Monday, January 08, 2007

Exellent book - very practical

The book 'Methods that Matter' was brought to my attention by its advertisement in a recent ascd newsletter and it motivated me to take it off my shelf and have another read.

It is a remarkable book as it is free of jargon , written in friendly accessible style full of practical examples from real classrooms covering all ages. For an American book it is certainly a breath of of fresh air as its contributors are classroom practitioners rather than 'curriculum experts', and for those old enough it will remind them of the UK Junior Nuffield Science books of the 70s which many of found inspirational.
'Methods that Matter' is published by Stenhouse Publishers and its authors are Harvey Daniels and Marilyn Bizar. It has recently been revised and it now has seven structures rather than the original six.
The authors have collected ideas and stories from over two dozen teachers which gives the book both usefulness and credibility.
The book is about 'best practices' defined as a set of seven interlocking practices and each best practice has its own chapter giving practical examples. This is a book about pedagogy that all will find valuable.
The seven practices applicable to all levels are:
Reading-as-thinking - this is the new exciting addition
Integrative Units- emphasizing the holistic interconnected nature of learning
Small group activities - students working in teams sharing expertise.
Representing to learn -emphasizing a range of ways of expressing ideas.
Classroom workshop - develop a workshop environment with students helping each other
Authentic experiences - significant , real life, meaningful learning experiences or problems
Reflective assessment - developing students self monitoring skills.
These six structures are seen as a 'palette' from which teachers and their students can 'paint rich cycles of learning'. Together they provide a rich supportive psychological climate that teachers and students deserve.
Each of the seven key activities gives students real voice and meaningful choices in their learning. Students set achievable goals, reflect on their own progress and express ( represent) their learning through a variety of creative media.
Responsibility, the other side of choice, is also encouraged and students are held accountable to finishing tasks they start, monitoring their own progress as they go - and in the process learning to make better choices next time. Regular conferences ( 'learning conversations') with teachers are part of the process providing feedback and future learning goals.
The creative arts are seen as vitally important to thinking and learning and performances and demonstrations are seen as a authentic way of assessing progress. All this is based on realistic authentic learning experiences or concerns that capture the imagination of the students and need to be resolved. The authors believe in doing fewer things well, in digging deeply in studies chosen, rather than rushing through content as is all too often the case at present.
The book outlines little that is new to creative teachers. John Dewey ( who wrote in the early 1900s) would recognise the seven featured approaches. The ideas restate progressive teaching ideals which the authors believe have been misunderstood, watered down and debased over the decades.
Each of the seven beliefs are first expanded by selected teacher narratives and secondly by step by step explanations which teachers can make use of in their own classrooms not that they can be copied.
The authors believe that for too long teaching has been an isolated profession where teachers work a few spaces apart but feel miles away.
This book is a start in to develop a shared sense of professionalism amongst teachers and one that places teacher creativity at the centre not imposed curriculum or assessment procedures. As such it is a welcome change.


Anonymous said...

Be great if you could give us some idea of the studies undertaken at various levels.

Bruce said...

The authors write that there are all sorts of ways to integrate learning but agree it is harder to do so at the secondary level. None of this is new to New Zealand teachers. It is important to 'design' ( not 'deliver') a curriculum based on the real concerns students have but any subject content can be 'reshaped' to involve students. One High School unit was called 'Here we Are' and involved students setting up eight inquiry topics about the history of their area.Another high school theme was 'Envisioning the future and possible careers and life paths'. Questions about the moon led to an extensive unit involving a range of cross curricular tasks.
It is not the topics that is the issue, they are there to be explored, it is developing an approach that involves students in all aspects of their own learning that is important. The book is as much about philosophy and classroom management as it is about content.

Anonymous said...

What the book is suggesting would be a challenge for specialist subject teachers.