Reflections on Teacher Education

As a relatively recent graduate from what we informally call Teachers’ College (six years ago) and a current graduate student, the notion of initial teacher education and its reform weighs heavily on my mind. Although coming from a slightly different experience in Manitoba compared to that of Ontario, there are commonalities within all institutions and provinces that leave many pre-service and new teachers ill equipped for a career in educating both young people and adults. Having said this, I certainly acknowledge the incredible academics who mentor and instruct pre-service teachers on a daily basis, who are determined to affect change within society and further our understanding of what is education. What I attempt to do here is simply highlight gaps from my own experience.

The first of these gaps has to do with what one might call a philosophical foundation. Throughout my Bachelor of Education program and my current Masters program, I felt that there was something missing in terms of the course content. Within the two-year undergraduate program in Manitoba, I took a variety of courses that explored specific practice and methodologies within subject areas. I took courses entitled “Teaching Social Studies in the Middle Years,” “Teaching Mathematics in the Middle Years”, and so on. What was lacking, however, was an in depth opportunity to examine the “why” and the “what.” At no point did we explore conceptual understandings of education or why we even bother with the notion of institutionalized education in the first place. We never examined basic concepts such as learning, teaching, or knowledge. Ask your colleagues about these concepts today, and you will receive dramatically different answers. Regardless, during my ITE experience, I felt that we were always being instructed on literacy strategies, or math fact games, or other “truths” that have been employed for decades without being able to ask “why?”

At the graduate level, this became ever more pronounced when the only research methodology course offered was within the realm of quantitative and qualitative research. For many researchers, this might lead to the question of “Well, what else is there?” Philosophical inquiry, as a research methodology in education, was left off the table. Now, I am fully aware that there is a polemic relationship between those who support “scientific” research and those who ascribe to a more humanities-based approach, and I do not wish to comment on the superiority of either. What I would suggest, however, is that graduate students, and even undergrads, need to read about philosophical inquiry, practice philosophical inquiry, and develop an ability to further our philosophical understanding of what we do and why we do it. When I took the basic research methodology course and came across case studies that tested tools for improving engagement levels, for example, without an investigation as to why engagement levels are important, I felt somewhat cheated. Perhaps engagement level seems like a philosophically self-evident concept, but if teachers are not questioning how and why they teach from a foundational perspective, we can end up perpetuating bad practice. Do we not want teachers who are critical thinkers who question their own practice, how we learn, and the societal objectives of formal education? My fear is that we are “producing” teachers who simply seek out “best practices,” the latest iPad app, or Smartboard lessons in the name of survival.

A second gap in my ITE experience deals with the idea of the modeling of good pedagogy. This is certainly a topic that is bemoaned by all, so I will be brief. As many pre-service candidates have expressed, I too was often confused by the teaching methodologies employed by instructors and professors who, ironically, were tasked with highlighting pedagogy that shrugged off the models based on industrialization, colonialism, and consumerism. We all shared similar experiences of courses whereby the instructor lectured, assigned readings from a textbook, and then gave fact-based tests at the end of each “unit” (apologies for using this term). Those classes, however, where the instructor or professor was able to model how he or she engages students, while at the time challenging pre-service teachers on significant questions related to education, are the memorable experiences. It seemed, from my simple perspective, that there was not really a quality control on the level of instruction.

Finally, and most importantly, education for sustainable development was a huge area of study that was missing from the ITE experience. Most provinces have adopted some sort of ESD curriculum, but as David Orr suggests, all teachers are responsible for teaching an ecological literacy. Our planet is in an unprecedented crisis situation, relative to human history. Pre-service teachers need to aggressively engage and be engaged in the practice of ecological-literacy throughout the entirety of their practice. From a brief investigation of Education faculties around the country, there are a handful of researchers and programs that examine this literacy. Unfortunately, these programs seemed to be somewhat isolated and the overarching idea of sustainability is not reinforced. Why is it that we focus so heavily on technology, reading levels, or math literacy? Should teachers not be equipped to teach their students the tools necessary for sustaining the biosphere, as well?

The ideas for reform that I have presented are not novel and may even be utopian. Given this, pre-service teachers need good modeling, an ability to ask those questions that get us further to the truth, and a literacy in ESD. Without these three concepts, no amount of ICT courses, or education psychology lectures, or reading intervention seminars will allow us to get closer to societal transformative change. Most of us can agree that the path that our society is on is unstainable; education is the agent for the change needed and this most certainly needs to be addressed at the ITE level.

About Matt Henderson


Social Studies teacher at St. John's-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Passionate about project-based and experiential learning along with education for sustainable development.

31 Comments

  1. Matt, I’m thinking that your thoughts will resonate with many. While all of your points had me nodding my head in agreement, it was the first gap identified that had me making responses actually audible by other members of the family!

