The Educator and the Image of God

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses
Part 4: Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education

In the previous post, I mentioned four doctrines that are integral in forming a Christian philosophy of education. They were the doctrines of the image of God, love, original sin, and work. 

As I’ve been putting more thought into it, I decided to switch up the order into something that feels more natural. The reworked order: image of God, original sin, love, and work.

We are all made in the image of God and while we have been deeply damaged by original sin and our personal sins, the image we have been made in remains intact, undamaged. These two doctrines explain the human situation and have profound implications for how we are to love one another and to go about our work.

On to the Image of God

Identifying the image of God is no small task because the Bible does not give a clear definition. This vagueness has led to all sorts of problems such as associating the image of God with physical or mental traits. Historically, when this has happened, people have claimed that those who are physically different (skin color) or disabled in some manner have less of God’s image, which naturally leads to the inference that the disabled have less intrinsic value. This has led to worse treatment of these groups.

Thankfully, the Bible does not support such views. Before original sin, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

And after original sin, we are still made in the image of God. While sin has damaged us, it has not damaged the image of God we were made in, we still made in His likeness whether we are Christian or not (Kilner, 2015).

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalms 139:13-14)

“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:8-9) 

So, even though all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), we are still made in God’s image. This means that we are still held to His standards. As John Kilner says in the introduction to his book, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, “This connection with God is the basis of human dignity. This reflection of God is the beauty of human destiny. All of humanity participates in human dignity.”

So, we are connected with God because He has made us in His own image. But we need to begin to bring this down to earth. What does this mean practically? What does this mean for teachers in particular?

The Bible points us in a direction, but it takes some effort to follow. While humans are made in the image of God, Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. While we represent Him, Christ is (Hebrews 1:3) God. And throughout the Bible, God calls us to conform to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Rubber, Meet Road

This is where theology hits the ground. We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus. The implications of this are many.

As teachers, we need to be cognizant of the fact that all our students are made in the image of God regardless of their ethnicity, mental abilities, physical abilities, sexuality, religion, and disposition. As such, we should treat our students in the above categories with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

In part, this should involve a lot of reading: books, articles, blog posts, etc. This will help you gain familiarity with longstanding and contemporary issues. It should also involve conversations with your students. During passing periods, get to know your students. This shouldn’t simply be done in order to be a better teacher, it should be done because you love* and value your students. Ask questions and encourage them to ask questions about your own life.

*Don’t get the heebie-jeebies about the word love, it’s a good thing. I will explain more in a later post.

Image and Ethnicity

Broadly speaking, you share many traits and experiences with those of your own ethnicity, you also have many unique traits and experiences that set you apart from others in your ethnicity. It is no different for any of your students. As you are reading, talking, and learning more, do not forget this fact. Do not reduce your students to a generalization or stereotype.

To do this, we must realize that while ethnicity provides a broad context, this is imprecise and lacks many details. The only way to see these details is to see and value our students as individuals who are each made in the image of God, worthy of love, with histories and cultures that God deeply cares about.

Image and Abilities

Mental and physical abilities are not spread equally amongst people. Your high-ability students and your low-ability students are of equal worth because everyone in history has the same intrinsic value due to the fact that we are all made in the image of God.

This equal value does not imply equal treatment. For an obvious example, you would not teach a first grader the same way you would teach a twelfth grader. Likewise, you would not teach a mentally challenged student in the same way you would teach a student with average abilities, even if you want them to learn the same material to the same standard. Treat students as individuals.

When we are dealing with students of different abilities, we must be careful to not reduce our expectations or standards. Low expectations are a scourge on education that must be eliminated. What we should do is identify where a student is, look to the standard we want them to achieve, and then plan out the steps and support they’ll need to get there. If a student is already at or beyond the standard, then great! Identify a further goal post and help them get there. Helping both the high- and low-ability students well takes experience and wisdom. We can cultivate the wisdom we need with a well-developed doctrine of love and work.

Image and Sexuality

This may be the most hot-button issue in this blog post. But the starting point is the same. All of your students are made in the image of God.

So, treat your LGBT students with the dignity and respect that they deserve. This needn’t mean full agreement. But it absolutely does mean being sensitive and taking their views seriously. It also means working to learn about that group’s history and your LGBT students’ backgrounds. All of this must be done with love—God commands it.

When you learn that your students have faced social and familial ostracization, sympathize with them. Enter into their suffering by being there emotionally.

Image and Religion

What one believes about God is extremely important. It’s literally a matter of heaven or hell. The stakes are high, but our emotions shouldn’t be (though our emotions should be involved). Your students are made in the image of God. This is not contingent on whether or not they believe in Him. Interact with love.

Ask how your non-Christian students celebrate religious holidays. This isn’t the time for an apologetics lesson, it’s a time to listen with care. Acknowledge and appreciate shared values. Prioritize the relationship, value the student over being right.

Image and Disposition

The most common challenge teachers face will be difficult students. Like before, we must remember that these students are still made in the image of God, even when they make our teaching lives miserable. Therefore they are still worthy of respect when they talk back, disrupt their classmates’ learning, or disrespect you or their classmates.

This is not to say that you let those problems slide. After all, letting sin slide is unhelpful at best. But it is to say that even when our students put us in a difficult situation that requires discipline, we must treat them with love and respect.

An Implication of God’s Image

As should now be clear, being made in God’s image requires us to love others. In my next post, I will explore how the doctrine of love applies to teaching.

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses
Part 4: Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education

References

Kilner, J. F. (2015). Dignity and destiny: Humanity in the image of God. Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans Pub. Company.

Abraham Kuyper: Prime Minister, Theologian, Journalist, and School Choice Advocate

Abraham Kuyper was a remarkable man. He lived from 1837-1920. He was Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905.
He founded the Dutch Reformed Church, De Standaard (a newspaper) in 1872, the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) in 1879, and the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880. He kept busy.
One thing he advocated for in his time with the ARP, as Prime Minister, and in his many newspaper articles was school choice for all. 
His rationale was complex and revolved around ideas of “neutral” schools, parental rights, and perhaps most surprisingly, national unity. 

“Neutral Schools”

The idea of neutral schools is certainly attractive. Who wants their child to be indoctrinated into a wrong belief system? What progressive wants their child to constantly hear about the glories of conservatism? What conservative wants their child to be constantly taught as if the progressive worldview was the truth?

This idea runs deep in America. We typically support the idea of neutral schooling as the way to build a peaceful democracy within a diverse society.

The problem is that it is philosophically impossible for there to be a neutral schooling system. Any teaching of morals, any having of rules removes the possibility of neutrality. And, to problematize the idea to a neutral school even further, how can a neutral school possibly justify its stance? Any appeal to natural law, public consensus, God/s, etc takes a stance, removing neutrality.

