appearing to have experience reassures them that you can teach them. Being able to answer their questions without becoming flustered reassures them that no matter how badly they misunderstand the material, you’ll be able to correct their misunderstanding.
Thirdly, being able to provide a rationale for the activities in the course reassures the student that they’re not just doing the work for the sake of getting it done. This is important in my classroom, where many students can’t see the point in what they did in school. In order to get buy-in from them on doing this math program, I need to have a rationale for why I’m having them do each activity. Each unit in the math program has a similar layout – lessons, practice and self-test, followed by a test. I explain my rationale for doing each step in the program – that they do the work to prepare for the Self-test, which prepares them for the test. I want them to skip doing any of the lessons they feel they know already and just do the self-test. If they do well on it, they’re ready to do well on the test. So, if they want to skip doing the work, I let them, my rationale being that the mark they get on the self-test will either convince them that they’re ready for the test, or that they should do the work.
Base Group: What is Essential to Instructor Effectiveness?
Three Competencies, Characteristics or Qualities Essential to Instructional Effectiveness
- Structuring lessons: able to maintain a logical flow for each lesson (i.e. introduction, presentation, application, monitoring, and feedback, summary). Success of a learning activity can be deeply affected by the method of presentation chosen by the instructor. There are so many different methods to present course content, from videos, lectures, the flipped classroom, discussion forums (large & small groups), hands on activities (psychomotor), case studies, self-study etc. that the instructor has the ability to choose ones that are appropriate for each session. In order to be successful the methods of presentation of materials must to be adapted to fit the many variables that affect the learning environment from class culture, instructor/student ethnicity, knowledge levels, learner experience, variance in personalities etc.Lessons must also provide a realistic and utilizable purpose for what is to be learned. Adult learners want to know why it is important to learn this information, how it will affect them and what they can do with it. Feedback to the instructor is also essential in that it provides the instructor the information needed to adjust all of the above aspects of instruction as well as many more. It is the professional responsibility of the instructor to self-reflect on the what, when , where and how of their instruction in order to maintain and improve their competencies of their professional practice.
- Excellent instructors provide feedback in formative formats throughout the course; they do not wait for the end of the course to provide a summative evaluation that does not assist the learners along their journey of learning. Formative feedback is an integral part of learning & understanding as it provides the learner with direction on what has already been learned or accomplished and where further study is required in order to successfully meet the course objectives.
- Structuring a lesson is not just the presentation of the facts or concepts; it is also the activities that engage the learner in learning such as: chunking of information with discussion times or other activities in between that encourage reflection on the content. This allows time for the solidification of what is to be learned into the thoughts, beliefs and views of the learner; it allows the learner to “make sense” of what was just taught; it also allows connection to previously learned information.
- The best lessons I have been involved in have had a feature that I feel is essential to their success: there is a logical structure and flow to the lesson. Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like the little metal ball in a pinball machine, trying to organize thoughts and connect the information and concepts into a form that makes sense is impossible when the instructor is bouncing all over the place with the course material. If effective teaching involves critical thinking, problem solving, connecting old information to new information, reflection etc. then the course content (in whatever form that it takes) must be presented in a consistent, intelligent and rational format.
- Listening: able to use active listening skills such as paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, and using encouragers.Effective teachers have effective listening skills. You cannot be effective at teaching if you do not take the time to understand what is being said and why. Active listening is a skill that is learned, few of us are born active listeners. Reflection of feelings is when you think deeply and carefully about what has been said or done. It involves understanding the deeper meaning behind words; it is contemplating, deliberating and meditating what the speaker is trying to do or say. The following excerpt was taken from: Skills You Need (n.d.). Listening Skills. 1. Stop Talking2. Prepare Yourself to Listen3. Put the Speaker at Ease4. Remove Distractions5. Empathise6. Be Patient7. Avoid Personal Prejudice8. Listen to the Tone9. Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words10. Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication
- Gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movements can all be important. We don’t just listen with our ears but also with our eyes – watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication.
- You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces. Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With proper concentration, letting go of distractions, and focus this becomes easier.