    Save for a philosophy of education course, I don’t really remember digging very deeply in my own ITE courses (1983). And while this was my favourite course mainly because it allowed us to brush up against some of the fundamental questions around education and schooling, I’m not sure that everyone would have agreed.

    I think that students come to ITE programs expecting to learn (in a very short period of time) how to be successful in a classroom. For many, this means not being recognizable as a beginning teacher. The emphasis on the practical is, in a sense, expected and desired by those that lay down their money to become qualified teachers.

    At the same time, “practice” detached from the important question of “why” leaves us with some rather shallow thinking around how to bring learning alive in a classroom. I agree that our current emphasis on “best practice” and the wholesale acceptance of a wide range of strategies, approaches and technologies leaves me wondering whether our teaching force is “educated” or merely “trained”.

    I’m thinking that part of the solution to the gap that you identify may be a more expanded program. Extending the length of ITE programs (in Ontario, most programs are nine months) might provide more go deeper, but we’ll have to begin with an agreement that this is necessary and desirable.

    I happen to think that it is.

    More comments later, but I will step aside and hope that others jump in!

    stephen

  2. I remember feeling that the one thing I learned in teacher’s college was how to manage administrative politics. I felt like I really had in nailed when I was able to hand in iterations of the same project for three different courses. It has proven a useful skill in navigating the paper work of my job.

    For me, if we want to encourage critical thinking and 21st century skills in our students, then we need to foster it in our teachers. As a pre-teacher candidate, one of my instructors described me as a “High-Maintenance Student”, which I took to mean that I expected a lot from her. This instructor was a retied classroom teacher, and my sense was that she preferred to roll out her program without too much additional effort. When I complained to my cousin, she told me to cut the lady some slack, she was just doing her job.

    Perhaps it’s no surprise that time and again I seem to wind up in Special Ed circumstances, but my inclinations keep leading me to a belief that teachers are the most institutionalized of anyone in the system, and if we want more engaged and enterprising students, then we need to develop more engaged and enterprising learning spaces, both in our schools and in our colleges.

    • Eric, I think that you are right…critical thinking, in its most powerful forms, needs to be inspired and supported by teachers that are, themselves, critical thinkers and environments that nurture and support it. If those teachers are to be the ones that students encounter in the formal school system, then faculties of education have a role to play.

      John Myers is likely one of the most qualified to speak of this, and I hope that he has time to weigh in on this particular issue upon his return from the States.

  3. John Myers /

    Thanks for the kind words.
    I shall respond to this and to the related teacher ed thread when I return in a few days.
    My responses in that thread likely apply here; namely, that expecting ITE to be sufficient is unrealistric.

  4. Nancy /

    Critical thinking in what direction? The direction of the teachers’ faculties, along with the school boards, union heads, that more or less follow the identical goals.

    The reason why I am questioning it, because the content of the IET courses are not connected to the teachers in usefulness and in turn not connected to the outcomes of students.

    In an OISE report – ” Many complexities are associated with the assessment and review of initial teacher education programs around identified standards. Some concerns relate to ensuring
    measures align to different purposes (e.g. maintenance, improvement, change). Other
    concerns emphasize that measures consider locations (e.g. on/ off site), and impact of the
    delivery models used (e.g. didactic, collaborative). Perhaps the most significant
    recommendation is a call for more explicit attention to indicators that link initial teacher
    development to student learning (e.g. assessment results, portfolios, marks or grades,
    retention and participation). Guskey (2003) emphasizes that evaluation of professional
    development must be ongoing, systematic, informed by multiple data sources and
    multiple kinds of data. It must also be understandable to a variety of stakeholders if it is
    to have power.

    Initial teacher education programs in Canada tend to be viewed as a first, foundational
    stage in this professional development process. They are expected to provide an
    introduction to critical knowledge bases, skills, and practices that assist prospective
    teachers to develop a fundamental understanding of high quality student and teacher
    learning and performance. Reflective of this attention to an ongoing professional
    development process, most provinces have also introduced induction programs to follow
    a teacher candidate’s first year of preparation. Induction programs include information
    sharing and mentoring with a more experienced colleague. They have been designed to
    assist beginning teachers make better transitions into the classroom and to support the
    next stage of their professional development, whether it be identified as meeting the
    needs of diverse learners, establishing and maintaining effective environments for
    learning, or negotiating the many non-teaching administrative tasks associated with the
    role of teaching (OCT, 2006a).”
    Thttp://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ite/UserFiles/File/CharacterizingITE.pdf

    In Matt’s post – ” I felt somewhat cheated. Perhaps engagement level seems like a philosophically self-evident concept, but if teachers are not questioning how and why they teach from a foundational perspective, we can end up perpetuating bad practice. Do we not want teachers who are critical thinkers who question their own practice, how we learn, and the societal objectives of formal education? My fear is that we are “producing” teachers who simply seek out “best practices,” the latest iPad app, or Smartboard lessons in the name of survival.”

