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C'est la Z

Teacher Centric Teaching

Every few years the experts give us some new magic bullet, some new teaching fad research based pedagogical technique. Teachers are trained in it, forced to use it - frequently as a one size fits all. If we do, we're good teachers, if we don't we get the dreaded ineffective on our annual ratings.

I was reminded of this when reading Mark Guzdial's recent blog post on things he got wrong in Computing Education. It's a really great post. Mark mentioned constructivism and it made me think of a few years ago when constructivism was all the rage. If you didn't set your class up for discovery learning all the time you were clearly a bad teacher. I'd sit on on CS PD sessions, listen to principals and supervisors talk about what they wanted to see in classes and on and on.

If you weren't a constructivist educator you weren't a good educator.

Of course a few years earlier it was something else.

Back when I started it was cooperative learning and cooperative learning isn't just group work - you had to follow the formula. Each student in a group had a role, there were specific stages of work and everything had to be just so.

There were other fads along the way.

If you were lucky and had a good supervisor you didn't have to worry about the fads, the research, the nonsense. You could focus on your development as a teacher. They might work with you on questioning, for instance - regardless of the flavor of the month, a teacher will ask questions and facilitate discussion and they will surely insulate you from whatever nonsense the bean counters want to see as long as you're doing right by your students. On the other hand, a bad supervisor would mean stressful set up observations.

Even without Mark's post, I've been thinking about this a lot since we're about to launch our CS Teacher Certification programs at Hunter so I've been thinking about these fads from a teacher preparation point of view.

Many of these fads have some value - they're tools in the toolbelt to be used as needed. The problem is that supervisors, and in my experience, professional development and teacher preparation programs make teaching 100% about the student. While the student is in fact the customer and who's development is the goal of our work, you can't ignore other factors. Environment and resources are two of these other factors and a big one is the teachers individual strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.

Cooperative Learning never really worked for me - at least not whole hog. As a "Cooperative Learning teacher" I'd be meh at best. On the other hand, I've taken plays from the cooperative learning playbook and applied them as I've seen useful. Sometimes it didn't work, sometimes to great effect.

As a teacher, I always took the advice of one of my early fencing mentors. I was receiving conflicting advice from multiple well respected coaches and more experienced fencers. My mentor said "listen to what they all have to say, think about it, figure out what best will work for you and do that."

As to running my teacher prep programs, I'm going to do my best to make sure that we do recognize that teachers bring different things to the table and it will my job to help them maximize their effectiveness. This means that we can't blindly follow the favored teaching techniques du jour but rather we have to look at all sorts of methods and combine them with our teachers strengths, abilities, and tendencies, and their specific classroom situations.

It should be fun.

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