- Volume and tone both add to what someone is saying. A good speaker will use both volume and tone to their advantage to keep an audience attentive; everybody will use pitch, tone and volume of voice in certain situations – let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.
- Try to be impartial. Don’t become irritated and don’t let the person’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what they are really saying. Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are for example more nervous or shy than others, some have regional accents or make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace whilst talking – others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.
- A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished. Be patient and let the speaker continue in their own time, sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for someone
- Try to understand the other person’s point of view. Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathise with the speaker. If the speaker says something that you disagree with then wait and construct an argument to counter what is said but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.
- Focus on what is being said: don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window, pick your fingernails or similar. Avoid unnecessary interruptions. These behaviours disrupt the listening process and send messages to the speaker that you are bored or distracted.
- Help the speaker to feel free to speak. Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue. Maintain eye contact but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.
- Relax. Focus on the speaker. Put other things out of mind. The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts – what’s for lunch, what time do I need to leave to catch my train, is it going to rain – try to put other thoughts out of mind and concentrate on the messages that are being communicated.
- Don’t talk, listen. When somebody else is talking listen to what they are saying, do not interrupt, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop, just listen. When the other person has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.
- Retrieved from: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ipn/listening-skills.html#ixzz3Fo1usc53
- Using encouragers is when the teacher appropriately encourages students in their learning journey. It is not providing answers or showing someone how to find an answer, it is helping the learning to find their own ways of reaching conclusions, it is inspiring learning, reassuring the learner of their abilities & strengthening the learners own resources.
- Paraphrasing is when the listener first listens to what is being said and then repeats it back to the speaker using different words. It is a means used to gain an accurate understanding of what is being said.
- “Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Listening is key to all effective communication, without the ability to listen effectively messages are easily misunderstood – communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.” (Skills You Need. n.d.)
- Responding to learners: able to respond intelligently, professionally, and in a timely manner, to learner questions, needs, problems, or objections. As mentioned above, timely feedback on assignments, answers to questions (find the answer if you don’t know it), assistance with problems and addressing objections are core professional competencies of the instructor.“1. Presenting content: able to deliver content in a conversational yet articulate manner that conveys expertise on the subject matter. 3. Structuring lessons: able to maintain a logical flow for each lesson (i.e. introduction, presentation, application, monitoring, and feedback, summary). 5. Building and maintaining climate/rapport: able to create a warm and friendly learning climate through enthusiasm, sense of humor, and genuine interest in learners. 7. Questioning: able to pose clear, concise questions that will generate valuable discussion or challenge the learners, give clear answers, and handle challenges appropriately. 9. Observing performance: able to observe the application of skills and knowledge and identify areas that are done well, as well as areas for improvement. 11. Responding to learners: able to respond intelligently, professionally, and in a timely manner, to learner questions, needs, problems, or objections. 13. Audio-visuals: able to work with a variety of audio-visual devices (e.g. flip charts, multimedia equipment, etc.) to help enhance the presentation of course material. 15. Adult learning principles: able to use training techniques that will draw on the experience of adult learners and appeal to their adult learning needs.”References
- Skills and Knowledge. (2014.October.) Instructor Competencies. Retrieved from: www.langevin.com/road/bin/…/instructor_competency_assessment.pdf
- 14. Organizing logistics: able to organize and coordinate materials and classroom set-up.
- 12. Applying non-verbal communication: able to make eye contact, suitable facial expressions, and gestures that convey a calm and confident attitude.
- 10. Giving feedback: able to provide learners with positive, constructive feedback that identifies ways to improve their performance.
- 8. Listening: able to use active listening skills such as paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, and using encouragers.
- 6. Involving learners: able to interact with learners in a positive way that encourages participation and holds learner attention.
- 4. Facilitating groups: able to recognize signs of difficulty and other learner reactions and responds in a flexible and appropriate manner to address learner needs.
- 2. Managing time: able to manage time appropriately during a course (i.e. a third of the time spent on the presentation of content and two-thirds on application and feedback).