    Noted in the OISE report, a teacher has a hard time questioning their own teaching practices, when one considers the constraints imposed upon the teacher, by the system, its structure and the divisions of powers and authority.

    In the same way, parents and the communities have a hard time questioning the teaching practices, where the constraints imposed upon them are the constant messages by the education system to accept and trust the education system. Yesterday, I read a letter from a dyslexic blog that could have described my child to a T, as other letters that I have read on the blogs and forums dating back to the 1960s. over the pass 11 years. “I recently received this long email from a parent who is just discovering her daughter’s dyslexia in 7th grade, even though she’s been struggling for years.

    Parents, when you see these types of early struggles, don’t wait for the school to figure out it — because most teachers have had no training on the warning signs of dyslexia.”
    http://www.facebook.com/SusanBartonDyslexia/posts/342380472516950

    In 2012, considering the advancements and research in dyslexia and in the extended fields in all aspects of learning, the teachers being trained are not taught the dyslexia symptoms, what to look for, and the differences between the dyslexic students and the students without the dyslexic symptoms.

    On the OISE site – “Reading/Literacy: Why and How to Assist Students Experiencing Difficulties in Grades 4-12 EDU5547H
    This course will focus on and extend teacher candidates’ knowledge and skill in reading and literacy instruction in the junior, intermediate, and senior levels. Early language/literacy development will be addressed briefly to establish a solid foundation of knowledge about reading and literacy. Various types of research evidence as they relate to reading/literacy instruction will be considered. Physiological processes involved in reading (including what we are discovering about the brain), student motivation, different reading strategies, students’ background and cultural knowledge, and one’s academic vocabulary will be explored in relation to the development of students’ reading. Teacher candidates will consider briefly some of the debates about high stakes and large-scale testing as well as equitable and socially just approaches to address students’ reading difficulties. Particular attention will be given to the links between theory and practice.” http://ro.oise.utoronto.ca/CalPage44.htm

    Graduates of OISE’s Bachelor of Education/Diploma in Technological Education Consecutive Program, Master of Teaching Program and The University of Toronto Concurrent
    Teacher Education Program will begin to demonstrate:
    http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ite/UserFiles/File/Learner_Document.pdf

    Back to the OISE report – “Notions of teaching excellence in relation to student learning and contextual pressures
    have prompted debate about what a beginning teacher ought to know and be able to do
    (Fullan, Hill & Crevola, 2006; Leithwood, McAdie, Bascia & Rodrigue, 2006). There has
    been increasing recognition, as research deepens in relation to teacher expertise, that core
    subject matter in ITE programs needs to be attentive to real themes and issues in the dayto-day work of teachers yet grounded in certain key knowledge bases (e.g. substantive
    subject knowledge, syntactic subject knowledge, curriculum knowledge, pedagogical
    knowledge, knowledge of learners, knowledge of educational contexts) that help inform
    instructional decisions about student learning. ”
    http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ite/UserFiles/File/CharacterizingITE.pdf

    My main point is the education system puts everybody in their silos and constraints are imposed on the connections between the silos. The very nature of the constraints is to have one and all to comply to the overarching goals of the education system. It is where teacher training and its content are define by the ones within the education system that has the political/knowledge capital along with the authority to decide what will be or will not be.

    “For the most part the greatest control of teacher education rests with the universities and
    their governing bodies. What Labaree (2006) describes as the progressive views and
    romantic rhetoric of teacher education is widely shared in Canadian faculties of
    education. A concrete expression of this is the accord that was approved by the deans of
    all faculties of education in 2006 (Collins & Tierney, 2006). The accord outlined a panCanadian commitment to principles for teacher education. For example, the recognition
    that an effective initial teacher education program “promotes diversity, inclusion,
    understanding, acceptance and social responsibility in continuing dialogue with local, national and global communities.” In addition to these commitments, the deans also
    recognize the benefits of having a variety of programs and pathways in initial teacher
    education.”
    http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ite/UserFiles/File/CharacterizingITE.pdf

    And the content of the teaching training in my opinion, is base on the abstract – the ideal student and not the realities of the students. When dyslexic students are not identified until the later grades, and that is if the constraints of the education system allows identification, there is something very wrong in a system that does not value identification, and nor can it identified dyslexic students when students are seen as abstracts. A romantic versions of many stripes in the education system, promotes constraints and in so doing, the content of the teacher education courses are geared to promote the ideal student , the ideal teacher, the ideal communities and where no one ever measures up to the ideal model. The reason being, it is based on the abstract, and in so doing it is not the realities of the present 21st century, its values, and knowledge.

    “Romantic educators generally favor a child-centered classroom and exploration-based learning; they eschew authoritarianism, harsh discipline, and strict rules. The Romantic classroom, in its ideal conception, is organic, spontaneous, and creative; uniformity and order are avoided.

