What teaching style do you favor? How do you present material in your class? When I was student teaching (many years ago now), I recall that we were required to observe another teacher in our supervising teacher’s department. I observed the man who happened to be chosen Teacher of the Year for his school by his colleagues. Actually, it was probably my supervising teacher who recommended I observe him. Matter of fact, I also observed the department head, who was an intimidating woman, both to her colleagues and students (she required English department members to hand in lesson plans, and I recall after one particularly didactic department meeting, the other English teachers clustered in the parking lot to “discuss” the meeting). The Teacher of the Year’s class was taking a notebook check the day I observed. He apologized for not being “up in front of the room,” but also added that he wasn’t up in front of room a lot because he “really didn’t believe in that.” What he was trying to say is that he viewed his role as a teacher as that of a facilitator or coach. In other words, he favored a constructivist approach to teaching. The department head was definitely more of a direct instructor. When I observed her class, she was standing in front of it, speaking. She called on students to provide answers.
One thing I like about Wiggins and McTighe is that they see value in various approaches to teaching; however, what they emphasize is that a good teacher needs to figure out when each approach is best. This can be difficult, however, because of our biases as teachers:
Teachers who love to lecture do too much of it; teachers who resist it do too little. Teachers who love ambiguity make discussions needlessly confusing. Teachers who are linear and task-oriented often intervene too much in a seminar and cut off fruitful inquiry. Teachers who love to coach sometimes do too many drills and overlook transfer. Teachers who love the big picture often do a poor job of developing core skills and competence. (242)
The most important quotation of the chapter, at least in my view, is that “[w]hen choosing instructional approaches, think about what is needed for learning, not just what is comfortable for teaching” (242). Teachers tend to use one instructional approach at the expense of all others, and to be honest, I have seen some hostility among teachers regarding this issue. Teachers who prefer direct instruction tend to see teachers who favor constructivism as irresponsible, unknowledgeable, lazy, and at worst, dangerous. It is not unheard of to hear that constructivists are the downfall of education as we know it, and don’t you know, education was so much better before these hippie yahoos came along and changed it all. On the other hand, I see constructivists characterize teachers who favor direct instruction as dour, boring, and punitive. In other words, they are the entire reason why kids hate school, and if they just weren’t teaching, why think of all we could change! In fact, I think we call all admit there are times when we want to learn things ourselves using a constructivist approach, and I don’t know about you, but I have certainly listened to some fascinating lectures.
The point of the chapter is not necessarily to advocate one method of instruction over another, but to emphasize that what method you choose needs to be based upon what your desired results are. All of a sudden the necessity for backward design “clicks.” How can you figure out whether lecture or a Socratic seminar would be best if you don’t know what you want the students to understand? In the words of Bob the nutrition unit designer, “What is the best use of our limited time together?” This should be the mantra of teachers planning instruction.
The two pages of formative assessment techniques are well worth some study (248-249). I like the index card summary idea. One of my colleagues uses hand signals with good results. Actually, her approach is slightly different from that of the book. She asks students to hold up one finger for one answer, two for another, and three for a third. It’s a very quick way to engage all the students and see who understands and who doesn’t. I tend to rely too much on discussion, which means if you talk a lot in class, I know what you know. I need to utilize methods of “hearing” from silent students more often (and not necessarily calling on them more often, although that would help; students are sometimes intimidated and afraid to say “I don’t get it”). I want to put a question box in my room, too. I think I already use oral questioning and follow-up probes to good effect, but there is always room for improvement.
I tend to teach grammar using direct instruction, and I am thinking that perhaps a constructivist approach would work better. But you know what? It would be harder to teach it that way. On the other hand, I think the students would understand it better. I know I am completely guilty of “marching through the textbook” when I teach grammar. No wonder I wind up complaining students didn’t learn what I taught. Teaching grammar next year is going to take some thinking.
Work Cited: Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd Edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005.
[tags]Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, UbD, Understanding by Design, instruction, constructivism, assessment, curriculum, planning[/tags]