Eleven Overstretched and
Critical Observations on (Studying) Teaching & Learning
1. The biggest mistake educationalists have made as a profession is gathering around the wrong concept, which is “motivation”. The world of Teaching & Learning is not correctly represented as one of attending to needs/or wants (of learners). Specifically it has more to do with the encouragement of the learner. In teaching & learning it is all about ‘dare to try’ , i.e., the attainment of proficiency at a higher level.
2. Another concept of confusion and misinterpretation is feedback. In essence, it refers to a state of equilibrium or ‘zero state’ which has hardly anything to do with the activity of teaching and learning which aims for growth and development; i.e. Piaget’s accommodation. In providing feedback it is not the case that TOTE units (Miller) describe this educational process well (as was argued once) but more adequately good feedback develops along: OTOE units, i.e., operate- test- operate+ – exit (more like Deming put forward).
3. Teaching & learning as it occurs in classrooms resembles much like ‘ships that pass in the night’ more than being a ‘concerted action’. To date, a perfect matching (like in dancing) between both activities only seldom occurs. It is actually odd that we still do not know how the teaching action span (range and selection of activities to maintain the flow and to initiate student activity) relates to the existing variation in the learning spans of pupils (what they capture and understand from instruction).
4. Related to the previous is a preoccupation in research with only certain types of teacher knowledge (as is present in for instance teacher education studies). We seem to be interested in content knowledge, or preferably pedagogical content knowledge, while a blind spot remains on teacher’s knowledge of the learner. I.e., knowing’ where my students are, where they need to go, and how each of them can get there (free after Sadler).
5. Looking at the child’s brain as is now en vogue but actually it is a futile enterprise as far as teaching and learning are concerned. It is like studying muscle contractions in a finger when trying to understand pupil’s writing assignment. ‘Correspondence’ or co-occurence do not mean ‘association’, that is, establishing a meaningful relation.
6. Although educationalist may think otherwise, the impact of their research on teaching and learning is, has been, and will be minimal; as is evidenced by the numerous studies showing that class size does not matter. Nevertheless the repeated parental pressures to show benefits of decreasing the number of children in a classroom will lead to new studies.
7. To continue: Why research has so little impact on teaching & learning probably has to do with the understanding that a ‘context of analysis’ (i.e., research) does not precede a ‘context of design’ (instruction) while alternatively, a context of design would lead to and implicate a context of analysis (Herbert Simon made this point clearly in response to Donald Schon in a debate on knowledge utilization).
8. Another, perhaps more influential reason for failing to deliver in educational research is that, as in the teaching profession itself, the administrative powers and ‘quality assurance’ mentality have taken control over the heart of teaching and learning : ‘ edu-care’
9. Moreover: Teaching as an honorable, self-regulated profession has died already earlier with the rise and spread of the managed education system in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The then upcoming of education research has proven not to be a natural alley of the teaching profession. Teachers nowadays are more or less viewed as ‘hired hands’ that will follow a prescribed curriculum program to the letter. Probably this has led to the growing gap or ‘brick in the wall’ between learners and their teachers.
10. There exists a ‘wisdom of students’ which has never been tapped adequately before, certainly not by the evaluation ‘happiness sheets’ that are now ubiquitously distributed after a course comes to an end. This ‘wisdom” manifests itself in after class interactions among students about the feasibility and do-ability of assignments (to which teachers should actually be listening in) that would reveal the anomalies of content taught. But then, these interactions seldom take place.
11. To merge the above into a more positive outlook we should invest in the empowerment of teachers to be(come) ‘designers of instruction’ for their students. That is: given the standards provided, given the course programs, and given the setting characteristics of a classroom promote that teachers become the agents in building learning environments (spaces) that will encourage (See 1) their student to dare to explore learning tasks slightly above their current level of expertise. Design implies analysis (i.e, research, study) as well as development. … I know.