    Romantic educators apply the same values of organicism and spontaneity to curriculum: they seek to soften divisions between subject areas and to provide a cohesive, holistic education, whose different topics flow naturally together in the creation of a single, interlinked body of knowledge. Teachers are given significant leeway to steer the class according to their own interests and the curiosity of their students.

    Romantics are wary of measurement and quantification. (See my post on attitudes towards intangibles in Romantic and No-Excuses schools.) They believe that the most important aspects of education (deep comprehension, love of learning, etc.) are difficult or impossible to assess, and they therefore reject tests and grades that seek to measure and quantify student achievement.

    A note on terminology: Romantic education is often conflated with Progressive education. John Dewey’s progressive ed was entirely distinct from Romantic ed, but early in the 20th century the two philosophies became thoroughly entangled with one another, so that, for many, the term “progressive education” now calls to mind a set of ideas that is more Romantic than Deweyan. E. D. Hirsch uses the term “Romantic-Progressive Education,” which I have appropriated. Ideally, I would prefer to use “Progressive education” only in the Deweyan sense, but “Romantic education,” on its own, is simply too unfamiliar to most readers.”
    http://edcommentary.blogspot.ca/p/glossary.html

    “ab·stract (b-strkt, bstrkt)
    adj.
    1. Considered apart from concrete existence: an abstract concept.
    2. Not applied or practical; theoretical. See Synonyms at theoretical.
    3. Difficult to understand; abstruse: abstract philosophical problems.
    4. Thought of or stated without reference to a specific instance: abstract words like truth and justice.
    5. Impersonal, as in attitude or views.
    6. Having an intellectual and affective artistic content that depends solely on intrinsic form rather than on narrative content or pictorial representation: abstract painting and sculpture.”

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/abstractness

    • Hi Nancy. I’d like to better understand your perspective.

      My take from your response is that Teachers’ College does a lousy job of preparing teachers to deal with real students their learning challenges. Is this correct?

      Further, my sense is that you are weary of student-centered programs and favour a more prescriptive classroom model? Is this correct?

      I wonder if you might describe the operations of a classroom that could have been able to identify the particular needs of your daughter.

      Thanks.

  5. John Myers /

    So often faculties of education are stereotyped in that all instructors are assumed to be
    - using the same techniques
    - promoting the same philosophies
    - ignoring “proven research”.
    This is wrong because it is inaccurate.
    YET
    As someone whose background, interests, and experiences have enabled me to bridge some of the divides between research and practice in Ontario and beyond, I offer a few suggestions for my colleagues.
    1. Engage in conversations with each other and with the classroom teachers we work with and talk to
    - about the links among research and practice
    - about the power and limits of the former
    - about the need to learn more from the latter rather than “teach, test, and hope for the best” a
    favourite quote from Grant Wiggins
    2. Read more widely in their field (content and pedagogy) by
    - picking areas of interest (content) related to curriculum; e.g., my nieces who teach math in New York state are looking at mental arithmetic operations (among other things) and I who teach history am looking at the impact of diseases and natural disasters on historical events (among other things) – picking areas of interest for improving pedagogy; i.e. understanding and using quality feedback is a good direction
    3. Set up special interest groups among colleagues and teachers to explore some of these through book clubs, action research
    4. Report and share results.

    Why these suggestions? They are feasible and I can in my own case demonstrate their effectiveness.
    I also suggest them because they are far too rarely done in schools in Ontario and in faculties of education, despite their merits.

    The Ontario College of Teachers Professionally Speaking sometimes reports on this work. I hope that publication continues to do so.

  6. You have generated a much needed discussion, but most of it focuses on how to restructure or perfect the current model with its almost exclusive “child-centred ideology.” Few education professors stop to take a look in the mirror. Most promote “child-centred learning” ideology, then claim to favour “differentiated learning” for everyone but beginning teachers.

    What Education Schools really need is more divergent thinking, exposing teacher candidates to the very real intellectual tension between conflicting pedagogies.

    Matthew Hunter’s stimulating feature (June 2012) in Standpoint Magazine is a prime example:

    http://standpointmag.co.uk/features-june-12-child-centred-learning-has-let-my-pupils-down-matthew-hunter-a-s-neil-plowden-free-schools

    It raises fundamental pedagogical questions that will rarely, if ever, be presented to beginning teachers. That is precisely why university graduates (conscious of intellectual discourse) consider education schools to be little more than vocational training centres.

