I started this week by reading the article by Gladwell. I enjoyed the parallels made between the problem of recruiting NFL quarterbacks to the problem of hiring effective teachers. Seeing it compared like that makes perfect sense! I really appreciated the idea of viewing teacher apprenticeship similarly to how the financial advisers viewed their candidates. Not only would this lead to more effective teachers, but it would also weed out people who are not cut out to be teachers. I honestly don't see why this couldn't be done in colleges and universities (other than schools losing out on tuition from people who "aren't meant to be"). As an undergraduate student, I remember thinking that certain students just wouldn't cut it. These are the same people that were either unable to pass the state testing, or who are unable to find and/or keep full time positions now that they are out of the teacher preparation program. Maybe it sounds cruel or that I'm too judgmental, but I agree that there is a "with-it-ness" that is so important. It would be a hard thing to evaluate, but if the time could be taken to have apprenticeship program for undergraduates the resulting teachers would be of a higher caliber.
I think Gladwell's article also tied in well with our reading from the Willingham book. Currently, the view by most is that anyone with a teaching certificate is obviously capable to being a teacher. The "professionals" at the college or university have deemed him or her worthy, as has the state where he or she wishes to teach, so why not trust that he or she is capable of doing the job? According to Willingham, it is because we as humans tend to believe what our peers believe. It is socially accepted that just because you can complete the coursework and tests to become a teacher that you are able to do a good job, just like if you were to become a mechanic or x-ray technician. Because society thinks this, we go along with it without giving it much thought (maybe not us as teachers, but you know what I mean).
In the end, I think it is important that teachers are viewed as we want our students viewed, that is as individuals with personalities, likes, dislikes, talents, and struggles. If we were to look at teachers this way from the start and nurture them in the ways that we nurture our students, the caliber of teacher in the classroom would improve, and in turn so would student achievement. One thing not mentioned that I think is a glaring omission is the discussion of high quality professional development. Teachers can't be expected to grow and continue learning when they are not being pushed to be better. I think that this would help in a lot of instances where Gladwell argues that the low performing teachers could be replaced (not that I am defending these teacher - I just think it is unfair to lump people together based on standardized test scores). In our classes, we don't simply replace our low performing students; we nurture them and press them to grow. While teaching is obviously different from being a student (i.e. teaching is a paying job), I would be concerned about losing potentially great teachers who just hadn't the luxury of being exposed to research and theory based educational practices.
Research is at the very center of the movie, "Nell". Throughout the film, physician Jerry Lovell and researcher Paula Olson strive to understand the movie's namesake character, Nell - a seemingly feral woman. Initially, the motives of Lovell and Olson vary greatly. Lovell, for instance, seems to be interested in finding out whether Nell is capable of living on her own and caring for herself; he is concerned about Nell's present and future well being. He is of the impression that she is indeed capable based on his observations of Nell chopping wood and displaying independent behaviors. He almost immediately seems intent on protecting her way of life. Lovell seems to be motivated to protect Nell due in part to the letter left behind by Nell's mother, and possibly due to the need to make up for his failed marriage, although not much is mentioned about this. In additional, Lovell is a medical doctor, not a researcher. He views his patients as people, not subjects, as is evidenced by his house visit to an elderly man whom he suggests stay at home with his family rather than going to a hospital to die. He does not see Nell as someone who is sick and needs to be treated; rather she is a woman who has had a different upbringing who should be left to make her own choices in life.
Olson, on the other hand, is interested more in Nell's past. Was she abused? What was her childhood like? Olson seems to dismiss the idea that Nell could have a future in the woods, deciding that the best course of action is to bring Nell in for research and testing. As a researcher and academic, this was likely the obvious and only answer for her. Unlike Lovell, Olson seems to view Nell from a more scientific rather than personal perspective. Nell is a subject with a unique background, not an equal who may have her own ideas and opinions. Later in the movie, Olson discusses her parent's failed marriage and her own struggles to connect with others. Perhaps her childhood experiences with family dysfunction are what lead Olson to eventually connect with Nell as a person rather than a subject.
