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The search for the truth about "good" teaching.

Most of us have been fortunate enough to witness a great teacher and the outstanding performance of a person who had a lasting impression on our lives. There are two questions which I believe identifies the quality of teaching and the level of performance of a teacher. The responses to these questions reveals rather clearly the belief systems of teachers and instruction:

1) How would you describe how children learn?

2) What theories of teaching would you hold in high priority?

There are many different theories or interpretations of how children learn. Educational researchers will quickly admit that there is no single, one way, of explaining how learning takes place which we can teach with such confidence that all other theories are unacceptable, or wrong. Therefore, we should recognize that we should respond in probabilities about theories of learning. Some explanations are much more probable than others, but we must admit that learning is still a researchable question. When several learning theories and explanations are examined for evidence to support a theory or two, it is highly probable that the best explanation of how children learn emerges from a theory called social learning. The three basic components of this theory explain how children (and adults) learn:

1) Observing a behavioral (can be seen, heard, or read about) model,

2) The consequences, or results of the model's behavior, and

3) The internal thinking (cognitive) and feeling (affective) processes of the observer (the learner).

There are three kinds of models that are observed by the learner: The real live model, e.g., parent, or teacher, or peer; the symbolic model, e.g., character in a film or on videotape; and the verbally described model, e.g., oral or written descriptions of heroes or heroines. When we examine what happens to the model's behavior, we are certain to discuss how the behavior is rewarded or punished. There appears to be more interpretive kinds of reinforcement in human behavior than direct reinforcement, e.g., giving praise, money, or trophies immediately after a successful performance. Social learning theory, supported by a large amount of research, refers to three kinds of reinforcement:

Direct reinforcement. The model's behavior is followed immediately by an external reward, i.e., money, or praise.

Vicarious or emotional reinforcement. The observer (learner) sits, looks, and listens, and learns. He does not have to be active doing something to learn. Since every one of us has an emotional system called the autonomic nervous system, we can have feelings of emotions of hope and fear which determine us. I am speaking of internal emotional feelings we have when we observe a model being rewarded and punished.

Self reinforcement. Direct and vicarious reinforcement result from consequences delivered by the external environment. Self reinforcement, on the other hand, is centered within the individual. Individuals become capable and learn self-criticism and self-rewarding behaviors, these self-rewarding behaviors make the individual free and responsible. Animals can't self-reinforce; only humans do.

The psychology of self reinforcement focuses on the internal thinking and feeling processes of the learner. This basic principle is at the heart of teaching around and bringing about higher achievement and learning in the student. Understanding human learning in the classroom is to believe that learning is both thinking, intellectual, and school achievement oriented, but also feeling, emotions, and attitude oriented. A revolutionary principle for the decade of the nineties is simply that learning is the responsibility of the student. The learner must want to learn and parents must want the learner to learn. The teacher cannot and should not cram facts and information into students' heads. Students must learn how to incorporate the thinking, feeling, and behavior of models into their own learning. Teachers don't manipulate the student; teachers don't cause learning directly; teachers condition the environment so that learning takes place by the actions of the learners.

The learner must learn how to learn. The student must learn how to self regulate his or her behavior. The learner will learn how to learn if he, or she, learns self discipline by establishing personal goals and by monitoring his or her progress to those goals.

The teacher who wants to be successful with students will help students to set goals for themselves and develop a system of recording progress toward those personal goals. Further, the teacher who wishes to be outstanding will create a classroom climate that is filled with hope and future. If the teacher can persuade almost all the students to do quality work, teaching will be outstanding.

Critical Review of Belief Systems About Teaching

A few scholars are still searching for the truth about the characteristics of effective teachers and the skills of quality teaching. In so many places where the teaching and learning of students are topics of conversation, the search for the truth is considered old fashioned, outdated, or plainly, not interesting. I can't help but think of Pontius Pilate who asked the question 2000 years ago, "What is the truth?" How do we know when we have the truth? Does truth depend, as lawyers argue, "on the preponderance of evidence?" Does the meaning of truth, as researchers view it, depend upon the weight of supporting data, or evidence? Or is the truth about teaching a statement that is beyond any reasonable doubt? In truth, how do we define teacher effectiveness?

There appears to be a very large group of parents, legislators, and college professors who do not want to inquire and search for the truth about teaching and learning. Above all, these individuals do not want to take the time and effort to critically review the history of research studies about the psychology of learning, or the psychology of teaching. These same individuals believe that they already know what good teaching is and that they have a true picture of how students ought to learn. The sad part about the lack of interest in theories (explanations) of learning and theories of teaching emerging from research is that a school district, or a state education agency, or a national education committee will not change or impact real improvement in the achievement scores of students.

The academic preparation of certified teachers in Texas was radically changed in 1987 with the enactment of SB994. The Bachelor of Education Degree program was discontinued and emphasis was placed on degree programs in a discipline (such as English, Mathematics, Science, etc.). Research Centers were to be created in each College of Education to provide the direction and validity of innovation and change in teacher education. Implementation of SB994 began on September 1, 1991; all those intending to teach were "to major" in a discipline and to complete no more than 18 semester credit hours in teacher preparation. Six semester hours of the 18 were to be spent in the practice of student teaching. Many teacher educators throughout Texas protested the tremendous responsibility of preparing individuals to teach, with sound theory (explanations from research) and practice within the 18 semester credit hours of study. Simply stated, this meant that students would learn how to teach in four courses in "teaching" and six semester hours (2 courses) in "practice teaching."