Kuyper sees this, and calls the idea of neutral schools out for the farce it is.

“How can a teacher nurture and form character,” he asked, “and at the same time be neutral?” After all, “there is no neutral education that is not governed by a spirit of its own. And precisely that spirit of the religiously neutral school militates against every positive faith.” (p47-48)

And, because the principles enacted by neutral schools are not in fact, neutral, they have an unequal impact on society.

When we look at Galston’s statement, a contemporary of Kuyper, we see how easy it is to apply this to the American schooling system.

“Galston points out, “the more one examines putatively neutral liberal principles and public discourse, the more impressed one is likely to become by their decidedly nonneutral impact on different parts of diverse societies. Liberalism is not and cannot be the universal response, equally acceptable to all, to the challenge of social diversity. It is ultimately a partisan stance” (p55). 

Neutral schools attempt to be acceptable and non offensive to everyone, but in doing so, neutral schools minimize the importance of our differences.

“Thus, so-called neutral schools, which sought to please all by separating instruction from a child’s particular religious experience, had hindered thousands of children from developing the mindset, initiative, and skills needed to sustain a strong civil society.” (p35)

Parental Rights

Kuyper viewed education as primarily the responsibility of the parent,

“The father is the only lawful person, called by nature and called to this task, to determine the choice of school for his child. To this we must hold fast. This is the prime truth in the whole schools issue. If there is any axiom in the area of education, this is it. … The parental rights must be seen as a sovereign right in this sense, that it is not delegated by any other authority, that it is inherent in fatherhood and motherhood, and that it is given directly from God to the father and mother.” (p28)

One large problem with having a single schooling system is that the system only serves one group of parents and children well. For example, the “neutral” system only serves parents who believe in neutrality. A Christian education system only serves Christian parents well, a Muslim system Muslim parents, and so on. So, in order for most parents to educate their children in line with their beliefs, they are required to pay twice, once in taxes to the state system and once in fees to their private school.

“The crucial point was that when the government now provided an education which was suited for only one part of the populace, it violated the conscience of all others: “Wherever we recognize a fundamental right for our citizens to provide their children with an alternative means of ‘enlightenment,’ then it becomes clear that requiring those citizens to pay for education twice, while others only have to pay once, is unjust.” (p37)

With this approach to school choice, Kuyper was not advocating for a partisan school system, he was advocating for a system that would provide choice for all beliefs and socioeconomic levels where it would be possible to honor the rights of all parents. 

“Some men…want to work to expand freedom for the middle class but…they leave unmet the need for freedom of conscience among the poor…. But it seems to me, Mr. Chairman, that there is no nobler struggle than for the freedom of conscience, particularly for the poor. Government money is well spent for that.” (p36)

In addition, this approach to education helps the development of the child. Personal growth and academic growth happen concurrently and are interconnected. It is not helpful for the child to have one foundational set of rules and morals at home and a completely different set at school.

“Life itself requires that both the personal formation and the academic learning happen at the same time. Both are so interconnected; and thus not only the family, but also the school is called to help complete the general formation of the child as a unity. The child is not divided into compartments; an intellectual compartment, a moral compartment, a religious compartment, a compartment of character, and a compartment for practical skills. The child is one, and must be formed in this unity. Otherwise the left will tear down what the right has built up and there develops in the child the hopeless and unnerving confusion which prevents the development of all firmness of character.
From this comes the requirement that there be agreement between the nurture in the school and the nurture in the home, and that they fit together. The school must not only build on the foundations that have been laid in the home, but also stay connected with the nurture that continues to happen in the home.” (p23)

We can move towards greater national unity when schools and parents work together to ensure a child’s personal and academic growth happen in unity, with the same foundations.

National Unity

That school choice could promote national unity may be perplexing to most Americans. Many of us have only seen how school choice is divisive. How it has been used to promote segregation by race and class. Like any tool, school choice can be abused in these ways. But, do we really want to pretend that our traditional public schools are great integrators? That public schools do not create their own significant divisions between various races and classes? 

I’d rather not lie to myself.

According to Kuyper, what makes public schooling divisive is that its “neutrality” actually picks a side and causes inequitable outcomes as mentioned earlier. This creates a “winner takes all” atmosphere, making only one group happy with the system’s philosophical approach. As he put it, 

“When an elite clique is allowed to impose a worldview on all schools, is it any wonder that a deep animosity and anger results? Kuyper argued that the strongest kind of national unity was one which made room for a multiplicity of communities of faith. Pluriformity, not uniformity, must be the goal, the beauty of a natural forest with all the variety of vegetation and species, rather than that of a garden in which poplar trees were uniformly planted in straight rows.” (p39)

With pluriformity, Kuyper is getting at an old way of seeing diversity, he is emphasizing diversity of thought. Later in the book, he has another, more succinct quote, “Unity must not be sought in uniformity.” (p346)

Echo chambers are no friend of critical thinking.

School choice for all could achieve this because there would be schools for people of different faiths and beliefs. In Kuyper’s theory this would bring about greater national unity because the children would receive an education much more inline with what their family believes and values. This would reduce the bitterness that develops between parents and children because it is removing a likely source of tension. It would also reduce bitterness between parents and the state because the parents would not feel that the state is actively against their deepest beliefs.

“Unity of the nation is not brought into danger by having children attend different kinds of schools but by wounding the right and limiting the freedom so that our citizens are offended not in their material interests but in their deepest life convictions, which is all-determinative for the best of them. That sows bitterness in the hearts and that divides a nation.… Instead of asking what the state school will receive and what the free school will receive, as sons of the same fatherland we should commit to raising the development of our entire nation. Then … the feeling of unity will grow stronger and more inspired.” (p38-39)

Kuyper isn’t advocating for some sort of siloing of society where everyone hides out with their own like minded clique. According to Wendy Naylor and Harry Van Dyke, Kuyper demanded that children communicate with people of other beliefs. He demanded that they both talk and listen to each other. This helps make it apparent that differences in political or social views needn’t be moral failings, but that the differences are caused by different starting points (p34).

Questions to Ponder

“Ask them, he declared,
•​whether the moral calling of the Netherlands allowed us to remove religion from the national schools,
•​whether requiring teachers to teach historical facts devoid of interpretation was an acceptable methodology for schools,
•​whether the Netherlands, known for the strength of its domestic life, should now exclude the family’s identity from the school,
•​whether a free and self-governed nation like the Netherlands could tolerate the complete state control of how children were educated,
•​whether the Dutch people could, in good conscience, deny the lower classes the freedom of conscience that the upper classes enjoyed?” (p40)

Quotes are from “On Education” which is a collection of writings and speeches by Abraham Kuyper. It was edited by Wendy Naylor and Harry Van Dyke. If you are interested in Kuyper, a Christian approach to education, or school-choice, I would highly recommend this book.

Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses

I’ve been talking about how your philosophy of education is not some disembodied idea, it is firmly rooted in your worldview. So, before you can have a philosophy of education that is well thought out and in line with your values, you need to have a well thought out worldview.

I think my setup for this is more or less done and done well, so it is time I came out with my worldview and how that impacts my approach to education.

I am a Christian. But what does that mean? Am I like your crazy aunt on Facebook? Am I that uncle that thumps you with the Bible each and every holiday? Am I a MAGA Christian nationalist? No, I am not that.

In short, I believe that only the Christian God is true, and therefore, all other religions and beliefs about God are false. This is controversial but it really shouldn’t be. Think about it. It is a fundamental impossibility for a Christian and an Atheist to both be right about God. A Muslim and a Buddhist can’t both be right about what to believe. Almost every worldview is incompatible with others at a foundational level. We just don’t see it too often because we generally have a high day to day compatibility with others, even those whose worldview is fundamentally incompatible with ours.  This is why we can work with and have deep friendships with those who have a very different worldview. Back to education.

What Does My Faith Have To Do With My Teaching?

I will offer justifications by starting with broader statements that are representative of traditional Christian doctrine and then I will choose a verse or two as evidence for said doctrine. This will help me avoid the dangers of proof-texting, which is when you use an isolated, out-of-context text to confirm your presuppositions or biases. Each section will be a brief intro with a longer, more in depth post on each topic to follow, eventually.

Doctrine: Humans are made in the image of God

Bible Verse

  1. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

What It Means For The Classroom
I believe that every single human is made in the image of God. Therefore they are worthy of dignity and respect. This applies without any other qualification, regardless of a student’s political beliefs, sexuality, academic prowess, or behavior.

Applying this is complex and depends in large part on context. How old is the student? What is this student’s behavioral history? What is the school culture? 

Doctrine of Love

Bible Verses

  1. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  2. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-21)
  3. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-6)
  4. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

What It Means For The Classroom

I am required to love my students. God so loved the world, so must I. Now, to be clear, love can mean different things. I love my wife. I love my son. I love America. I love Taiwan. I love hamburgers.

All true, and my love for each is expressed differently. Same goes for my students. But this love isn’t a lovey dovey fluffy fairy-godfather love. It is a love that rejoices with the truth and is powerful enough to bear all things. And because this love rejoices in the truth, occasionally there must be discipline.
While the Christian doctrine of love is simple enough for a child to grasp it, there is also enough depth in it to challenge even the most knowledgeable and loving person. Applying the Christian doctrine of love to education is a complex endeavor.

Doctrine of Original Sin

Bible Verses

  1. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
  2. “In which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:2-3)

What It Means For The Classroom

Everyone is a sinner and in need of grace. This means that I will sin against my students and my students will sin against me. There will be times where I need to forgive my students and other times where they need to forgive me.

When we remember the doctrine of original sin, we should also remember the central role grace and love play within Christianity. This will help us to be patient with our students. But, again, remembering and applying this daily in the classroom is difficult.

Doctrine of Work

Bible Verses

  1. Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
  2. “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor…So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 31)
  3. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

What It Means For The Classroom

In the parable of the talents, it becomes clear that Jesus expects us to use our gifts wisely and to grow them. Applied to teaching, this means we shouldn’t be content with our current abilities, we should seek to improve or face God’s anger.

The other verses quoted make clear that there isn’t really a sacred/secular divide. God cares about every aspect of our lives. We should work to become better teachers not only for our neighbors who are our students (1 Corinthians 10) but also for God (Colossians 3, Ephesians 6). In practice, this means becoming more knowledgeable about our subjects, learning and using more effective teaching methods, and becoming better at classroom management. And that is the simple part.

We also need to apply the doctrines previously mentioned to our work. This is no small challenge.

In the future, I hope to expand my thoughts and to better develop my own philosophy of education in a way that doesn’t just state my ideals, but works to explain how to achieve them. A philosophy bounded by an ivory tower deserves to be thrown away.

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses

Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Part 1 of this series explains why having a worldview is inevitable and that this shapes your approach to teaching
Part 2 makes the case for deeply understanding your worldview and philosophy of education

There are numerous benefits that come along for the ride when you have a well thought out worldview and philosophy of education. For the teacher, most of the benefits are between you and your students. 

Clarity and Confidence

We should be relatively confident in applying our philosophy of education. If you are not, then you should search for a more robust one you are able to trust because teaching from a place of doubt isn’t enjoyable. It will also likely lead to inconsistencies in your methods causing confusion for your students and stress for you.

When we understand our philosophy of education, we can move forward with confidence because we have looked it over and found it to be consistent with our worldview, research, and practice. When we trust our philosophy, we are much more likely to consistently apply it. This consistency helps our students understand the rules and routines, which better allows for them to focus on learning.

However, there is one aspect in particular that affects other teachers.

A Clear Discourse

Too often people simply talk past one another and in doing so they each win the argument but everybody ends up being the loser. To improve the discourse, clarify what you believe.

When we have thought out our underlying worldview, we will be able to articulate it in an understandable way. Once we have applied its implications to our teaching, we should also be able to explain our philosophy of education in an accessible manner.

When both parties have done this, there tends to be less talking past each other. Positions are made clear. More clarifying questions are asked. And, even if this only happens on one side, clarity is still gained.

One Sided Clarity

If one side relies upon fallacies or supports their philosophy with inconsistent logic, you still gain clarity by engaging them with your own philosophy. You now know where the other person stands. You have tested your approach against theirs and found theirs to be wanting. We must be humble when we are doing this though. If we lack humility we will only help them see our side as mean or whatever negative adjective they prefer to use.

In addition, we should be humble enough to see the grains of truth in approaches we consider to be wrong. We should use these grains to improve our own philosophy.

If your philosophy never changes you must think it is perfect. But why on Earth would that be a reasonable assumption?

Part 1: Worldview and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education

In part 1 of this series I explained that having a worldview is inevitable and that your worldview will profoundly shape your teaching practice. However, while having one is inevitable, we are not guaranteed to have one that is well thought out. In fact, the default is to fall into an unthoughtful fuzzy genericism that works well enough to get us through the day, but would fall apart if we ever cared to inspect it.

Our approach to education, or our educational philosophy is rooted in our broader worldview. So, before we can effectively work out our own teaching philosophy we must work out our worldview.

