I am so enamored of Carnegie-Mellon University’s Eberly Center (Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation) Web site, which I just recently discovered. I’m working with colleagues at McDonogh on assessment in all its manifold glory, and as we dig deeper into what LifeReady can mean for McDonogh, we must necessarily consider how we’ll measure student learning and also what John Hattie would call “teacher impact” (thanks, Rose, for sending his work my way!). Assessment, of course, immediately begs questions about 1) what is being taught and 2) how that content is being taught. That leads, of course, to talking about curriculum. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t take long at all before one is awash in ideas that seem to lead everywhere at once. That’s sort of where I am. But, truth be told, I love this feeling.
I’m not an expert in assessment. I, like so many other independent school teachers, entered the classroom as a novice armed only with what I learned in English literature seminars. I had no formal training as a teacher at all. And for a long time, I really didn’t think too much about pedagogy, assessment, etc. I taught the way I was taught.
This worked well enough for a time, but I started to encounter classes that were, for all my charisma and passion, a bit bored with me droning on about “what Hamlet means.” It’s commonplace these days to disparage this kind of teaching (though an occasional well-placed lecture is still a thing of beauty) and to laud student-centered pedagogy. I am, of course, for this shift, but such a transformation raises other questions about what education is about that we still must honor in the face welcomed and necessary change.
My research landed me on the Eberly Center’s Web site, and I am particularly interested in their page called Teaching & Learning Principles. What I love is this: this Center talks about teaching and learning in ways that are completely current — i.e., ways that look past Prussian models into world where students are engaged in and are constructing their own learning. Skeptics who think that the evolution in teaching and learning is just a fad often cite lack of content coverage and threats to rigor as reasons to stay the course. But Eberly points this thinking up as a false dichotomy; a turn to student-centered learning — the kind of thing one might find in, say, project-based learning where content mastery and skills performance are both important and are accomplished by students themselves — doesn’t preclude the high expectations that have always been prized by teachers who want the best for their students’ learning.
The key for me is how we serve the kinds of teaching and learning principles of the sort the Eberly Center outlines at the same time that we look forward into the kind of teaching that truly electrifies students and prepares them for the future. I think we’re on our way, but I stopped to write a few statements, which I labeled “Guiding Principles of Teaching, Learning, & Assessment.” This is not school policy, but rather my way of writing to think, to know, to question. Here’s what I have so far:
We are shifting the emphasis in our teaching away from a practice where we merely deliver content and then test whether that content has been memorized/mastered.
Teaching and learning at McDonogh, as guided by LifeReady, will emphasize the teaching of content and skills.
Teaching and learning will still honor core liberal arts areas, and McDonogh will create a program that is appropriately rigorous so that students are challenged and prepared for life after graduation.
Curricula will be shaped by deliberate, purposeful work by PK-12 teams to determine
- what the essential questions and big ideas of a discipline are;
- how content and skills learning are chosen to deliver these big ideas.
Even though we may hold true to the principles of teaching and learning as, say, outlined by the Eberly Institute of CMU, we must realize these goals by the creation and curation of 1) thoughtful pedagogical approaches that deliver high-quality content learning in ways that build life ready skills (this will prepare students as outlined by LifeReady and will simultaneously engage students in work that is meaningful to them); 2) assessment practices that both instruct and measure learning in a variety of ways.
These are most assuredly “notes to myself,” but why keep a thing like this private, right? I’m in process as I believe most teachers are these days. So why not chime in and share your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!