  7. John Myers /

    An article from the UK is not evidence on which to generalize about schools of education here or elsewhere. A challenge is that we in teacher education do not share and dialogue enough as noted
    above.
    In my instructional strategies course I teach, as do others, a version of the Hunter/Rosenshine model
    of direct instruction. I also teach Engelmann’s DI using examples in math and reading- I teach Icelandic to show how it works. I know we did direct instruction in courses at UBC.
    So while we may not do it well enough or appropriately in all cases, many of us do teach it.
    “Child centred learning” is too vague a phrase to be useful and I do not use it.
    We are very sloppy in our use of language in the ed biz. Co-operative learning and groupwork are not the same; neither are direct instruction and lecture. In each pair when the used appropriately, the former is superior to the latter.

    These pedagogical questions are raised in my classes and I know to some extent in others in my institution, as Stephen can attest.
    Are they raised and explore as much as I wish? No, but then they are not raised so much in schools either.

    As noted elsewhere, schools of education cannot be sufficient for teacher education as there is much to learn that can take years. If there is a “vocational centre” quality, it is in p[art because student teachers want to learn some mechanics of teaching and lesson planning so they can teach.

    There is not a lot of time to explore “conflicting pedagogies”. In many cases, the conflicts are illusory; the dichotomies false. In my classes and I am sure in others, some of these are investigated.

    As for reputations, comments from former grads, with many of whom I still collaborate, have a variety of views of their years in teacher education. Many of these views are positive.

    Sweeping generalizations make me very pessimistic about the usefulness of blogs.

    • I would love to have the time to site with teachers and explore “conflicting pedagogies”. John points out the time factor, and think that this is significant. I think equally significant, however, is that initial teacher education programs at faculties/schools of education, are perceived (if not promoted) as training grounds for work in schools. They are, in fact, the gatekeeper to the profession.

      For me, it wasn’t until I had been teaching for a while and started to become restless with what I knew about teaching and learning–and what I didn’t know–that I began to pursue other courses of study. My Masters program was really the first place that I encountered such things as critical pedagogy, alternative views of teaching and learning (except for our reading of Summerhill at the faculty) and the idea that there were different ways of seeing this place we call school.

      IN my faculty year, however, the focus was on graduating and getting a job.

      This raises some interesting possibilities for discussion, including what the purpose of an ITE program actually is. Is it to prepare candidates for life in schools as they are currently imagined, or is it to imagine and work for different approaches?

      • Stephen, your ITE experience sounds similar to the experience of many high school students. Teachers who say wish there was more time to investigate, discuss, explore, but we’ve got five months to cover all this curriculum and then we’ve got to get you out the door. In my practice, I experience a tension between the exploratory nature of authentic learning processes and the prescriptive mandate of predetermined course work.

        I wonder if readers have a similar sense, that ITE is like going to high school, jumping through the hoops to get the certificate, and that deeper investigation is the rarified domain of those curious and privileged enough to pursue the investigation.

        • I think that you may be right, Eric. If time is, indeed, the factor then the promise of a two-year program may be a sign of hope. That said, without a clear vision of what the expanded time frame might include, there is the possibility that ITE will just be more of the same.

          • John Myers /

            Unfortunately the Ministry is not using the phrase “two year program”. It is . using “extended” or now “enhanced”
            I suspect – it will not be a 2-year
            - that money will be the driving factor
            - that they are not sure what they are going to do
            - that the programs outside Ontario that certify teachers will still be used
            and contribute to the current glut since the province does not give grant money to those programs.

            So I work with the constraints I have since I have no influence on policy.

  8. John Myers /

    Some useful directions for thoughtful discourse about pedagogy might include
    - the role of technology (see that on several blogs) and part of my own classes in teacher ed
    - the place of a “zero” in assessment: this is controversial, emotional and one explored in my history classes
    - what makes content important and how does it connect to skills? also explored in my classes
    - how do non academic outcomes such as those categorized under “social and emotional development” affect student academic achievement? we have been exploring this for a few years

    • John, these are very practical suggestions…ones that resonate with the way schools are currently constituted. They push at the edges of current realities and current practices.

  9. Nancy /

    Eric

    “My take from your response is that Teachers’ College does a lousy job of preparing teachers to deal with real students their learning challenges. Is this correct?
    Further, my sense is that you are weary of student-centered programs and favour a more prescriptive classroom model? Is this correct?
    I wonder if you might describe the operations of a classroom that could have been able to identify the particular needs of your daughter.”

    Yes to the first two questions, but with qualifications attached. In order to answer the third question, the first two must be answered as to why teachers’ training and preparation, such as it is currently does not allow easy identification and timely remediation of children with learning difficulties. As noted in my previous post, “ And the content of the teaching training in my opinion, is base on the abstract – the ideal student and not the realities of the students. When dyslexic students are not identified until the later grades, and that is if the constraints of the education system allows identification, there is something very wrong in a system that does not value identification, and nor can it identified dyslexic students when students are seen as abstracts. A romantic versions of many stripes in the education system, promotes constraints and in so doing, the content of the teacher education courses are geared to promote the ideal student , the ideal teacher, the ideal communities and where no one ever measures up to the ideal model. The reason being, it is based on the abstract, and in so doing it is not the realities of the present 21st century, its values, and knowledge.”