What has happened in teacher education at Lamar University since 1987? The Department of Professional Pedagogy which is the teacher education unit in preparing teachers raised the admission standards of the grade point average in the first two years of college to 2.5, and maintained the University standard of 800 on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). In the era before 1991, Lamar traditionally graduated more than three hundred student teachers, annually. In 1992, only 62 student teachers were graduated in education with an Interdisciplinary Degree Program in Elementary Education. The number of student teachers applying for teacher certification, however, is now over 300, annually. There is a shift in courses and programs in education throughout the State of Texas. Instead of majoring in education, students now major in a discipline (e.g., mathematics) and earn certification by completing 18 hours of education work. The State of Texas requires each student desiring teacher certification to pass an Examination for Teacher Certification of Educators in Texas (ExCET) with a score of at least 70.

In a research study completed in July 1993, Dr. Charles Burke, Ms. Carol Hodges and I examined whether the grade point average (GPA) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score were helpful and predictive of the ExCET score of students as they completed teacher preparation at Lamar. Results indicated that both the GPA and the SAT scores required for admission into teacher education classes were excellent predictors of success on the certification examination (ExCET). Indeed, I could be wrong only one time in a hundred in saying that the admission requirements are highly important and predictive in passing the test for certification (licensure) in teaching.

Since SB994, several studies have been reported in journals about characteristics of teacher education students and the program at Lamar University. Numerous articles written by the teacher education faculty have also appeared in professional journals attempting to define teaching or to describe how students at every grade level learn how to learn.

For more than 60 years, men and women conducting educational research relating to teacher effectiveness have faced a task that has produced mostly disappointing results. After all these years and hundred of studies, we have to say that we still find it difficult to clearly distinguish between competent and incompetent certified teachers. The single most disturbing fact is we have difficulty in identifying the criteria (or standards) for pinpointing teacher competence. Numerous scientific studies have included the measurement problem along side the criterion problem in the search for truth about effective teaching. If we are going to ask, "Who are effective teachers?" We must add the essential identifier: "Effective in what area?" An effective teacher in early childhood may not be effective in teaching high school mathematics.

The most prominent definition of effective teaching was stated by Glasser, 1990, pp. 14-15.

An effective teacher is one who is able to convince not half or three quarters but essentially all of his or her students to do quality work in school. This means to work up to their capacity, not to "lean on their shovels" as so many are doing now. - The few teachers who can consistently persuade almost all of theft students to do quality work, are, without doubt, succeeding at the hardest job there is.

I believe we now have extensive research to prove that managing people (and, therefore, students) by top down authoritarian, boss management techniques is much less effective than leadership managed schools and classrooms in which the needs of people are part of the process. We lead people; we manage things. As Walter Deming taught the Japanese 40 years ago, "Quality always leads to increased productivity." We cannot coerce students to learn. Teachers don't jam facts and stuff information into students' heads. Nor do teachers manipulate students by reward, praises, honors, or prizes. We condition dogs and cats by reward, but not thinking children.

The teacher who creates an environment of hope in the classroom will be successful. Students learn by incorporating the thinking, feeling, and behavior of models into their own lives. Further, students learn from information flow through the brain. Teachers should be aware of at least three components of pedagogy emerging out of learning from information systems perspective: (a) the teacher should arouse and guide the reception of new stimuli based on information already in the brain. (b) The teacher should facilitate the encoding process, i.e., transform the information into a summary code useful to the learner. (c) The teacher should present a number of associations and images and, therefore, facilitate the storage and retrieval of information.

Students must learn self discipline and self regulatory behavior before teachers can be effective. Students have the responsibility to do quality work in school. If they haven't learned self regulation at home and in their community, teachers cannot whip students into shape. If students don't want to learn, the teacher is almost defeated. Teachers can create an enthusiastic, hopeful environment for students so that students can work and do quality work. Teachers can deemphasize scores and grades as the most important thing and teach the improvement is the most valued goal of the classroom.

The personality of the teacher is the most important factor in a successful teacher. Teachers don't need to be extremely bright and highly informed individuals, but they need to be critical thinkers about learning. They need to be caring and concerned as opposed to aloof and book centered, they need to be business-like and orderly as opposed to being slipshod and careless; and they need to be enthusiastic, surgent, and full of hope as opposed to being dull and boring.

Teaching is not a job; it is a profession in which teachers make hundreds of decisions each day to better the lives of each student in class. Let us look for the effective teacher as one who can turn almost all of the students on to do quality class work.

Teaching is a client centered instructional interaction. Using a diagnostic - prescriptive teaching strategy, teaching successfully requires a modified form of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) for every student. Developed with input from parents, student, teacher, and significant others (physicians, psychologists, etc.), an individual clinical strategy is recorded. Although small group, large group functions are part of instruction, the primary direction of teaching each student is clinical.

References

White, W.F. (1989). Toward a psychology of pedagogy. Education, 109, 455-461.

White, W.F. (1989). Engaging the cognitive and affective processes of the learner. Education, 110(1), 79-86.

White, W.F. (1993). From S-R to S-O-R: What every teacher should know. Education, 113(4).
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Author:White, William F.
Publication:Education
Date:Sep 22, 1995
Words:2292
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