- Each type of Profession has its own definition of core competencies that are expected behaviours of the professions members. Instructor core competencies include, but are not exclusive to:
- In order to respond intelligently, professionally, and in a timely manner, to learner questions, needs, problems, or objections the instructor must be knowledgeable in the course content. It is not enough to just recite facts and figures; the instructor must also have a deeper understanding of the information and be able to use it in practical, productive & effective ways.
Good Teaching: A Matter of Living the Mystery Parker Palmer Good teaching is an act of generosity, a whim of the wanton muse, a craft that may grow with practice, and always-risky business. It is, to speak plainly, a maddening mystery. How can I explain the wild variety of teachers who have incited me to learn– from one whose lectures were tropical downpours that drowned out most other comments, to one who created as arid silence by walking into class and asking, “Any questions?”
Good teaching cannot be equated with technique. It comes from the integrity of the teacher, from his of her relation to subject and students, from the capricious chemistry of it all. A method that lights one class afire extinguishes another. An approach that bores one student changes another’s life.
Faculty and administrators who encourage talk about teaching despite its vagaries are treasures among us. Too many educators respond to the mystery either by privatizing teaching or promoting a technical “fix.” The first group uses the variability of good teaching as an excuse to avoid discussing it in public–thus evading criticism of challenge. The second group tries to flatten the variations by insisting on the superiority of this or that method of subtlety. In both quarters, the far-ranging conversation that could illumine the mystery when we think of it as a “black box,” something opaque and impenetrable that we must either avoid or manipulate by main force. Mystery is a primal and powerful human experience that can neither be ignored not reduced to formula. To learn from mystery, we must enter with all our faculties alert, ready to laugh as well as grown, able to “live the question” rather demand a final answer. When we enter into mystery this way, we well find the mystery entering us, and our lives are challenged and changed.
Good teachers dwell in the mystery of good teaching until it dwells in them. As they explore it alone and with others, the insight and energy of mystery begins to inform and animate their work. They discover and develop methods of teaching that emerge from their own integrity–but they never reduce their teaching to technique. I want to share a few reflections on the mystery of good classroom teaching, whether in large lecture halls or small seminars. I want to name some of its challenges, and suggest some responses, without treating it as a “problem to be solved.” Only by
doing so, it seems to me, can we enlarge the community of discourse that might encourage more and more of us to teach well.
The Transaction Called Knowing
The knowledge we deal with in the classroom has not only a content but also a characteristic way of imaging the transaction been the know and the known. In the present “canonical” Debate over what knowledge we should teach, more debate over how we gain knowledge would help if good teaching is our aim. (In fact, a hidden conflict among diverse modes of knowing continually confounds the debate over which texts merit full canonical status.)
The academy has been dominated by an objectivist image of knowing that holds the knower at arm’s length from the known so that “subjective” biases will not distort our knowledge. This image of knowing both reflected in and conveyed by our dominant mode of teaching, which, as Dewey said, turns education into a spectator sport. Students are kept in the grandstand so they can watch the pros play the knowledge game but not interfere with its “objectivity”.
Reformers have railed against this pedagogy. It makes learning passive and joyless, and it turns too many educated people into spectators of life itself. But many efforts at pedagogical reform have failed because the problem cannot be solved on the level of technique alone. The performer-spectator classroom to simply a faithful rendering of the objectivist epistemology. If the last word in knowing is to keep subjectivity at bay, then the last word in teaching will be to keep students off the field.
More engaging way of teaching will take root only as we explore more engaged images of knowing– especially of “objective” knowing. Few of us want to throw out the Enlightenment baby with the objectivist bathwater. But we can no longer teach as if there were a reality “out there” that can be mirrored by logical-empirical propositions. This image of objectivity ignores the way reality is shaped by an interplay of knower and known, and it leads to teaching with no higher aim than making sure that students get the propositions straight.
