Few School Align Learning Theory With Classroom Practice

Today I am turning Ed Tech Journeys over to Don Mesibov of the Institute for Learning Centered Education. Don’s newsletters are always great (see his New Year’s Message); but this one struck a chord with me.

“What is the theory of how people learn that guides school and classroom practices in your district?”

In how many schools can you walk up to each teacher separately, ask this question, and expect a similar response? I doubt there are 100 schools in the country where this would happen.

Let’s see, there are Central Park East, Ithaca Alternative School, and School Without Walls in New York State. When last I visited the Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Lake Elsinore, California I could (and did) speak with many teachers, secretaries, cafeteria staff, custodians, and students and almost all of them could offer an accurate articulation of the learning theory that was driving school practices. I’m sure there must be schools in other parts of the country that can boast alignment between theory and practice. But how many?

My point: successful department stores, grocery chains and other businesses lay out their wares and instruct their sales people according to defensible theories about how shoppers shop. I read in USA Today many years ago that department store managers understand that most people go toward the right when entering a store and, therefore, this dictates that products management wants customers to see first are positioned accordingly.

Periodically, state education departments encourage schools to create mission statements, vision statements, action plans, and a whole host of plans that more often than not become shelf art if they even reach a point of completion that enables them to make it to the shelf. Rarely is there any follow-through. Rarely can you walk through the halls of a school a year after teachers have been put through time consuming activities to design these statements and find a single person who can quote the school’s mission, vision or other kind of statements – much less demonstrate that their work is being guided by it.

I am suggesting that the starting point should be a school-wide consensus on:

• How do students learn
• What does our consensus on how students learn suggest in terms of how teachers should teach

I AM NOT implying that teachers should be limited in how they teach. There are already too many schools that are using scripted lesson plans which limit the flexibility of their teachers to apply the expertise they have gained through training and experience.

There are a wide range of practices that teachers can use in classrooms that can be consistent with researched based theories of how children learn. Schools need to reach consensus on the learning theory that will guide teaching practices; then, as long as teachers can justify their practices as being aligned with sound theory, they should be allowed and encouraged to use their judgment with regard to how they teach.

If you work in a school district, can you answer this question, off the top of your head, within the next 30 seconds:

What is the theory of how people learn that guides school and classroom practices in your district?
If you are a parent and asked this question of the first ten teachers and administrators you see in the school your child attends, how many similar responses will you receive?

————

Please know that your work in the field of education is as meaningful to our society as anything anyone can possibly do. Thank you for caring about the future of our children!!!!

THE INSTITUTE for Learning Centered Education NEWSLETTER
TOPIC: Few Schools Align Theory with Classroom Practice
Date: September 17, 2007 Newsletter Edition: Volume 8, Issue 26

If you know someone who would like to be put on the (newsletter) list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com. Requests to be dropped from this list will also be honored.

Copyright (c) 2007, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All rights reserved.

The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2008 summer constructivist conference, July 21-25, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: http://www.learnercentereded.org
or, e-mail a request for information.

My thanks to Don for giving permission for me to post his newsletter. I am extremely intrigued by the schools Don points to as models. In future posts I will explore these schools, their learning philosophies, and how they went about transforming themselves into organizations that could answer the question,

“What is the theory of how kids learn that guides your school and classroom practices in your district?”

pete

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10 thoughts on “Few School Align Learning Theory With Classroom Practice

  1. I agree with Don here i think that it is important for teachers to understand how their students learn. It is important that teachers do thier best to understand how students learn, otherwise teachers could teach until they are blue in the face but with little retention by students. I think that all students learn differently so teachers should teach lessons in a variety of ways in order for higher retention rates from their stuents. I do think that it is important for a mission statement because it lets everybody know what they can expect from the school and the school can let the student know what is expected from them.

  2. I completely agree with Don I feel that we need to have a better understanding of what our mission as teachers is to better serve the students in our schools. It is very important that as a whole our missions are similar for all students.

  3. I agree with Don stating that there are many practices that teachers can use in order to have a wide variety of lessons to see what works best for that classroom. Those lessons can also go back to the requirments that the school has it is only structured differently. I believe if a educator goes by the strict guidelines and does not go off that course students will get uninterested with the class.

  4. Good comments all!

    For me it comes down to this:

    1. How do students learn?

    2. What does our consensus on how students learn suggest in terms of how teachers should teach?

    If we come to consensus in our school on #1 and #2 …

    For example, let’s say we believe that students “learn by doing”…then our lessons (and our use of technology) would be developed so that they reflected this philosophy.

    If we simplified all our planning and visioning to focus on coming to consensus on these two items, I believe it would lead a major transformation.

    pete

  5. Once again, Pete, I agree 🙂

    “If we simplified all our planning and visioning to focus on coming to consensus on these two items, I believe it would lead a major transformation.”

  6. It is being done is some places.
    The challenge is to keep the simplified focus within a larger context of external priorities.
    I just posted about potential for change if school boards were abolished over on LeaderTalk…perhaps that is part of what holds us back? What do you think?

  7. Tracy,
    Abolishing school boards…interesting. I have to sit with this a bit. First blush…school boards represent local control. This has positive and negative aspects to it. School boards also represent accountability and, once again there are positive and negative aspects to that. Hmmm.

    I’m going to pop over to LeaderTalk to read your post.

    pete

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