As usual, life’s gotten busy and I have things to write about which just ain’t happenin’ as individual posts at the moment.
To start with, David Gilmour (NOT the Pink Floyd musician but the writer and lit prof) doesn’t like teaching about women writers. There’s dozens of excellent rants around the web about his sexism, but I’ve got an additional reaction which seriously provokes my ire–the assumption on his part that teaching is all about being able to present material smoothly and effectively (his assertion that “I’m a natural teacher” where he goes on to state that his experience speaking on camera gives him Magic Teacher Juju).
Um. Erm. HULK SMASH NOW?!
There’s significantly more to being a good teacher than whether you can deliver a brilliant presentation. If that’s your only tool, then you’re a good lecturer. That’s different from being a good teacher. A good teacher can develop the sort of connection with his or her students that allows the teacher to quickly ascertain student understanding on the fly, diagnose what is/isn’t working, and modify both presentation and individual/small group instruction (which may or may not include the lecture) IN PROCESS to facilitate learning. You can be a brilliant lecturer but a crappy teacher.
Additionally, that conflating of lecture and the art and science of teaching is symptomatic of the sort of mentality that pervades much of the current educational deformist movements in the US public education system at the moment, usually mouthed by those who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they left it as students. Yes, you have to be able to know your subject and communicate what you know to students. But–you have to be able to diagnose when learning runs off of the rails and figure out how to fix it–fast. That sort of understanding doesn’t come from book larnin’, folks–it comes from practice, observation, and more practice.
My sense from both the linked interview and Gilmour’s own statements, plus additional commentary from students, is that he may be a brilliant lecturer, but at least half of his students aren’t necessarily learning (and can we guess which gender that is?). I don’t care whether he’s at a university or in the k-12 system–that’s not the mark of an effective or natural teacher. ‘Nuff said.
Next item. Mark Arbello, the San Diego horse trainer who killed a horse in training by using a tie-around method of bitting up. From what I’ve read so far, there are so many things wrong with how he executed that particular method that it isn’t even funny. I have seen this tool used effectively with a limited subset of hard-case rehab horses whose next stop was the auction if they didn’t turn around, but Arbello did Every. Damn. Thing. Wrong. Shanked bit, not a snaffle (for the non-horsey, a shanked bit puts leverage pressure on the horse’s head in a very painful way if used for this purpose and can lead to the type of reaction which caused this lovely mare’s death). Cranked tight and hard (nope). Tied the horse up instead of letting the horse move on their own. Unsupervised. Grrr.
For the record, I don’t use this tool. I know how to use it, but I don’t. I prefer a side rein method, loosely adjusted so that the horse practices moving in balance but is figuring it out for themselves–and the horse is supervised so that if it causes anxiety instead of the desired result, the human can quickly intervene to prevent a blowup.
Of course, there are plenty of folks out there condemning both techniques with a broad brush and insisting that the way they use side reins is the Only True Way. Sigh. Horse politics are too damn much like health care politics these days, everyone’s waxing opinionated with closed minds. ‘Nuff said with that grumble.
And last of all, for those who are still reading, I’m having some fun times working on a vocabulary story with my intervention class students. I’m not fond of the drill and kill method of vocabulary development where you make kids look up lots of words in the dictionary and write them down, plus use the word in a sentence. A little bit of this work to teach how to use the dictionary is useful, but that’s what you use it for. For vocabulary development, they’ve got to use the words and understand their meaning. I’ve graded enough half-ass-done dictionary vocabulary exercises with poorly written sentences that I don’t like to do that method.
Instead, I want kids to use the words in a way that helps them understand the meaning of these words–ergo, vocabulary pictionary, vocabulary charades, and what I’m doing now–the vocabulary story. This is a new thing, but basically, I created three categories–event, personality, scene–and had the kids classify the vocabulary words accordingly. Boy, was that ever a knock-down, drag-out argument in some cases, but the kids came up with good justification for that placement. Then, yesterday, we started creating characters, settings, and the first beginnings of plot.
Wow. Can we say buy-in? And, as we discussed how to incorporate various elements of the words into a story (conundrum, assonance, inference are just some of the vocabulary words), I noticed that the kids started talking authoritatively about the meaning of the words, and when I’d throw out a question about how we could craft a character to reflect those words, they got it.
Though I’ve gotta say, the stories may well turn out to be this rather bizarre mishmash of Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, and some very, very odd cartoons. But all in good fun. After all, how often do I get to work with pink unicorn ninjas in a moldy candy cane forest? Nonetheless, the kids are excited and engaged–which is really, really good.