The only objective knowledge we have is the provisional outcome of a complex transaction in which many subjectivities check and balance each other. It is a fluid process of observation and interpretation, of consensus and dissent, conducted within a far-flung community of seekers who agree upon certain assumptions, rules, procedures — many of which are themselves up for debate. This, I think, is an image of objectivity that is faithful to the way we know. It is also an image that clarifies the goal of good teaching: to draw students into the process, the community, of knowing.
“To teach is to crate a space in which the community of truth is practiced.” That image of teaching has given me guidance in recent years, as has a related image of truth: “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” Good teaching, whatever its form, will help more and more people learn to speak and listen in the community of truth, to understand that truth is not in the conclusions so much as in the process of conversation itself, that if you want to be “in truth” you must be in the conversation.
I do not mean that every classroom must be turned into a discussion section. The “conversation” of truth can and must be internal as well as external– internally, it is called “critical thinking.” That teacher of mine who walked in and asked, “Any questions?” created a space for external conversation. But the teacher who rained words had a way of arguing with himself that opened the subject up rather than shutting it down. His lectures crated a space for debate within me, a debate that goes on to this day. Both of those good teachers knew that the relation of knower to known is not distanced and static but interactive and evolving. They know that objectivity at its best is a commitment to critical discourse.
On Content and “Covering the Field”
When conversation, internal or external, is named as one quality of good teaching, some teachers get nervous about the need to “cover the field.” They feel obliged to deliver large numbers of facts that students simply must master, facts that neither require nor abide “conversation” of any sort–they are what they are. Of course, some of this reaction comes from confusing education with memorization, and some of it comes from forgetting that an educated person should know where “facts” come from. But, some if it is well placed. There are subjects that require students to master much factual material. How does good teaching deal with that demand?
Not best, I think, by non-stop lecturing, where our efforts to “cover the field” often do exactly that– they bury topics in a blizzard of information, obscuring them from the students’ view. The fact- laden lecture is probably the least desirable way to get the facts across. Not only are students easily overwhelmed by all that data, but are likely to get the facts wrong to boot. Far too many lecture courses resemble the “telephone game” where messages get mauled on their brief but perilous journey from speaker’s mouth to listener’s ear.
Surely the best way to deliver the facts is not with lectures but on the printed page or computer screen where they can be read, and read again, studied and reviewed. Perhaps it is not a sense of responsibility that leads to lectures burdened with facts. Perhaps it is lethargy that keeps us from finding or crating the texts that could give our students the factual grounding they need.
When we deliver the facts on paper, we free the classroom for various exercises in generating facts, understanding facts, using facts, seeing through the facts–exercises that might draw our students into the community of truth. One such approach I call “teaching from the microcosm.”
Every discipline is holographic. One can find small pieces of it that represent the whole. A critical episode in a novel, a particular historical event, a classic puzzle in science–any of these, properly approached, can be the grain of sand in which a world is revealed. In my own discipline, sociology, I once taught methods of social research, and I would spend up to two weeks taking students inside a single statistical table, a microcosm that discloses the basics I wanted them to learn.
Imagine a simple four-cell table that correlates race (black, white) with income (high, low). The table stays on the board for six sessions while I lecture a little and ask a lot of questions, encouraging my students to respond not only to me but to each other’s answers. Can people really be divided into “black” and “white”? How–by observation or self- assignment? How reliable are the various ways of determining race? If race is really a continuum of traits, what is our warrant for using discrete categories? What are the consequences of doing so- -for science, for persons, for society?
The questions go on and on as we turn to the concept of income, the general idea of concepts and indicators, modes of data collection and their validity, the logic of correlation, the social implications of such findings, the ethics of social research. Unlike the objectivist strategy of keeping students outside the subject as observers and manipulators, the microcosm approach brings them inside the subject as participants and co-creators of knowledge. After two weeks of dwelling critically in this simple table, many of my students were able to negotiate parts of the larger world of social inquiry and its findings.
The Autobiographical Connection
If it is important to get students inside a subject, it is equally important to get the subject inside the students. Objectivism, with its commitment to holding subjectivity at bay, employs a pedagogy that purposely bypasses the learner’s life-story. Objectivism regards autobiography as biased and parochial and hopes to replace it with “universal truth,” as told through a particular discipline.
