professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Moving target

I appreciate reports that talk about the attributes of good teachers. However, I am growing more and more annoyed when they refer to research without actually mentioning something specific I might track back to in my reading. Such is the case with this recent post: From the Wall Street Journal, the author mentions a growing body of research on what makes for effective teachers (or, in this case, great teachers).

The first point is that teachers have active intellectual lives. However, some of the examples (travel, hobbies, having favorite poets) seems to be more than a tad vague. Okay, we should have large vocabularies. I do, but how would you assess that? I do not use the million dollar words in my day to day conversations or even in these blog posts or at workshops. I tend to speak plainly. However, 4 years of Latin and Spanish and a lifetime of reading has added much to my vocabulary. Every once in a while I will throw one out in a conversation with my BH because he loves it. I might throw one out when talking to kids to give them some impressive words. For instance, I taught my middle school kids the term "truncated syllogism" with examples and urged them to use this phrase when confronted with an argument that was faulty because of a truncated syllogism. It's fun to pop one out from time to time, but my everyday vocabulary might not present itself. How, then, was this measured? Tests?

Now we move on to the second way one can spot a great teacher. This is where I began to wonder about the tone of the article: " Research suggests that most students already know almost half of what is taught in most classes. Lame teachers—like one I watched spend a full 10 minutes explaining to a class in a Colorado Springs middle school that "denominator" refers to the bottom half of a fraction—spend too much time reviewing basic facts and too little time introducing deeper concepts. " LAME teachers? How does this person know why the teacher spent time reviewing the term "denominator"? Is it possible that not everyone in that class did know? Or remembered? And, again, there is that amorphous use of the suggestion that research shows something. No references followed the article, so I have no way of verifying the research.

Finally on point three we have an actual reference when indicating that great teachers are data-driven. First, I would argue that great teachers are kid driven. Following that I would use the term evidence-driven and not data-driven. Kids are not data points. But good teachers do use evidence, anecdotal as well as test evidence, to help plan instruction. As an FYI, the research referred to was conducted with 120 or so undergrad students. Thanks for finally giving me some "data" to examine.

The final point referred to asking good questions and reference John Hattie. His book, VISIBLE LEARNING, is one I would recommend for anyone who is interested in looking closely at research. I read it this past spring. The point is a good one. Higher level questions do lead to deeper thinking. However, given the preponderance of tests kids take, I wonder if teachers will spend more time making sure the multiple choice information is covered since many assessments are just that: multiple choice.

This article has been quoted, reposted, etc. On the surface it seems innocuous enough. But dig a bit deeper, and there are some disturbing omissions, most notably the research base for the rather dogmatic statements.
Tags: where's the research
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