Appropriated Worldviews Make Poor Anchors

When we don’t analyze what we believe, we lack a sound worldview, we lack an anchor, so we must appropriate one. The place we appropriate a worldview tends to be from whatever subculture we most identify with; whether that’s democrat, republican, religious, environmentalist, etc. Worldview appropriation always causes problems. 

Problems arise because we don’t “own” an appropriated worldview, this means we are not anchored to the ground, we are anchored to some larger ship and we will move with it. This causes us to have a fuzzy worldview, because we are simply relying on a larger group for our ethics. This leads to a blind or semi-blind following of the culture. Our morality shifts this way as well (blindly shifting morality is bad). Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. 

We can skate by with an appropriated worldview (I think most people live like this) but those with an appropriated worldview will likely struggle to produce thought out, internally consistent answers to the following questions.

Does anything objectively matter? Why/why not?
What is the purpose in life?
How do you justify your own morality?
Is human flourishing good? Why/why not?
Is suffering bad? Why/why not?
Why is “cultural hot topic” a step in the right/wrong direction?

Appropriated Philosophies of Education 

When we don’t think about our philosophy of education, we appropriate one from whatever educational subculture we happen to lean towards. This causes similar problems as an appropriated worldview. Our views and educational approaches will shift with the educational culture around us. We won’t really control the changes because our philosophy will remain vague and fuzzy to us. 

Before you can purposefully change and improve your philosophy of education, you must work to remove aspects that are vague and fuzzy by bringing them into focus and defining them because it is nearly impossible to change a vague problem. Think about it. How do you fix something that is bothering you when you don’t know what that something is, but you know you are bothered? You have to figure out what is bothering you first!

Owning Your Philosophy of Education

Work out your worldview so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than culture. Work out your philosophy of education so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than an educational subculture.

Make it specific so you can make purposeful changes as you learn more. This process happens through a lot of reading, thinking, and talking.

Here are some questions to think about as you define your philosophy of education.

What is the primary purpose of education? Why?
How do humans learn?

How do you encourage creativity? Why?
What are your views on having children of all ages memorize information?
How should you reinforce rules?
What is the best way to manage disruptive behavior?
What types of punishments are acceptable? Why?
What role should educational research play into your approach as a teacher? Why?

Part 1: Worldview and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Worldviews and Teachers

Just like we all have a worldview, as teachers, we all have a philosophy of education; it is unavoidable. So, my thoughts are, if having one is a logical necessity, we might as well try to have one that is well thought out, meaning that it is grounded in our worldview, research, and practice. 

Worldview

No one’s philosophy of education is fundamental, for our beliefs about education flow out of our beliefs about values. Our beliefs about values flow from beliefs or lack of beliefs in higher powers or purposes and then from our cultural context. These beliefs form the foundation of our worldview.

Merriam-Webster defines worldview as, “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world, especially from a specific standpoint.”

Worldview Shapes Your Approach To Education

Many books have been written about how worldview affects education. If you are curious, just Google a worldview + philosophy of education. The traditional approaches to education can be classified as Idealist, Realist, Pragmatic, Existentialist, and Scholastic. For a more modern twist on how worldview shapes education, just take a glance at how many educators are advocating for other teachers to read and teach the principles taught in anti-racism or climate change books. The view that one should be an anti-racist or a “______” educator stems from something more foundational than one’s philosophy of education. These moral positions do not originate with your teaching philosophy, ultimately, they stem from your worldview. 

Worldview Shapes Your Pedagogy

Worldview does more than affect how you deal with cultural issues. It also plays a significant role in your teaching pedagogy. What does good classroom management look like? Is the ideal teacher more of a sage on the stage, a guide on the side, a bit of both? Is knowledge foundational, or are skills? What knowledge, what skills should be taught?

*Note: Your worldview and philosophy of education should be capable of explaining the “why.” If it cannot explain the why, why believe it?

Worldview Shapes Your Values

The reason worldview shapes your approach to education and pedagogy is that worldview shapes your values. That worldview affects values should be obvious to you, but what is often less obvious is that many seemingly neutral things are value laden. Knowledge can appear to be neutral, but knowing is moral. For a clear example, look at reading. Hopefully we all agree that it would be immoral to withhold the knowledge of how to read. The content and skills you choose to teach are not neutral because when we include something, we are by default excluding other things because of time limitations. These are value based and therefore moral decisions. We value what we include more than what we exclude.

Teaching Is Rooted In Morality

When we make these choices, we are making a decision based on our values, so it is a decision rooted in our morality.

The reason people are so passionate about politics is that politics are moral and have real effects. Education is the same. We must make decisions based on our morality and those decisions have real effects. Because of this, there is something about teaching that has intrinsic moral value. This is why debates within education can get so heated, just like political debates. Teachers are not simply disagreeing on methods. Teachers have moral disagreements on what qualifies as good. Even if the stated goals (critical thinkers, life-long learners, etc) are the same, the methods are incompatibly different. 

To have a well developed philosophy of education requires a thought out worldview. This implies having a thought out morality, knowing what you believe is good and why. So, before you work on your philosophy of education, you need to answer this question. Where is your morality rooted?

Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

The Literary Canon: Who Makes the Cut?

A few days ago I got involved in a bit of a Twitter debate about the idea of a literary canon. Here’s the tweet that started it. (Matt is worth the follow!)

I found it interesting because, to me, the reality and importance of a canon is self evident. We have a set of books/writings that are considered to be classics and that ought to be taught.

What is the Canon?

Our word canon comes from the Greek word kanôn, which means measuring rod or standard. The term kanôn was initially used in Christianity to distinguish which scriptures were God-breathed and thus canon with those that were merely written by man and were therefore, apocryphal. Canon made its first, consistent foray into broader literature in 1768 when David Ruhnken used it to describe a selective list of writing (McDonald, 2007). And his use stuck. 

The literary canon is made up of works of literature that have been particularly influential and lasting. Generally there has been a region attached to the canon such as the Western Literary Canon or American Literary Canon. For our purposes, the modifier before canon is only signalling where the works became influential and lasting and is not particularly important. Different regions will have different, yet overlapping canons because while some works of literature will impact multiple regions, others have a more localized one.

What makes something “canon” is that it has been influential and lasting, not who wrote it or where it was written. This is how the Greek poet Homer made the list with his Iliad and Odyssey. And why The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky are included. They aren’t American or from the West, but their works greatly influenced American and Western thought and culture.

Entering the Canon

So, how does a piece of literature become canon? To enter the canon a work of literature not only must be influential and long lasting, it must also be continuously selected and reselected (Rabb, 1988).

