miércoles, 28 de abril de 2010

Delsarte's approval... in defense of (some) 19th century teaching.

In the StacksImage by Crossett Library via Flickr

While Sir Ken Robertson claims in his excellent video that we have spent the 20th century perfecting 19th century teaching, and it is time for 21st century teaching... many ideas, and the line rings true, but my "I dunno..." instinct alarm also starts ringing. Maybe teaching is evolving through several entities, and that we need to reclaim some good lost ideas that got ignored.

An educational model with which I find few people to chat about is by Francois Delsarte (November 11, 1811 – July 20, 1871), a French theatre/music teacher/theoretician who was largely discredited because of how people used his theories without understanding them, and as he only left fragments of his own work, which one has to mine through to get the gems.

A product of his time and background, he was profoundly influenced by his Catholic background... the charts he penned classifying types of angels are less useful than his other theoretical work.

He is directly responsible for what is called modern dance in America, modern mime, and much understanding of the meaning of human gesture. He was given the highest honour in France for his discovery that our thumb curls in when we die, allowing soldiers to separate their dead and wounded at a glance, saving lives. (as many lives as medicine at that time could save... Stephen Leacock suggested that medical training used to consist of one semester of school and a summer at the sawmill.)

In creating artists, he suggested that there are three stages:

1. imitation of existing art (learn technique)
2. improvement on existing art (use technique creatively)
3. creating new art (make technique, which others can now imitate...)

(Notice how this correlates with Steven Covey's "Dependant, Independant, Interdependant" progression, but over 125 years ago?)

I think that today's focus on standard based (which is nonetheless an improvement from norm-referencing bell curves) could be a way of remaining eternally in the dry first step, and not becoming autonomous (step 2) or innovators (step 3).

My experience at l'école nationale de cirque de Montréal helped me understand this process better, which I think is applicable to any educational system. It focused on enabling me to learn, adapt and create, and I am a better learner (and, hopefully, teacher) for it.

Bloom's taxonomy is useful as a roadmap, and I think it combines with Delsarte's principle beautifully to focus on creating autonomy and empowering students.

While technique is important, in times of rapid change, we need to get past the first stage of imitation, parroting, or we will not be able to adapt to changes, or create solutions fast enough. Rote memorization for itself teaches students a useless task... if they can look up an answer on wikipedia, why do they need to memorize it? (To practice memory there are many useful courses that we don't use, which would be more adequate) An excellent blog post on choosing questions is John Sowash's

"Google-Proof Questioning: A New Use for Bloom's Taxonomy". (this is a link. please click it if you haven't read it.)

So today's settings, where we spank or applaud teachers and students for metrics, scare me: metrics are dreadfully easy to abuse or twist, because a description of reality is not reality. Metrics that are accurate and useful descriptions would have to be much more complicated than google's search algorithm, and would also have to have measures to look for cheating attempts and punish them like PageRank... yet it would have to be unintrusive, and not require constant stopping for reporting. It would have to respect privacy while requiring incredible amounts of information.

In short, we don't have a system ready to implement... yet. And such a vast responsibility deserves more than a half-vast attempt.

Metrics are useful in a large scale environment, but teaching happens in a small scale environment. (the smaller the class, the better in my opinion ESPECIALLY for new teachers... wouldn't a 8 child class of difficult children be an excellent first year job/trial by fire that would lighten the load on regular classes? Send flames below...)

If we want to look at expensive metrics, Bill Gates' foundation (the most influential in the US, and as tweeted, have paid Participant Media, $,2,000,000 for 7 months of promoting a funny little film called, "Waiting for Superman"... heard of it?) says the number one factor is the teacher, (see ted video here) that a teacher is born, and more credentials or seniority does not make a better teacher than a less educated one. He talks about KIP (knowledge is power) ed theory, which he claims is creating high quality engaged teachers and students. They suggest rewarding the best teachers (top quartile) with better payment because, as we all know, teachers are clearly in it for the money. (Jokes aside, Daniel Pink's video on ted gives an indirect response on payment as motivation...) Gates also talks about integrating non-teacher trained teachers with "real life experience", an interesting concept, and not giving tenure for the first 2 years.

This seems like, in business, the "up or out" model. It is good for making money. Don't know if it is good for making autonomous and creative students. A hunch says the US is going to let us know in a few years.

Nonetheless, what goes past without my gut feeling getting antsy is what is described in another blog by David Finkle who is an excellent American cartoonist and a teacher who seems greatly enjoyable, compares whole food with whole education. Would he have Delsarte's approval as a level 3 artist?

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