    Further expansion of my premise, can be seen in Paul’s link – “Matthew Hunter’s stimulating feature (June 2012) in Standpoint Magazine is a prime example:”
    http://standpointmag.co.uk/features-june-12-child-centred-learning-has-let-my-pupils-down-matthew-hunter-a-s-neil-plowden-free-schools
    On page 5 of the above link, “As a philosophy of teaching, child-centred education has been a disaster. Irrespective of their political outlook, teachers need to return to the idea that education is a conservative endeavour. Applying political principles such as freedom, independence and egalitarianism to the education of children is bound to be a mistake for the simple reason that children are of a pre-political age. They are life’s apprentices, and it is the responsibility of the teacher to prepare them for the privileges of a liberal existence, not to grant them such privileges prematurely. Far from being “child-centred”, classrooms should be pervaded by the assumption that the adult knows what is best for the child. Today’s classrooms lack any confidence in adult authority, in terms of both subject matter and discipline.”

    Being a parent, and my experiences of the early years, and even more so – it is the political constraints imposed on the teaching pedagogy and practices that leads to the further degradation of the content of curriculum, resulting in knowledge gaps of students but more importantly, giving the parents confusing messages that results in reinforcing the education philosophies that are not grounded in the science. In 2001, I absolutely expected teachers to answer my questions why my child was dropping her vowels in writing, why my child was having great difficulty in adding and multiplication, and no problems in the operations of subtraction and simple division. Why the words were bouncing off the page when she read, and many other questions that centered around the 3 Rs. The educators and the school officials responses were little more than ideological base, laced with dogma with half-truths and a tad of science to make it sound realistic.

    As a parent, all I wanted was my child to learn to read, write and do numeracy well, and not a lecture on what was lacking in both my child and myself in terms of skills, abilities and knowledge. If only we could be more like the ideal parent and child, does not solve the problem at hand, children who are struggling in learning. In 2001, I was quick to blame the curriculum, the practices and the school policies and practices of the school board, and the school officials were quick to respond in so many ways that I was not qualified to criticized the operations of the school, when I did not have the B. Ed behind my name. The Matthew Hunter’s articles targets some of my frustration of why schools no longer are concern with the 3 Rs, the basic foundation for all students to stand on, to advance their academic learning.

    My journey, took a different route from the beginning and it began in the self-taught of long hours sitting in front of my desktop computer screen. In the previous post, “For the most part the greatest control of teacher education rests with the universities and their governing bodies. What Labaree (2006) describes as the progressive views and romantic rhetoric of teacher education is widely shared in Canadian faculties of education. A concrete expression of this is the accord that was approved by the deans of all faculties of education in 2006 (Collins & Tierney, 2006). The accord outlined a panCanadian commitment to principles for teacher education. For example, the recognition that an effective initial teacher education program “promotes diversity, inclusion, understanding, acceptance and social responsibility in continuing dialogue with local, national and global communities.” In addition to these commitments, the deans also recognize the benefits of having a variety of programs and pathways in initial teacher education.”
    http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ite/UserFiles/File/CharacterizingITE.pdf
    I only wish that the deans of the education faculties, get out of their ivory towers, and start dealing with the realities of the 21st century, along with the advancements in the sciences of learning, cognitive, and other fields of studies that directly has implications in the education of children. If they had done so, my child along with a good many would have reach their full academic potential.

    But why do the deans of the education faculties worship the progressive and romantic rhetoric of ideology and dogma? In 2003, I went searching for the answer to contact a dean or two, willing to speak to a parent. Now that is a tough task, reaching those that dwell in the education faculties. But I succeeded, and only because one was curious why a parent would be contacting him. The most revealing part of the conversation, and is a common trait in the upper levels of the education system, is the myopic focus on the processes of learning without looking at the outcomes of the students. It has never sat well to me, how one can go through life using a method or methods without looking at the outcomes. In 2003, my child sitting in grade 3, was paying a steep price in her advancement in learning based on the child-centered philosophies, and yet all the educators made light of the outcomes and cast blame unto myself and my child. It was never the teaching pedagogy and practices that was at fault, but always an external variable(s) that were to blame. Shortly after, I walked into the world of the researchers in reading, learning and the cognitive fields, via through a new site, called The Children of the Code. Thanks largely, to a few university professors of mathematics and English that lie outside of the education faculties, who were also concern about the outcomes of students.

