I say “delightful” here, because working for a big board in Ontario, as I do, I find it easy to become quite insular sometimes. Even when I read books or attend workshops, it is usually with my Board colleagues, or at most, with provincial educators through the Ministry of Ed or our Teacher Federation. Rarely do I venture professionally outside Ontario. And so, it was rather a refreshing experience to spend three days in Charlottetown, PEI, with teachers K-12 from across four provinces out in this part of the country.
While I was there, the idea of “simply good teaching” came up. More specifically, during a session on Differentiated Instruction (DI), the two facilitators commented that when they had gone to the States a few years ago to hear Carol-Ann Tomlinson preach, er, speak on DI, they had turned to one another and said, “isn’t this just good teaching”?
Lost in Translation
I chuckled to myself, because even back home, I have often felt that we are quick to jump on the band-wagon and tout the latest “thing” in education, brandishing edu-babble about like a sword ready to decapitate anyone left standing, regardless of whether it’s a student, teacher or parent. Yet we frequently do so without a practical application of the “latest thing”, i.e. how does this align with (or challenge) what I already know, and what does/ might/ will/ could it look like in MY teaching context?!
In our thirst to be “up to date”, and on board with the latest “edu-speak”, I -- along with my colleagues -- am often guilty of leaving behind qood teaching techniques in favour of bigger picture philosophy without any substance to deliver it effectively.
Develop (and Maintain) a Bag of Tricks
Putting research into action requires a specific skill set and an artist’s palette. Not unlike Bennett and Rolheiser’s Beyond Monet, we must teach Science and Reading and Math and all the other subjects using a range of skills, strategies, techniques and organizers. Yet many teachers come out of the faculty of education with lovely philosophies and few practical tricks up their sleeves.
Those who have begun to develop a repertoire of effective teaching strategies such as concept attainment, placemat or rich questions followed by wait time often give them up in favour of a limited array of quick and easy low-level instructional techniques once they realise how full the job is of “extra duties as assigned”, i.e. counting pizza money, chasing down permission forms, attending endless meetings, organizing extra-curriculars, writing report cards, finding a pair of mittens, lunch or a backpack for a student who doesn’t have one, etc., etc., etc.
And once these lower-level teaching strategies become habit, it is ever so hard to adopt something new.
A Good Strategy, Tool or Organizer is Versatile
One of the sessions at the conference was entitled “Simply Good Teaching”. It in, NLTA’s Debbie Turner and Nicole Kelly led us through a series of strategies that are easily adaptable to a wide range of subject areas and grade levels.
In my next blog post, I plan to write about a few favourites I was reminded of as well as a new one I am looking forward to using the next time I am in a classroom.