The challenge of racial and cultural minorities to higher education comes in part from their refusal to accept the validity of a “universal” tale that does not honor the particularities of their own stories. Feminist and black scholars, for example, compel those of us who promulgate universal truth to consider the possibility that our super-story has persisted less because of its persuasiveness that because of our political power. If there is a valid super-story it will emerge only as the academy becomes what it is meant to be, but is not yet: a place of true pluralism where many stories can be told and heard in concert.
Of course, everyone’s story is, in part, parochial and biased. But when we deal with that fact by ignoring autobiography, we create educated monsters who know much about the world’s external workings but little about their inner selves. The authentically educated person is one who can both embrace and transcend the particularity of his or her story because it has been triangulated many times from the stand points of other stories, other disciplines–a process that enriches the disciplines as well. When autobiography and an academic discipline are brought into “mutual irradiation” the result is a self illuminated in the shadows where ignorance hides and a discipline warmed and made fit for human habitation.
By intersecting knowledge and autobiography we not only encourage intellectual humility and offer students self-understanding, we also make it more
likely that the subject will be learned. When students do not see the connection between subject and self, the inducement to learn is very low. I know a geology professor whose students keep journals on the personal implications of each session to help them remember that the rocks they study are the rocks on which they live. I know a college where students are asked to explore the childhood roots of their vocational decisions (or confusions). In these ways, curiosity about the self can empower curiosity about the world.
When class size prohibits methods such as these, a teacher can help connect self and subject by giving away one of the academy’s best-kept secrets: the major ideas at the heart of every discipline arose from the real life of a real person–not from the mind alone, but from the thinker’s psyche, body, relationships, passions, political and social context. Objectivism tries to protect its fantasy of detached truth by presenting ideas as cut flowers, uprooted from their earthy origins. But good teachers help students see the persons behind the ideas, persons whose ideas often arose in response to some great suffering or hope that is with us still today.
We teachers can also show students how the ideas we care about are related to our own life stories. Many students will be surprised to learn that their teachers–separated from them by pages of age and authority and vocation–even have lives. They will be even more surprise to learn that our intellectual interest arise from the larger lives we lead, that the two enrich each other. That, after all, is why many of us became scholars and teachers–and our teaching will become more vivid as we let the secret out.
Hearing Students Into Speech
If good teaching depends on drawing students and their stories into the conversation called truth, then good teachers must deal with the fact that many students prefer to sit silently on the sidelines. Students have blocked interactive teaching at least as often as have faculty. Many of them do not want to suffer the conflict and ambiguity of external conversation, and some try to avoid inward debate for the same reason.
If we are to treat their condition, we need an accurate diagnosis. It is inaccurate, though common, to attribute most student speechlessness to laziness of stupidity–and that diagnosis usually leads to teaching that is more punitive than provocative. Instead, I suggest, the silence of many students is the result of disempowerment that leads to privatization. Students are often marginal to the society by virtue of their youth, their lack of a productive role, their dependency on the academy for legitimization. Deprived of any sense of public place or power, they withdraw into the private realm where they keep their thoughts to themselves and sometimes, from themselves.
“Hearing people into speech” is a phrase I first learned from the women’s movement, and similar imagery can be found among blacks and liberation theologians. In those quarter, the diagnosis of speechlessness is not accusatory by compassionate; the silent one is understood as the victim of a system that denies his or her story, that ignores or punishes people who tell tales that threaten the standard version of truth.
The remedy is clear: establish settings where silenced voices can be heard into speech by people committed to serious listening. The classroom can be such a setting—if the teacher will work hard to gain credibility with students who have learned that silence is the safer way. Credibility comes as the teacher empathizes with the voiceless and with their struggle to speak and by heard.