    The Children of the Code, became one of the bibles – the resources – that are sadly missing not only in the education faculties but throughout the public education system. I will only cite one person, a researcher that has been kicking around in the OISE that has done his part in contributing to the science of reading. And yet he is ignored for the most part. In an interview, “ Dr. Keith Stanovich is Canada’s Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science at the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto. His research in the field of reading was fundamental to the emergence of today’s scientific consensus about what reading is, how it works and what it does for the mind……states:
    “Are We Teaching Teachers not to be Learners?:

    David Boulton: In particular, what I’m referring to is the way that we educate teachers. We don’t take them into a first-person, grounded understanding of this challenge from which to become scientist-learners in their own right, in their practice of it, and they end up subscribing to belief mechanisms.

    Dr. Keith Stanovich: Yes.

    David Boulton: And in that sense, it’s like competing religions.

    Dr. Keith Stanovich: Yes, very much so. They respond to the charismatic people they had in teacher education school and they’re not given what I would call discipline-based knowledge. Actually it’s not just reading I have an interest in, my other research area is critical thinking. Similar things go on there. You have teachers picking up knowledge from in-service gurus and teaching reading without a knowledge of phonology or orthography or the history of linguistic change, which I see is one of your interests, and what I would call information processing, cognitive psychology, for that matter, relevant issues and cognitive development. This is what I call the discipline-based knowledge that surrounds reading. Very little of it penetrates into reading education.

    The point I make is that this is an unfortunately replicable phenomena. It happens in the area of critical thinking as well. Schools have programs they get, again, from commercial packages, in-service gurus, with no grounding in discipline-based knowledge in thinking and reasoning; and I mean discipline-based knowledge in philosophy, decision science, decision theory, cognitive science – where principles of rational thought are being studied empirically and theoretically by philosophers. None of this penetrates education. So, I think it’s a recurring problem.

    David Boulton: And the biggest danger that I see as I bump into what you’re talking about is that teachers are trained out of being learners. There’s such a difference between belief based on somebody else’s knowledge…

    Dr. Keith Stanovich: Right.

    David Boulton: And actually having an appetite to understand something for yourself, striving into your own learning, and then having access to the kind of resources that will support your learning and keeping it going right through your practice in school with kids.

    Dr. Keith Stanovich: Well said. Every component of what you’ve listed is missing from the educational culture. I couldn’t agree more.”
    http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/stanovich.htm

    Are the teachers’ faculties teaching teachers not to be learners? I would concur, because as Dr. Stanovich and the top researchers in reading, cognitive and the learning sciences have all stated at one time or another, and have reached a consensus, that teacher training needs to change to reflect the science and not the pedagogical philosophies based on child-centered learning.

    “Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science.”  This quote is still as relevant today as it was more than 10 years ago when Dr. Louisa Moats wrote an article regarding the complexity of the reading process and the responsibility of insuring that all educators step up to the challenge of preparing to teach this most important academic skill for children.” http://www.montgomerynews.com/articles/2010/02/25/roxborough_review/news/doc4b86ab83e7066932679445.txt

    And the PDF file – http://aari.educ.ualberta.ca/files/Reading.is.Rocket.Science.pdf

    Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science was published in 1999, and it took 12 years to filtered down to the teachers, via through the teaching faculties. Resistance to the new knowledge and advances in all fields of learning is common place within the education system and its structure.

    As Louisa Moats has stated in many places, and in the above link, “The fact that teachers need better training to carry out deliberate instruction in reading, spelling, and writing should prompt action rather than criticism. It should highlight the chronic gap between what teachers need and what they have been given. It should underscore the obligation of licensing programs to combine coursework with practice on a range of predefined skills and knowledge. The deficiencies in teacher preparation represent both a misunderstanding of what reading instruction demands and a mistaken notion that any literate person should be able to teach children to read. We do not expect that anyone who appreciates music can teach music appreciation, or that anyone who can balance a checkbook can teach math. Just about all children can be taught to read and deserve no less from their teachers. Teachers, in turn, deserve no less than the knowledge, skills, and supported practice that will enable their teaching to succeed. There is no more important challenge for education to undertake.”

    Eric to answer the third question – “I wonder if you might describe the operations of a classroom that could have been able to identify the particular needs of your daughter.”, is a bit more complicated than listing a few descriptive items. I needed a teacher to connect the symptoms of learning struggles to the reading and dyslexic research based on the science, that is sadly lacking within the public education system and missing in the training of teachers. Below, another favorite of mine, and one of my bibles, lists on the signs of dyslexia.
    http://dyslexia.yale.edu/EDU_signs.html

    Back to the Children of the Code, a new addition for parents, and rarely can be found on the education government sites – “ Resources for Parents: Understanding Your Child’s Difficulties” The first paragraph, and it still stands in 2012, parents with children with learning struggles must go outside of the public education resources and literature, to seek understanding and to be able to better advocate for their child, in an education system that seeks to defend their own practices at the expense of the children and their education. “It is important that you understand your child’s learning difficulties. There is no substitute for your own first-person understanding of the challenges your child faces in learning. If you don’t understand what your child needs, how can you advocate for them? Although you can get information from your child’s school and teachers, remember that they are accountable to district and state education bureaucracies, so their goals are different from yours. You need objective, scientifically based information as a counter-balance so that you can advocate for your child’s specific needs.”
    http://www.childrenofthecode.org/parents/understandingdifficulties.htm

    The classroom teachers need to do the same, seek outside resources and the science advancements in learning outside the public education system, in the same places where the researchers are, and the same research that is frown upon by the local, district and ministry levels. That is if teachers want to be on a first-person understanding with their students.