However, beyond being “continuously selected and reselected”, the criteria for entering the canon remains vague, for better and for worse. For example, in a 1984 meeting by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies entitled, “Making and Rethinking the Canon caused quite a ruckus.

“The title of the seminar- provoked a striking lack of consensus about what kinds of topics or methods of inquiry would suit such a title. Questions about power and authority offered the only stable common ground. Other questions varied in focus and perspective. What are the principles by which the canon has been formed in the past and is re-formed in the present? How reliable are the processes by which works are included or excluded? Are we moving toward a narrowing or a broadening of the canon? How will questions of gender affect the eighteenth-century canon? What roles do exigencies of pedagogy and/or publishing play? How wide is the gap between adulation for a work and reading it? between respect or tradition and critical/ theoretical trends? What is the relationship between esteem for a work and its susceptibility to popular modes of analysis? What are the conceptual frameworks and categories by which we ascertain the “greatness” of literature? For scholars, critics, and teachers of the eighteenth century, these questions were, and continue to be, vexing” (Rabb, 1988).

Others have suggested that to become canon, or to be considered among the “great works” the literature generally must be something we can learn from, help us judge and shape personal and social values, move the reader to identify with the characters, define genres, push/expand genres, etc (Altieri, 1983).

So, entering the canon is complex. Not only do different people place different weights on different aspects, but some of them disagree on which aspects should be included in assessing the literature at all! I’d go further and say that the above is a non-exhaustive list of potential ways to determine canon. The fuzziness is frustrating, but there is no alternative. Any sort of ranking would produce a canon and suffer from its own shortcomings.

If you want to operationalize this, just apply the above “qualifications” to any literary criticism framework. They are not all equally valid, but most of them will get you to roughly the same place.

A good and relatively (not totally!) controversy free parallel to the literary canon would be the Hall of Fame for any sport, which is essentially a selective list of the greatest players. Let’s look at baseball. To enter baseball’s hall of fame, a player must receive at least 75% of the vote. That Babe Ruth or Mariano Rivera deserve their spot in the hall of fame is obvious. But the disagreements become clear if you look at who barely made the cut for example, Ryne Sandberg slipped in with 76.2%. Meaning that there were a relatively large percent of voters who thought he had a good, not outstanding career. 

Or, to court controversy, look at Pete Rose. His stats show that he deserves a place, but his gambling baseball games, including those he played in kept him out. Look at Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds today. Based on their play in the field alone, they warrant entrance into the hall of fame, but they are cheaters (steroids) and have thus far been kept out.

So while halls of fame (canons for sports) may have some specific rules like a minimum vote percentage, who gets selected is still subjective. Forming a canon is an inexact science with inexact boundaries. 

The Fuzzy Canon

Shakespeare obviously deserves to be included in the canon, anyone who doubts his place is as sane as one who doubts Michael Jordan’s place in the basketball hall of fame. The places near the peak of any canon are clear. But where does the canon start? Who makes the cut? Why?

Again, as entrance to the literary canon is not scientific, we cannot draw a line. To attempt to do so would result in the butchering of literary analysis. 

If you are seeking for some magic line, or formula to better understand the canon, you are seeking for fool’s gold and Atlantis. You will always be disappointed. The fact that the canon has fuzziness does not negate its reality any more than the fuzziness of tallness or shortness negates the reality of your height. The best we can do is follow general rules and to realize that the edges are fuzzy as a feature, not a bug. 

Altieri (1983) explains the fuzziness well when he says,

 “Clearly, canons are not natural facts and do not warrant the kinds of evidence we use in discussing matters of fact. We are not likely to find general laws governing our acts as canon-formers, nor is extended empirical inquiry likely to resolve any of the essential theoretical issues. Canons are based on both descriptive and normative claims; we cannot escape the problem of judging others’ value statements by our own values.”

Does Ryne Sandberg deserve his hall of fame slot? Does every book in the canon deserve its spot? What do we do when different groups produce differing canons? It’s fuzzy.

Criticisms of the Canon

Criticisms of the canon invariably center around around relevance or who gets in. And this is healthy. Because the canon is formed over time in a relatively idiocentric, organic process, there is no way to filter out the bigotry and oversights of the past. As a result, great minority writers have been excluded from the canon through no fault of their own. We can and should work to remedy this as we engage in the endless Canon Wars and “continuously select and reselect” the canon. 

The Purpose of a Canon

Even with all the disagreement surrounding what qualities a book should have in order to enter than canon. The concept is still eminently useful. A canon gives us a list of works that are considered to be the best of the best that has some sort of filter beyond “best selling”. This is helpful for individuals who want to read good literature, not just famous or popular works. 

While the canon is helpful for individuals, it is irreplaceable for educators. The primary limitation in education is that there is too little time and too many good books. We have to choose and canons are eminently helpful in this regard.

As far as how teachers should use the canon, I do not think there are any hard and fast rules. I would say that teachers should regularly but not exclusively teach from the canon.

The Alternative to a Canon

Maybe you dislike the canon because it is primarily old works written in and about cultures vastly different from the one our students inhabit. And in addition you think that too many minorities have been excluded by racism and bigotry. So you decide to get rid of the canon and do what’s best for your students.

Maybe you choose Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling for its themes of courage and friendship.
You choose the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseimi for its themes of betrayal/redemtion, family relationships, and political or cultural relevance.
And you choose Counting Descent by Clint Smith for how his poetry engages the minority experience and complicates our conception of lineage and tradition.
(Your reading list for your students includes many more works of literature but for our purposes three books is enough)

And your list starts becoming more popular. Other teachers begin to use it and add similar works to it. Its use grows and it is gradually taught in more and more schools. And you are happy because your list of recommended books is more inclusive than the old canon.

But, don’t you see what is happening? As your list gains popularity, it gains authority. More teachers reference your list while planning their curriculum, there is an occasional news article about a trendy new reading list. One of the articles calls it a new canon for a new age…

You see, there is no true alternative. The canon is a list of works considered to be the best of the best. If you would get rid of the canon, what would you replace it with? The replacement would simply be another list, a new canon.

If you think we should abandon the canon yet do not attempt to replace the canon, you would lead yourself and others adrift in a literary sea. We must assess books for quality. Determining (assessing) which are the best is a useful exercise. The result of this assessment will always lead to some sort of canon, even if you change the name to make yourself feel better.

So the only answer is to improve the canon. Which works should be considered in that aren’t? (probably many) Which books should be taken out? (probably a few)

Sources

Altieri, C. (1983). An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon. Critical Inquiry, 10(1), 37–60. doi: 10.1086/448236

McDonald, Lee Martin (2007). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission and Authority (Updated and revised 3rd ed.). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56563-925-6.

