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Archive for July, 2008

Sometimes stark contrasts just fall into your path.  In one meeting today, a faculty member wanted to know more about why class participation is important and how to grade it.  We had a delightful conversation, unpacking what we mean by “class participation”  and I got to pull out stuff about constructivist theories of knowledge, and what piece conversation plays in learning vs. what part reading plays vs. what part lab time and experiential learning play, etc.  We discussed formative and summative assessment, and also what her content is about and Bloom’s Taxonomy and how you can apply it to all content areas…  We were both so engaged, and she was writing furiously and coming up with ideas for her class that she was quite excited about.  She had new frameworks to work within to help her and her students be more satisfied.  Ahhhh.  That is a good day for me.

But then, I went to meet with an older professor turned partial administrator on a non-teaching matter.   When asked what I do in my new job, I explained that a big part of it is working with faculty to make community-based learning truly integrated in courses, and to look at their learning objectives and match them with community partners, to design assignments so the students are reflecting and bringing the experience into the class in ways that encourage rigourous application of the course content, and assessment, and…  He stopped me there.  “Are you working with the Institutional Effectiveness people? Because I know we have to do all that for SACs but I have to tell you I think it is all crap.”  I tried to say that phd’s are experts in their fields, but when do they ever get to learn about how people learn in a classroom?  “We have faculty mentors,” he said.  I refrained from making a blind-leading-the blind comment.

How insulted would someone be if I stepped in to a, say, psychology classroom and said “I know all about this human brain stuff.  I have one myself and have been using it for 40 years!”  I do not dispute that there are some people who have a natural knack for teaching.  And I know that not everything that will make someone a successful teacher can be learned in an education class.  Still–between those two extremes is a wide world of conversation and support and development and information.  Some lucky people may have a great mentor.  Most faculty I hear from don’t have very good mentors.  More importantly, the first faculty member walked away energized and inspired (and so did I).  The second one was going to do it the way he’s always done it, and  all conversation was shut down.

My friend Val always says: go with the living.  Don’t focus on those who don’t want what you have to offer (the dead); focus on and support those who DO want stimulation (the living).  I am happy to report we have enough living faculty here to keep me busy for a long time.  But what scares me is that we have some of the dead in positions of power.  That scares me.

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Buried in the Times Dispatch today was an article on the study done of the Henrico “One to One” Initiative.  Is it cynical to say that if the report had come back negative, the study would have been on page one? I’m too pleased to be cynical now, so disregard that…

My favorite quote is:

“Students say their teachers lecture less and walk around the room, interacting with students more. They also report more group projects and differentiated instruction. ”

It has taken years of hard work to get to this point, and it asked a lot of teachers to make these kinds of changes to their teaching strategies.   To the school board and administration who did not fold to the pressures of a vocal minority: congratulations on your vindication.  And thank you for giving my children the opportunity to stay engaged when the SOLs were driving them toward checking out…

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