  10. Posting the Matthew Hunter piece was only intended to promote a little thinking out of the usual educational box. It may be a British teacher, but there are examples of this critique much closer to home.

    Manitoba social studies teacher Michael Zwaagstra shares Hunter’s concerns and has gone much further in arguing for fundamental changes in Canadian education faculties:

    http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/westview/education-faculties-should-disappear-138629219.html

    I do not happen to agree with Zwaagstra that education faculties should be dissolved.

    Reading the VoicEd.ca online discussion one would think that such discussions were limited to a few malcontents. I continue to hope that VoicEd.ca welcomes “crossovers” willing to set the cat among the educational pigeons.

  11. John Myers /

    Paul has always been the epitome of civility and clarity. S’ok.

    Given Michael Zwaagstra’s long connection with professors at the U of Manitoba faculty of education I find his assertions “remarkable”.

  12. Our fearless leader, Stephen Hurley, does not strike me as an educator unwilling to look at all perspectives on teacher education. That’s what really surprised me about this rather mundane thread of discussion.

    I was determined to stand back until I read the comments and saw the direction this in-house discussion was taking.

    No serious discussion of this education policy issue should occur without reference to Michael Zwaagstra’s recent critique: http://thechronicleherald.mobi/opinion/81296-university-faculties-education-should-be-re-educated

    Let’s open this discussion up and get all the players in the mix before we start looking at policy solutions.

    • Thanks for your participation here Paul. So, what one question might be provocative enough to take us down this road. I would imagine that it would need to be something that avoided the usual polarizing debates about the value of MI, Differentiated Instruction and whole language.

      I’m going to sleep on it but, given the fact that the sun rises earlier where you are, you might have something before me!

  13. We would not be having this discussion, John, if every Faculty of Education professor was as open-mined and clued-in as you are to the real issues in public education.

    I suspect that the real problem lies with faculty of education types who still view these online discussions as beneath them. They live is academic worlds of their own creation.

    • John Myers /

      I have to agree on this.
      I have asked colleagues who are into research, not just in education but other fields such as science and medicine who have ideas that the public need to better understand.
      Among the reasons i get for a lack of “bridging” are
      - we are not good at taking our technical language that is clear to us
      and turning it into concise paragraph or sound bites that laypeople can understand
      - we are too busy doing the research that we are required to do
      since
      to paraphrase Blaise Pascal from centuries ago
      It takes time to respond concisely.

      Of course there is a perception, which has some truth to it, that some of us are too arrogant to
      slum on a blog or talk to the press.

      But you gotta know
      when a multiple choice test item says “all” or “none” it is usually wrong

  14. John Myers /

    I agree that we at faculties of education are not as rigorous in our thinking as we ought to be. Neither are our critics. In fact when it comes to multiple intelligences, as Dan Willingham has said on more than one occasion, though Mr. Zwaagstra has not picked up on this though he cites Willingham
    - the idea goes back half a century before Gardner
    - it does have empirical evidence to support it, albeit of varying quality
    - its implication for schools, as Gardner himself has said, has been misinterpreted and blown way out of proportion.

    Evidence and good proofs interest me. Arguments for their own sake, do not. See/hear/read too much of that on talk radio/tv//blogs. There are a few books on research in education useful for the layperson or teacher. Arthur K Ellis has one; Dan Willingham’s latest is another.

  15. John Myers /

    Blogs that work well
    - raise legitimate issues
    - do so with clarity and civility
    - seek areas of common ground when warranted and strive to avoid false dichotomies
    - use evidence as much as possible, recognizing that some questions are value-based for which definitive evidence for or against a position may not (yet or ever) exist
    - anecdotal evidence can be presented but needs to be examined if possible

    Under those criteria the two threads on teacher ed succeed.
    Writing clarifies thinking and does so for me in these cases; it can even get me to revise my positions.
    though i may be less than fully satisfied with the answers I get.

    • Good criteria for all of us involved and invested in the blogosphere to keep in mind. I agree with you on the power of writing to clarify thinking. Over the past few years, I’ve been seeking out those spaces where people will challenge, provoke and nurture my thinking in ways that, as you say, are civil and clear.

      Not always easy to find, but possible I suspect/hope!

      Thanks for bringing both to this space.

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