Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Then I came up with a great idea: I could use the fork to spear the food and the spoon to scoop it."

As many others have noted, there is nothing journalists like more than a standard narrative and when reporting on education, there is no narrative more standard than the legend of the good teacher/bad teacher. No matter how complex, every issue can be explained by a disapproving account of an inept instructor or, better yet, a breathless paean to an inspiring educator.

I've mentioned before (here and here), there are some serious issues that need to be addressed (but almost never are) when comparing performance of teachers. Less serious but more annoying is the reporters' wide-eyed amazement at common classroom techniques. Things like putting agendas on the board or calling on students by name without asking for volunteers (see here) or having students keep a journal and relate lessons to their own life (see any article on Erin Gruwell). Things that many or most teachers already do. Things that you're taught in your first education class. Things that have their own damned boxes on the evaluation forms for student teachers.

These techniques are very common and are generally good ideas. They are not, however, great innovations (with a handful of exceptions -- Polya comes to mind) and they will seldom have that big of an impact on a class (again with exceptions like Polya and possibly Saxon). Their absence or presence won't tell you that much and they are certainly nothing new.

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