Rabb, M. A. (1988). Making and Rethinking the Canon: General Introduction and the Case of “Millenium Hall”. Modern Language Studies18(1), 3. doi: 10.2307/3194697

If I Were The King Of A School

🎶And if I were the king of a public primary school
Tell you what I’d do
I’d throw away the lies and the busywork and the poor pedagogy
And give sweet knowledge to you
Sing it now, joy to the world
All the boys and girls
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me🎶

What follows might not always be possible due to staffing limitations. However, if I am going to pretend to be the king of a public primary school, I might as well pretend to be king of a good one.

If I were the king of a school, here is what I’d do…

First, I would name it Normal Elementary School for several reasons. The first and most important being that I am trying to set a “new” norm (teaching knowledge systemically). The second, it is a shout out to two things, historical teacher’s colleges and my hometown. Three, I like wordplay.

School Culture/Environment

At Normal Elementary School, our staff would also be knowledgeable of their students’ cultures and backgrounds. This will reduce misunderstandings and hopefully help create a schoolwide environment that is more tolerant of differences and deals wisely with disagreements (even ones that cannot be resolved). An added benefit of knowing student cultures and backgrounds is that it helps create a safe, welcoming environment.

Another way we will create a safe environment is to have a “warm/strict” discipline policy. Essentially, every student will both know the school rules and expectations and trust that they will be fairly enforced, while, at the same time students will know that they are deeply cared for and valued, i.e., the school discipline policy will involve teachers being warm and strict at the same time.

The combination of high academic expectations with high behavioral expectations is paramount. Over time, with careful crafting they can become somewhat self-reinforcing. Students can internalize expectations and I want their internalized expectations to be good ones.

All elementary students would have the following classes every single day from kindergarten through grade 5. If I were king of a middle school, students would have some choices, followed by still more options in high school. But let’s focus on elementary school, because it’s the most important!

The Classes

  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Art/Music
  • Foreign Language
  • Physical Education

Each class would be 45 minutes long followed by a 4 minute passing period. Lunch and recess would be 30 minutes each and would, of course, add a passing period to the schedule. So the total time my students would be in school is 360 minutes for classes, 40 minutes for ten passing periods, 30 minutes for lunch, and 30 minutes for recess. Giving us a grand total of 460 minutes or 7.7 hrs.

For those of you who may be concerned about how long students are in school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average American student spends 402 minutes in school or 6.7 hrs. So my students would be in school for 58 more minutes per day than average.

The Science of Learning

I would establish a school ethos that explicitly values knowledge. By choosing to explicitly value knowledge, we are not, and will not be dismissive of skills, critical thinking, or creativity in any way.
At Normal Elementary we acknowledge that skills are built from knowledge.
At Normal Elementary we acknowledge that knowledge makes critical thinking possible (p3 & p8).
At Normal Elementary we acknowledge that knowledge unlocks creativity.

My staff would all have a pedagogy informed by cognitive science. In practice, this means we would integrate spaced practice and retrieval practice into everything we do while also combining them with other research-based teaching/learning strategies where appropriate. Our students’ learning would be research informed as well because we will explicitly teach and model effective study strategies and would encourage their application with various tools/assignments. I consider having sky-high expectations for all students to fit into this approach seamlessly.

This does not mean that I expect all students who walk into my school’s doors to be academic rockstars. It means that every teacher will expect consistent effort and progress from every pupil. Every teacher’s default approach will be to push and challenge students to learn more and grow their curiosity. This will be done with a kind and encouraging spirit.

The Curriculum

The curriculum itself would generally be delivered in a spiraling format, allowing students to revisit content over the years, building their schema. An example of this could be in 3rd grade, students are introduced to basic physics, in 6th grade students learn several common physics equations and apply them to varying contexts, and then in 9th grade students may take variables such as friction/air resistance into account when calculating their equations. Each time the students are exposed to a topic, they go deeper into the content, intentionally building upon what they previously learned.

As we go through this curriculum-building process we would determine what is Core vs Hinterland. The core content would be what we want students to know for forever and would be referenced throughout a student’s time at our school. The hinterland content is used to set up the core content with a grand narrative. This creates a story and makes all of the content more memorable.

An example of core content would be the three branches of government. The hinterland content could be the story of how a bill becomes a law. Another example of core content might be the Revolutionary War. Songs from the play Hamilton could be used as the hinterland in this case because it shows the relational and emotional dynamics leading to the Revolutionary War.

The overarching goal of developing our curriculum in this manner is to build student knowledge and skills in all subjects. We want our students to know lots of things and to be able to do lots of things. As knowledge is the limiting factor to both knowing and doing, we will emphasize it.

All of this leads to questions of primary concern.

What schemas do we want students to have? What specifically will we call core knowledge? What knowledge and whose knowledge will be taught?
I would seek to answer these questions in an open manner, to build trust with the community and to make open, healthy discussion and debate possible.

One goal of the discussion would be to communicate the importance of educating students of every ethnicity and socioeconomic background in such a way that they become culturally literate and therefore prepared for success in “mainstream” America.

Cultural literacy entails teaching knowledge that speakers and writers (think NPR, The New York Times, The Economist, The Atlantic, National Review, etc) assume their audience has such as, understanding the Bible and classic works of literature, America’s founding, along with basic math and science skills. In no way is this approach assuming that the mainstream, or empowered culture’s knowledge is better than other knowledge, but it acknowledges that access to opportunity is often limited, intentionally or otherwise, by the culture of the “elites.”
At Normal Elementary, we want to give our students access to the same opportunities the privileged few have, and are convinced that the best way to do this that we can control is by teaching students information that has been deemed culturally important. This is a norm we are trying to set.

For a further point of clarification, this does not mean my school would only teach students history/literature from mainstream or white culture. Doing so would be fundamentally wrong, even in a monocultural society. I do not have an exact ratio or plan on how to include the histories, literatures, or arts of other cultures beyond saying that we will do it in an intentional and meaningful way. This is a norm we are trying to set.

The world is too big, varied, and interesting; and time is much too limited to teach all that is worth teaching. So we will reach a compromise with the open, honest, good faith debates I wrote about above and make painful cuts and thoughtful inclusions in our curriculum. This likely means that our curriculum, particularly in history, literature, and the arts will change and shift over time, while having a relatively stable core. This is a good thing. This is a norm we are trying to set.

As far as our curriculum’s specificity goes, we would generally use the nominally “national” standards as our absolute basement. This would give us a decent framework to build around, as we seek to enrich and fill out those standards with specific content that fit our context.

