Friday, October 8, 2010

Fantastic Future Friday: Is they learning?

Our schools are broken, everyone knows that.

It used to be that our schools dumped a large portion of their students out and expected them to get manufacturing jobs. As our country moved from a manufacturing base to technological base it was clear that wouldn’t work.

So we looked at our schools performances, and they got worse. So we looked harder and did more evaluations, and they got even worse. This is almost the definition of the Observer Effect, that by observing something you change its properties.

How can observing and evaluating our schools make them worse? It has to do with the people who are drawn to teaching and the people who are drawn to evaluating people.

I went to a University that had one of the top teachers colleges in the nation. As a result I met a lot of future teachers and one thing that I learned about them is they were the second most non-competitive group at the University.

(The most non-competitive at the time, 20 years ago, were the Comp-Sci majors who if I asked them for help would say, “My god you’re talking to me. Of course I’ll help you! Would you like to see me naked?” My reply depended on their gender.)

The most competitive group was in my business and management classes. The same people who are now observing and evaluating the teachers, the least competitive people. Their solution to fix our schools is competition among teachers. And they are totally baffled why this isn’t working.

Of all the various lines of work I’ve held the least competitive one is writing. Writers understand that you can give the same idea to 10 writers and you will get 10 completely different works. As a result we take joy in helping each other. We form critique groups, hold contests with no prizes, we read each other’s work, ect.

Teaching is a lot like writing, there are some basic fundamentals to be mastered but then it turns into a matter of style. Everyone has had a few great teachers and those great teachers all had wildly different styles, just like writing.

So instead trying to turn the least competitive people in the world competitive we should try focusing on non-competitive improvements.

Instead of having teachers get a bonus by which one’s class scored the highest on a standardized test, something that makes the teachers who have a shot at the bonus less likely to share their technique with others. We could have a bonus system that encourages teachers to teach other teachers.

If teachers were to spend one class a week critiquing other teachers classes, both teachers would get something out of it. The teacher being critiqued would have a professional point out minor problems for them to work on and the teacher critiquing would see how a different teacher handled a situation.

Doing this would encourage teachers to improve through co-operation, instead of competition that hasn’t worked.

The critiquing could go further with schools exchanging teachers so they can learn in a different environment.

One complaint students have about schools is that in a lot of the institutionalized settings it takes all the fun out of learning. The people who enjoy learning the most are those that become teachers, and they start working in a school system that discourages them from continuing to learn about their craft.

If we made our school systems a place where the teachers could enjoy learning about teaching it would get passed on to their students and the students would learn more.

It is obvious that the observer effect works in schools, we’ve just set up a system where it works negatively. By setting up a critique system in schools we’d be using the observer effect to make it work positively.

Having teachers improve themselves through co-operative methods would help the students and lead to a fantastic future.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts


Stephanie Barr said...

I have to say, this seems like damn fine thinking. I'd be very interested to see my sister, Shakespeare's, take on this. You know, since she actually teaches.

Project Savior said...

What got me thinking about it was in management school we learned all about different incentive programs and that type of thing, but as a writer we seem to seek out disincentives but there are very few writers that don't want to try and help their fellow writer. Thinking back and remembering the future teachers I went to school with I can see how they would respond better to the stuff we do as writers than any of the stuff I learned in management school.