Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Joanne Jacobs comment:”Stop facilitating and start teaching”

By on July 6, 2008

I commented on Joanne Jacobs article, “Stop Facilitating and Start Teaching,” based on Fred Strine’s article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  Strine indicates that more student-centered teaching is somehow less taught and, consequently, less learned.  Jacobs paraphrases that the “‘sage on the stage’ is more effective than the ‘guide on the side,'” that students of today lack the discipline that they had in his day, as if handing over the ownership to the class is handing over the reins entirely.

Not so.  In fact, handing over some power to the students: the power to intrinsically learn, the power to think critically, and the power to understand their own metacognition and the role it plays in learning, is, well…empowering.

I commented as follows:

I just saw Doug Fisher speak at the UCI Writers Project (of which I am a Fellow this summer). [see my post:

 Collaboration…Blocked by a Firewall Near You.]  He very clearly says that Focused Instruction should be only a fraction of the actual instruction, leaving room for Guided and Collaborative Instruction to take place.

We cannot have the expectation of differentiation, of learning for ALL, and not use collaboration or peer-teaching. It is a tool and one that must be employed to reach some students. This isn’t just an issue of engagement, but of achievement.

Collaboration, peer-teaching, and a student-centered environment are not NOT disciplined. In fact, the level of engagement in a class with a teacher that knows how to use these strategies is not only higher, but the instructional time is more efficient.

The teacher-centered disciplined teaching that “used to work” earlier in his career is false. It didn’t work and it surely does not even until this day. It was used because of what we didn’t know then. There is no excuse now. It is still not used as often as it should be because it is a more challenging road to teach. The past was not better. It was, however, most likely, easier.

You know, Strine, there’s this thingy called brain research.  We’ve been doing it for some time now.  And just because we used certain strategies years ago, we cannot in good conscience not update our strategies based on what we have learned since.  

Strine uses some misguided examples in his article.  For one, he claims that with the “advent of teacher as facilitator, respect for teachers in general has declined.”  Strategies aren’t the reason respect for teachers has declined.  For one thing, everyone thinks they can teach because they, themselves, were once taught.  That’s like saying that “I was born, therefore, I understand childbirth.”  On another note, I also happen to believe (as many of you know that read this blog) that teachers don’t do themselves any justice in the “respect” category by working for free (see my most recent post on this subject).  In addition, with the support for teachers being at a low, it seems a profession of individuals constantly swimming upstream.  

It is, quite frankly, popular to demonize teachers.  If people didn’t, they would have to find other reasons for their children’s failures.  Which brings me to his next example.  He writes, “Seventeen pregnancies in one Gloucester, Mass., high school! Doesn’t sound like those teens learned much from their sex-ed facilitators, does it?”  What did the sex-ed teachers have to do with it?!  Um, actually, it was the school that put 2 + 2 together.  It was the girls, their parents, and their town that was at fault, not the school.  It was, in fact, a homeless man living in a nearby park that apparently empregnated the majority of those willing girls.  Why the hell is Strine blaming the school when the girls, the families, and the rapist are clearly to blame?  The answer: it’s the easiest place to point the finger.

And a teacher-driven, forward-facing school model is easier too, but it isn’t the most successful way to educate.

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Comments

  1. Nancy Flanagan
    July 8, 2008

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    Hey, Heather. Been back to Joanne Jacobs? Mostly responses from Strine acolytes–lots of repudiation of group work (like they’re not going to work in teams in their eventual workplace?) and constructivism. You know, everything that happens in a group is “shoddy” (and besides, it can be hard to pick out the truly worthy student who led the work and also determine who was free-loading).

    Thing is, the *best* work my students did, generally, was in groups that had time to process content and, well, make something of it. I know it works, from first-hand experience.

    Your two best points (IMHO)? #1) We have been using direct instruction/teacher-driven teaching forever, not because it’s the most effective, but because it’s easiest for us, and habitual and #2) that kind of teaching hasn’t ever worked very well. Why shouldn’t we abandon it, at least some of the time?

    And I think the homeless guy in Gloucester, MA only impregnated one girl. That seems to be what the, ummm, more responsible sites are saying (plus the news wire services). The fun bloggers are all over the homeless man with 17 buns in the oven, but I think that’s a myth. Maybe I’ll go try Snopes…

  2. tweenteacher
    July 8, 2008

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    Thanks for the comment. I think it’s also important to note that all styles of teaching contributes to differentiation. That is, there is a place for direct instruction, whole group, small group, collaboration (there are many strategies out there to make students accountable), and individual. The fact that one’s instruction is varied means that you are reading more students. That, in turn, leads to better classroom management b/c more students are engaged. I know it’s more difficult in one sense, but surely, it all comes out in the wash and student achievement ends up higher? Check out my post on Collaboration…Blocked by a Firewall Near You about a recent Doug Fisher presentation at the UCI Writers Project this summer. It was really fantastic. Oh, and thanks for the tip on the homeless guy. I still say it’s not the school’s fault. 🙂
    -Heather

  3. Mary Tedrow
    July 14, 2008

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    I had my ah-ha moment this week as I read ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity.’ In it Postman et al. spoke of Marshal McLuhan’s observation that the medium is the message. (I did not realize that McLuhan was an educationalist until I read this book though I was very familiar with his ‘slogan’ from hearing it in my youth.) As I understand it,the student receives the message through the medium it is delivered. For instance, if a teacher delivers instruction in the sage-on-the-stage method, what the student perceives is that there is one authority and that the student has no voice or part in the discussion of truth. The value in student-centered teaching is that the student is a part of meaning making and thus perceives that they may have something to contribute to the conversation. This is a dangerous proposition to those who wish to control the message.

  4. heather
    July 14, 2008

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    I was talking to a colleague about this very thing. We were discussing this post as well as my newest one reflecting on Kelly Gallagher. Anyway, I think that the concepts of student as teacher, collaboration, and the one refers to, “Everyone Improves,” could be frightening to many. The concept that everyone can learn and everyone should learn goes against some philosophies of teaching and learning. Thanks for your comment. It’s always great to have a new voice on the page.
    -Tweenteacher

  5. Mike Albert
    July 21, 2008

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    I would add that one of the factors that makes cooperative learning and constructivist strategies so difficult for many teachers to implement in classrooms are the excessive class sizes that many of us face in our schools. That is not an excuse not to use these strategies, but I often find that my quality time with the groups in my class can be measured in seconds, not minutes. I find myself in agreement with Nancy — most of my students do their best work in groups as well, from sheltered English learners to gifted students.

    One other thought about schools and teachers being blamed. My experience is that while public schools in general and teachers (and particularly teachers’ unions) ARE blamed for a myriad of social ills, individual teachers and schools seldom are included in that criticism. It is much easier to criticize a faceless institution or bureaucracy than to throw jabs at the school in which you send your child to, or the hardworking teacher that you shook hands with on open house night.

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