There are many practical ways of “hearing people into speech.” Teachers who must lecture much of the time can honor minority viewpoints on their subjects, giving minority students a sense that alternative voices can be spoken and heard. Even in the largest classes, it is not necessary to lecture all the time; some materials can be presented by questioning (as in the “microcosm” approach), and, if the questions are neither rhetorical nor catechetical, students will want to respond. When those responses come, teachers can hear people into speech by respecting their responses—which does not require assenting to false claims. The familiar problem of a few students speaking a lot while the majority remain mute can be controlled in many ways: I sometimes allow each student only three chances to speak, thus allowing the quieter ones to find an opening.
With smaller classes, when a divisive issue is up for debate and my students retreat into privatism, I sometimes give each of them a 3″ x 5″ card and ask that he of she write a few lines expressing a personal opinion on the issues. I collect the cards and redistribute them so that no one knows whose card he or she is holding. Then I ask each student to
read that card aloud and take sixty seconds to agree or disagree with what it says. By the time we have gone around the group, the issue has been aired, diversity has been exposed, the unspeakable may have been spoken, and a foundation for real conversation has been laid.
“Hearing people into speech” is as pertinent to science as it is to social science and the humanities. Think, for example, of the gender stereotyping that has often discouraged women from pursuing scientific careers. If the work of such scientists as Barbara McClintock and her biographer, Evelyn Fox Keller, were more widely read in science courses, more women might be heard into scientific discourse. Or think of the implications of eugenics for some disfranchised groups. Students who represent those groups must be helped to find their scientific voices lest they be speechless in the face of the next silent holocaust.
Conflict, Competition, and Consensus
Contrary to its reputation and self-image, the academy is a place where conflict is often privatized, not openly aired. If we practice the community of truth in our teaching, if we intersect our subjects with autobiography and hear more people into speech, we will experience more public conflict than the academy is accustomed to, or even appreciates. Our fear of public conflict is a major barrier to creating spaces where the community of truth can be practiced. If we want to remove that barrier, we must remind ourselves—and help our student to learn—that conflict can be a paradoxical path to health and harmony for persons and groups.
Many people regard conflict as terminal rather than creative because they have experienced it in setting that are competitive rather than consensual. In competition, the purpose of conflict is to determine which few will win at the expense of the many. In consensus, everyone can win through conflict as the clash of apparent opposites gives rise to fresh, fuller truth.
A consensual classroom assumes that truth requires many view and voices, much speaking and listening, a high tolerance for ambiguity in the midst of a tenacious community. Consensual truth is not the outcome of majority vote. It is a continuing revelation that comes as we air our differences in public, pay special heed to those who dissent, and seek deeper insight—whether the subject is a statistical table, a laboratory experiment, episode in history, or an epic poem. Since consensual truth is the only truth we have, it is vital that students be brought into the process and into the conflict it contains.
Paradoxically, the most important thing a teacher can do to encourage classroom conflict is to make the classroom a hospitable space. Only under these conditions are students likely to do the hard things on which consensus-making depends—exposing one’s ignorance, challenging another’s facts or interpretations, claiming one’s own truth publicly and making it vulnerable to the scrutiny of others. When the classroom is a hostile place, students either withdraw into privatisim for safety or engage in public posturing to score points.
To give my students experience of conflict in a consensual setting, I sometimes use a simulation game. The game poses a problem that individuals first solve privately. Then small groups are turned loose on the problem after being given a simple set of conflict-consensus rules—e.g., “Present you views clearly, but listen to reactions before pressing your point.” “Don’t change your mind just to achieve harmony.” “Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority vote, coin-flips, bargaining.” “When stalemate comes, don’t assume that some must win while others lose; seek a solution acceptable to all members.” “Remember that consensus does not require that everyone love the solution, but only that no one be strongly opposed to it.” The rules authorize and guide the vary conflict that students want to avoid.
When the game is over, individual and group solutions are scored for accuracy. If a group has followed the rules, the group score is almost always better than the average of individual scores—and it is often better than the best individual score in the group. When these results are not achieved it is often because the group failed to follow the rules. By playing the game, students learn that all of us together can be transferred from the simulated problem to the real problems we are studying.
