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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Miguel Shares a Story About Teaching as an Art Form

Miguel Guhlin has become one of my favorite edubloggers. He has a humble tone, he is down-to-earth, and he has the knowledge to make his readers think. In a recent post (same day as this one) Miguel discusses the need to take action. We do indeed suffer from paralysis by analysis in the education world. More data simply postpones action, and yet we want to be able to claim that we make data-driven decisions (See Jeff's comment in my previous post).

In the midst of Miguel's commentary, he quotes an education student, Karlana, as saying,
I feel the problem educators face today is that current generations are so involved with the television, Internet, computers, video games, and anything else under the sun, that we now have to compete for that even shorter attention span than what educators had over a decade ago! Educators now have to become quite innovative, and that in itself is quite a unique challenge. You have to not only figure out what the students are involved in and interested in, but also find a way to integrate this information into using technology in order to get quality work out of the students.

I must confess, I did not want to copy the whole thing here, but Karlana has just written a piece of a conversation I had with my son less than 2 hours earlier. Brant, my son, is an education student as well. He was studying before we took our dog for a walk. During the walk, Brant relayed some general information about attention span; that it is about 1 minute for each year of age - 5 year-olds have about a 5 minute attention span.

I took the conversation as a time to impart my limited wisdom. I asked, "If that is true, then how do 15-year-olds sit for 90 minutes to watch a movie?" It was a set-up question. Brant said, "Good point." I didn't want him to cave so easily, so I led him a little. "Don't you think that's why there is a different camera angle, scene, or something visual every 2 to 3 seconds...to provide a false change so the movie keeps your attention?" Again, Brant said, "Good point." He is a math guy. Few words, just get to the point kinda guy. But I could tell the wheels were spinning in his head.

I told him the attention span issue is one of perspective. If the material is good, you keep attention longer. If the material isn't good, you have to change your angle...not camera angle, but your angle of presentation to the students. Unfortunately, in the climate of high-stakes testing, standards, and the scientific (if you do A, and then B, your students will know C) process of canned teaching, most material we present to students isn't that good...in their eyes...which are the only ones that matter.

Teachers, good teachers anyway, must be able to change their angle of presentation for their students. That, my friends, is an art form. It is akin to the director getting 20 shots of the same scene to tell their story. Then the producers choose which scene is the best.

Karlana and Brant will have numerous exposures to the science of teaching. Karlana and Brant, I think, are both asking the question (though they may not know how to word it), "What I'm learning in my ed-prep program may not be enough to keep the attention of my future students...heaven knows it didn't keep my attention. I want to be a good teacher for my students. What is it that I am missing?"

Karlana and Brant - you aren't missing much. Know your material. (You probably already do.) Keep in touch with the youth culture as you get older. What motivates them? What keeps their attention? Why is it that they can play Guitar Hero for hours - what is it about the game? You know what motivates you, and you're not too far removed from the K-12 classroom that it won't work in the beginning of your career. Take the curriculum you are given to teach your students, find the methods that your students will stay attentive to (the art form), and plow forward. You will not learn this in your ed-prep program.

By the way, thank you Mr. Stein for teaching me how to calculate percentages, change them to decimals, and have a clue what that all meant, by using the backside of baseball cards in 8th grade. He wasn't my math teacher...he taught science. I don't think I ever learn math from a math teacher.

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