Normal Elementary’s Norms

  1. Staff that are knowledgeable of their students’ cultures.
  2. Staff that have high behavioral and educational expectations for all and maintain this by concurrently being warm and strict.
  3. Staff know and apply the findings of cognitive science to their teaching.
  4. Students are explicitly taught effective study skills.
  5. A curriculum that builds on itself and expects students to remember what they have learned.
  6. A curriculum that helps ensure students can find success in “mainstream” America by becoming culturally literate.
  7. A curriculum that is culturally responsive to the school’s student body.

At Normal Elementary, these are the norms we are trying to set. These are norms every school should have, norms every child should have the privilege of being educated under.

If I were the king of a school that is what I’d do.

Pedagogy: Changing Minds Changing Lives

Education is rife with bad practices. The effects of these practices are clear and have devastating outcomes. We use Whole Language and Balanced Literacy to teach reading, avoiding the evidence and Synthetic Phonics. This leads to students who can’t read. We have similar problems with how we teach math, and similar outcomes. 

Unfortunately the consistently poor results of common educational practices have not pushed their promoters out of education or caused educators to take a serious look at research. What these poor practices have achieved is the complicating of thousands of lives, often along socioeconomic and racial lines. 

The sad truth is that consistently poor results have not been enough to create anything beyond a sincere yet generic belief that education is not perfect and does, in fact, have problems. 

Some individuals have done the soul-searching required to look at the evidence and change their practices, but the shame is that as an educational system we think the problem is outside, we think the problem is the others, and we leave our soul unexamined, our practices unchanged, our students condemned to a poor education.

This tragedy is happening because evidence alone is not enough to correct someone’s actions even if it can change their beliefs. Research from the article, Effective Messages In Vaccine Promotion: A Randomized Trial in the journal Pediatrics found that correcting misconceptions does not necessarily lead to a change in actions.

“None of the interventions increased parental intent to vaccinate a future child. Refuting claims of an MMR/autism link successfully reduced misperceptions that vaccines cause autism but nonetheless decreased intent to vaccinate among parents who had the least favorable vaccine attitudes.”

vaccination.PNG

By itself, evidence can have strange effects. It can cause an intensification of views or over-corrections. Evidence can even be rejected outright because it conflicts with someone’s underlying beliefs (confirmation bias).

So what is a concerned teacher to do? It is obvious that we cannot just hang our heads and say, “Oh well.” The futures of too many children are at stake. The correlations between educational attainment and life outcomes are too clear for us to merely be concerned about our own classroom. In fact, caring about social justice demands us to work for change (See the disparities in the table above, or better yet peruse the 2019 Kids Count Data Book). Which brings us back to the original question, “If facts aren’t enough to change a teacher’s practice, what can we do? How can we change the practices of other teachers so that all students have a fair chance to learn?”

We cannot abandon facts. For facts help shape reality. However, reality is not created from mere facts. Reality is crafted from a concoction of facts and emotions. But this is particularly tricky. I am not comfortable engaging with contentious issues using emotion. It can devolve into mere anecdotes that tug on heartstrings. It can feel like I am flirting with some type of educational prosperity gospel, “Just do this, and your students will excel, be creative, lovely, and wonderful!” Playing on emotions is what cult leaders do.

And even so, emotions matter. We should use them to our advantage without manipulating others. 

We can do this by realizing that emotions are needed to make all decisions, even ones that seem to be just logical. 

A study by neuroscientists Antoine Bechara, Hanna Damasio, and Antonio R. Damasio in the journal Cerebral Cortex is summarized by ChangingMinds.org,

“Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people who had received brain injuries that had had one specific effect: to damage that part of the brain where emotions are generated. In all other respects they seemed normal – they just lost the ability to feel emotions.

The interesting thing he found was that their ability to make decisions was seriously impaired. They could logically describe what they should be doing, in practice they found it very difficult to make decisions about where to live, what to eat, etc.”

So, if we want people to change their actions we need to involve emotions, even when the data is clear. So, how do we use emotions in a non-manipulative manner?

We need to first get some type of initial investment, and then sustain it. Which is obvious if you pause and think about it. Too bad actually achieving this is not so clear or straight-forward.

I think this can be done in a similar way we get our students to become invested in learning. When we are passionate about what we teach, we are passionate in such a way that it draws students into the content. However, when we talk about how to teach (or politics or religion), our passion tends to turn divisive.

I think there are ways to harness our passion to make evidence informed teaching attractive to doubters. We need to tell a (true) story and not just spit out some facts about good pedagogy. This is challenging. (I am trying to write this blogpost to clearly convey the facts while appealing to emotion. It is taking much longer than normal and I am not sure how effective I am, but I’m convinced it is worth trying.) 

When we turn good pedagogy into a story, we make our methods larger than a mere procedure. When we fail to personalize the issue, to make it a story we often come off as cold and calculating, as if we think educating a child is a matter of plugging in an equation. So, tell a story.

In the rest of this article I will use explicit instruction as my example because I think an easy to digest system of instruction with a proven track record that is based on cognitive science. For those interested, there is an absolutely excellent book about explicit instruction written by Anita Archer Ph.D and Charles Hughes Ph.D called Explicit Instruction: Effective And Efficient Teaching.

You: “I use explicit instruction because I want children to change the world with their creativity and ability to think critically. I use explicit instruction because I want students to have fun in school. I use explicit instruction because I want students to be both tolerant and understanding about other cultures/values.” 

This also plays on the “others’ needs and goals from step #2. Everyone wants these things. Now they are intrigued. 

Them: “Why does your approach to teaching produce those results? Does it really work better than what I have been doing?” 

Now we can move on to step number three, “offering proof that socially desirable other people are already invested”. Basically this is an appeal to authority. Be careful! Remember! Use emotions, don’t manipulate. Appeals to authority can be useful.

You: “Here is what Professor X has to say about explicit instruction. She is very concerned about making education authentic and applicable to students.”

Doing this well involves knowing who you are talking to. Show them that your side shares many of the same goals as their side.

Them: “Oh, that’s interesting. So how does explicit instruction work?”

Now, hit them with the steps! Make it simple. Make it easy. Remember they are new to this and may not have a schema for explicit instruction. Give them small, easily applicable steps. Just like what you would do when you introduce your students to a new topic.

You: “Well, it’s basically like “I do. We do. You do.” You just need to make sure to fully explain and model something before having students work on it in groups or individually. This helps students apply what they are learning to real-life.”

By adding the last sentence and linking explicit instruction with real-life application, you are helping make it easier for the person to buy in. You are making their initial investment more likely to become a sustained one because you are showing them that explicit instruction is aligned with their values (Step #1 of sustained investment).

Them: “Oh, that sounds easy. I already use “I do. We do. You do. But doesn’t explicit instructions involve a lot of lecturing?”