In classes too large to permit corporate inquiry through conflict, lecturers can at least remind students where “the facts” come from. They come not from immutable authorities but from very human communities that have sustained creative (and some non-creative) conflict for centuries, a conflict that continues even as we teach and learn the facts. A teacher whose class is too large to allow
the outward conflict of a learning community can evoke the inward conflict called critical thinking.
The Nemesis of Evaluation
Any case for consensual teaching and learning can founder quickly on the shoals of grading. How can a teacher draw students into non-competitive inquiry when the academy’s system of evaluation seems to require competition?
The first step is firmly to reject the notion that grading on the curve, with its forced competition, has any educational merit, and to insist, instead, that if everyone receives and “A” it might be the result of superb teaching and learning rather than sloppy standards, Another possibility is to allow each student to determine, within stated limits, what proportion of his or her grade will hinge on exams, papers, discussions, lab work, outside projects, etc. By allowing students to lead with their strengths rather than weaknesses, some of the anti- educational effects of competition are migrated.
Teachers can give students a chance to have their work evaluated several times before it must be finished. Grading then becomes more a tool of learning and growth than a final judgment on the final product. But the largest leap a teacher can take beyond competition and toward consensus is to stop attaching grades exclusively to individuals and start assigning group tasks for which every member receives the same grade. When the academic reward system is used to make student rely on each other, the skills of consensus are more likely to be learned.
When our fears as teachers mingle and multiply with the fears our students, teaching and learning become mechanical, manipulative, lifeless.
If teaching and learning is to become a corporate enterprise, students need a chance to evaluate teachers, too. I do not mean the kinds of evaluations that are collected on questionnaires and published as consumer guides. I mean the kind that can be conducted publicly at the end of every second or third class, a time of open reflection of how things are going (based on criteria that students help identify early in the course) so that mid-course corrections can be made. When a class knows that it will progress, everyone —the teacher included— comes to class with more intention and wit, more sense of being in this together.
The Courage to Teach
The word “courage” comes from a root that means “heart,” and I like to transpose the words. How can we develop and sustain, in ourselves and each other, the heart for good teaching (assuming that the mind is already available)? Good teaching requires courage—the courage to explore one’s ignorance as well as insight, to yield some control in order to empower the group, to evoke other people’s lives as well as reveal one’s own. Furthermore, good teaching sometimes goes unvalued by academic institutions, by the students for whom it is done, and even by those teachers who do it. Many of us “lose heart” in teaching. How shall we recover the courage that good teaching requires?
We need institutional support in response to that question—workshops and institutes on teaching, promotion and tenure policies that reward good teaching as handsomely as good research. But we need even more to do the inner work that good teaching demands. “Taking heart” to teach well is a profoundly inward process, and there is no technique or reward that will make it happen.
Taking heart means overcoming the fears that block good teaching and learning. Fear is a driving force behind objectivism, that mode of knowing that tries to distance us from life’s awesome energies and put us in control. Fear is a driving force behind the kind of teaching that makes students into spectators, that pedagogy that tries to protect both teacher and subject from the give-and-take of community, from its rough-and-tumble. When our fears as teachers mingle and multiply with the fears inside our students, teaching and learning become mechanical, manipulative, lifeless. Fear, not ignorance, is the great enemy of education. Fear is what gives ignorance its power.
In is original meaning, a “professor” was not someone with esoteric knowledge and technique. Instead, the word referred to a person able to make a profession of faith in the midst of a dangerous world. All good teachers, I believe, have access to this confidence. It comes not from the ego but from a soul-deep sense of being at home in the world despite its dangers. This is the authority by which good teachers teach. This is the gift they pass on to their students. Only when we take heart as professors can we “give heart” to our students—and that, finally, is what good teaching is all about.
PARKER J. PALMER holds the Ph.D. in sociology from UC-Berkeley and has taught at Beloit, Georgetown University, the Pacific School of Religion, and the Quaker Center, Pendle Hill. His most recent book on education is To Know As We Are Known (Harper and Row). Dr. Palmer conducts lectures and workshops on new ways of knowing , teaching and learning. He can be reached at Box 55063, Madison, WI 53705.
Changing Education Paradigms
Sir Ken Robinson