Throughout the movie, Lovell is referred to as Nell's guardian angel. For Nell, Lovell truly is a guardian angel - he is her protector. Time and time again, Lovell fights to protect Nell's lifestyle and dignity rather than trying to change her life to fit his own motives. With that said, he does make obvious efforts to improve her life, for example, in his attempt to show her it is safe to go outside during the day. This lesson serves to improve Nell's life while respecting her overall way of life. There is not a time when Lovell does not have Nell's best interests in mind. This relationship between researcher and subject should be kept in mind when conducting research, specifically in terms of education. Educators should always be looking out for the best interests of their subject (students) and serve to be their advocates. Just as Lovell fought for what he believed was right for Nell, educators need to fight for what they believe to be right for their students. While on a smaller scale, educators are conducting research all the time - they are attempting to problem solve and understand their students. They need to keep the needs of the student at heart rather than their own motives.
Edith, your explanation of the background and motivations of Dr. Lovell is very thorough and clear. The specific examples of Dr. Lovell’s observations (chopping wood, showing independent behaviors) helped illustrate your points very nicely. I like the way you describe Olson’s approach as “scientific rather than personal perspective” because as you mention, they do eventually connect, but it took time to move from research to personal. Great connection to the lesson of educators looking out for students’ best interests, because at times that is a thin line. And great point about educators constantly (and/or continually?) conducting research. That is often more innate, but a crucial part of bettering the learning environment people often do not understand.
I found Berliner's ideas of the social sciences very intriguing. As a science teacher, I am always pressing upon my students that their results need to be repeatable. Berliner points out that the social sciences are often considered "squishy" - to me, meaning that the results are not always reproducible (Berliner, 2002, pg. 18). You could test students, teachers, and schools with similar qualities but end up with very different results because of how "squishiness" the idea of educational research. As an educator, I should probably be ashamed, but I never considered educational research to be a science, probably due to the fact that I am naturally inclined to side more with the "easy-to-do" fields of science. I suppose I knew it was a science, but it was never in the same category as physics or chemistry. In thinking of educational research more in lines of science, to me that means we should be looking to find strategies that will create repeatable results for a variety of learners as well as a means of measuring those results, all while taking into account the local situations relevant to the learning community.
Philosophically, I believe that Berliner would probably align himself as a postmodernist thinker. In his essay, Berliner states that "Our science forces us to deal with particular problems, where local knowledge is needed" (Berliner, 2002, pg. 20). According to "Ideas of Representation and Truth" document, post modernists typically prefer to focus on smaller scale, local solutions rather than globally universal solutions - something that is difficult to attain in such the ever-changing field of education (Heilman, n.d.).
I completely agree with Berliner in terms of how difficult it is to measure human mental capabilities. As a classroom teacher, I can look at each of my students individually. I can get a feel for their understanding of a variety of topics and can normally determine the level to which my students are understanding. With that said, however, there is no way of telling what a student really knows, even in a small classroom setting. Students surprise me with what they know (or don't know) all the time! When trying to judge a child's understanding at a school, district, state, or even federal level, the task gets even trickier. If I, as a classroom teacher dealing with children face to face daily, cannot always definitively determine a level of a student's understanding, it seems impossible that data collected through testing would yield valid results.
Willingham's ideas seem to vary from Berliner's ideas, most specifically the idea of "decade by findings" interactions. In Willingham's introduction, he specifically discusses the debate between whole language and phonics instruction in the teaching of reading to children. He starts by citing a 1967 study that concluded that phonics was vital to reading instruction. Despite this, whole language instruction remained popular, even with another study in 1997 backing up the original study (Willingham, 2012, pg 20-22). Berliner, however, states that "Solid scientiﬁc ﬁndings in one decade end up of little use in another decade because of changes in the social environment that invalidate the research or render it irrelevant" (Berliner, 2002, pg. 20). The example given by Willingham contrasts this idea by showing that some findings are universally relevant regardless of societal changes.
Berliner, D. (2002). Educational research:the hardest science of all. Educational Researcher, 31(8), 18-20. Retrieved from https://d2l.msu.edu/content/FS13/CEP/822/FS13-CEP-822-730-97B8X6-EL-14-204/Unit 1 Foundations/Berliner -- the hardest science of all.pdf?_&d2lSessionVal=uJbsl74HGsXLeWB5QTgXPjdnf&ou=70130
Heilman, E. (n.d.). Ideas of Representation and Truth. Retrieved from https://d2l.msu.edu/content/FS13/CEP/822/FS13-CEP-822-730-97B8X6-EL-14-204/Unit 1 Foundations/Heilman - philosophy.pdf?_&d2lSessionVal=uJbsl74HGsXLeWB5QTgXPjdnf&ou=70130
Willingham, D. (2012). When can you trust the experts. San Francisco, CA: A Wiley Imprint.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!