You: “It’s great that you already use that method. The lecturing within explicit instruction always involves a lot of student interaction. It is never just teacher talk. For example, you briefly explain something and then you pose a question and students can work together to solve it. Then you can explain things a bit further and pose an application question where students again talk and work together to come up with an answer. All while clarifying and answering student questions yourself. So there is a variety of T-S, S-T, and S-S interaction. Explicit instruction is actually quite dynamic and it even encourages students to come up with creative answers.”

Them: “That is interesting. And it is a bit different than what I do.”

Here is where you can get them to give something they value, step #5. They likely value creativity, engagement, and critical thinking. Here you can, depending on the context of your conversation either encourage them to try it out in their classroom and/or share an accessible blogpost about it.

You: “Why don’t you try it out in your classroom I think you would see your students come up with some really creative answers, especially if you have them apply the skills your teaching to real-life. I’d love to hear how it went.”

By linking explicit instruction with creativity and “real-life” you are making their initial investment more likely to become a sustained one (step #1). A call to action includes step #2 of sustained investment. You are involving them in a public manner (in front of their students and in a conversation with you). 

Hopefully this will segue right into step #3 of sustain involvement by creating evidence that explicit instruction is working. This evidence may involve more engaged students, higher achievement, changing student attitudes towards the subject, etc.

Then, the last step, #4 involves trying to cement the change and making it difficult to divest. For teachers, I think that the best way to do this is to point at the changes they saw when they began consistently using explicit instruction and to give more data (research summaries work great for this). 

Now, will following this procedure always work? Of course not. But we know that simply telling people about research doesn’t really help. So let’s start our conversations by leading with the story of good pedagogy, don’t just jump to the procedure or statistical outcomes.The story invites those outside our circle to come in. Then, when real interest has been aroused, talk with or message them. Remember that the research is so persuasive to us, in part because of our experiences. Share your experiences and encourage them to apply good pedagogy. If we want them to see the educational light, show them the easy access points. Show them where good pedagogy aligns with their morals and views. Remove the barriers to good pedagogy and you might just change some minds. It might just change some students’ lives.

Planning For The Upcoming School Year

I have big plans for the upcoming school year. Foremost among them is to improve my teaching so that my students can learn more. I plan on accomplishing this primarily by more thoroughly, more consistently applying the science of learning in my classroom. 

I will accomplish this by giving my students knowledge organizers (KO) at the beginning of each chapter. The purpose of this is for my students to have an outline with the relevant vocabulary, concept questions/answers, and important diagrams. I will explicitly teach my students how to self quiz with the KO by covering up the term, definition, or answer column with a piece of paper and then saying/writing the answer. For a good introduction and primer on KOs and how to use them, check out this blog from Durrington High School.

erosion and deposition KO

I am also going to  ask my school to pay for a subscription to Quizlet. The purpose behind paying for Quizlet is to get access to the data. My plan will be to use Quizlet in class about once per week for ~10-15minutes, and to require students to use Quizlet for homework once per week. 

The questions students will be answering with Quizlet will involve nearly everything I want them to learn. The content will range from simple vocabulary memorization to concept questions. To see how to quickly and easily make flashcard decks with Quizlet, click here.

Quizlet should improve student learning by giving instant feedback and tracking their answers over time. I can harness this data to directly benefit my students by having them look at their own data and teaching them how to interpret it and then to spend more time studying what they struggle with. 

The data is also where I get the benefits of subscribing. Quizlet will aggregate the data for me and I will be able to see which questions are easy for students and which are hard, and the assignments will be automatically graded. I will have access to all of this at the click of a button, with NO GRADING. So, the hope is that I will improve student learning, be able to give specific feedback to individuals/groups/classes, be able to dig deeper into the content because students will be retaining more due to the spaced repetition and retrieval practice Quizlet provides. AND I should be able to do all of this while reducing my workload!

I am planning on using one more tech based tool, Seneca Learning. In my 6th grade class I will use the KS3 Geography content because it fits perfectly with Earth Science. My plan for this is to provide students with time to go through the modules about every other week. When the content is relevant but we do not have class time, it will be assigned as homework (Most of the modules can be done in less than 10 minutes).

This will be helpful because, like Quizlet, I will get data on student time and performance without having to grade the student work myself, saving time. Seneca Learning also does a good job of providing numerous examples, diagrams, and applications that reinforce and extend what we are learning.

I will need to be careful of how I have students use tech. I think the above tools are helpful, provided students engage with them smartly. In order to encourage this, I will have a zero tolerance policy with tech. If students are on the wrong website/playing, then their iPad will be taken away in a series of escalating lengths.

I am also planning explicitly teaching my students 6 effective study strategies. I will primarily teach my students about retrieval practice, elaboration, and dual coding. I will tell them about spacing, but the spacing will be more passive for my students (it will be based on my planning) whereas the students will be active in retrieval practice, elaboration, and dual coding.

These strategies will help them reap the full benefits of their own study time and improve their use of various study tools (KOs, Quizlet, Seneca, etc). 

One study strategy that I am focusing on in a new way will be elaboration. The elaboration study strategy involves providing explanations of ideas/concepts and making connections between different topics and your life. To facilitate this I made the worksheet shown below. At first, we will do the worksheet together. Then as students become used to the format and process they will have more and more independence.

elaboration

The goal is to encourage my students to move from memorizing everything (This is a real problem in Taiwan) to seeing the relationships/distinctions between different vocabulary and concepts, which will help their memorization, understanding, and ability to apply what we are learning.

In order to help students make connections between what we are learning in the science classroom and the “real world” I am going to provide students with a handful of articles each month of which they will choose one to make connections with and summarize. They will also cite the article in a simplified format before moving to proper MLA format 2nd semester (Cross-curricular!).

Through all of this, I will give students regular low/no-stakes quizzes that require students to be able to know the vocabulary and concepts and apply them to different situations. The quizzes will generally take between 5-15 minutes of class time. This time includes checking their answers and clarifying misconceptions.

I am not implementing all of this from scratch. Doing all of this from ground zero would be impossible and lead to an exhausted teacher and less educated students. I am not implementing anything new, I am just tweaking how I use various tools with the goals of being more consistent and enabling my students to learn more.

To sum it up, I will

  1. Use Knowledge Organizers throughout my units
  2. Use Quizlet to help students learn both vocabulary and key concepts (retrieval and spaced practice)
  3. Use Seneca Learning to reinforce what my students are learning
  4. Teach and model effective study strategies (retrieval practice, elaboration, dual coding, etc)
  5. Encourage connections to the “real world” by requiring summaries of science articles
  6. Integrate low/no-stakes quizzing throughout all units