There’s a recent article in the New York Times that talks about should be taught to teachers in Ed School, or in essence, what should a teacher have to know before going into a classroom?  One of the teachers quoted in the article says something to the effect of : “I can read about Vygotsky (and by extension, other education theorists, psychologists, etc.) later- my kids need to learn to read now.” This is a common way of thinking now, but it has serious problems.

Let’s step back from education for a minute.  Let’s pick on me.  I know there are many ways to build a website, and build a web presence.  I tend to use WordPress, because it’s fast, easy, does what I want, and by using templates, you can get a working website up that’s sufficient for most folks, without having to learn certain programs or a whole lot of code.  However, this also leaves me with only an elementary understanding of the code and the parameters of the website.  As long as I can work within the rules preset, I’m great.  Once I want to go outside those parameters, I’m going to be lost, and need someone else to help me.  This is something that bothers me, and I’m trying to design a way to start teaching myself code, so I have a better foundation on how to fix it myself rather than rely on others to do it for me.

In essence, I know just what I need to and no more, but my curiosity is slowly driving  me to learn more.

How many things are we making it very easy to do without learning anything more than the surface?

Short cuts are awesome.  And it’s true you don’t need to know everything about transistors to work a computer.  But when it comes to education, is it really too much to ask to have teachers understand child development and a bit of social and developmental psychology?

The problem with not understanding child development and developmental psychology as a teacher is you may not understand things such as how children think and learn differently than adults.  You might not understand the ages and stages kids go through based on their brain development.  In fact, recent functional magnetic imaging studies show that changes in brain development in childhood line up with the behavioral ages and stages Piaget theorized about through his observational studies. Vygotsky, who the proto-teacher said she could read about later, talks a lot about the Zone of Proximal Development,  which deals with giving a child enough of a challenge that they are encouraged to learn, but not so much challenge that the task is too difficult and causes discouragement.  It would seem to me that far from being irrelevant, having these basic learning cornerstones, at least conceptually, would be a great aid in helping a teacher teach a kid to read.

Let’s take an example from when my kids were learning to read.  My first son struggled more with “breaking the reading code” than my second child.  In order to get him more excited about learning to read, I collected all of the kid books in the house, organized them from the easiest to the harder books, and set up a game.  For each book the child read aloud to me, he got points.  Points could be converted, as he saw fit, into various rewards that gradually got bigger over time.  The “locus of control” was solely the child’s, and he could decide when and where we read.  As it turns out, this home designed reading program, instituted at the right time,  worked wonders.  It took advantage of the Zone of Proximal development- just like video games, the child could progress to the next level when he was ready; it was designed as a positive reinforcement system driven by the child not an external force, a highly motivating scenario if you’ve read any B.F. Skinner.  And, for a skills-based thing like reading, where once the skill is acquired,any  decline in motivation after removing a reward system is irrelevant- the child can’t forget the skill once it’s mastered.

By knowing a bit about social and developmental psych, I could figure out a system that would really help my child learn how to read.  Without they knowledge, I’m hunting in the woods for solutions, and have no basis for choosing one method over another, nor do I have the ability to analyze which program might work better than the other.

I understand why we all get focused on the easiest and shortest path to success.  I like the Magic Guitar for GarageBand too, to create small riffs and tunes, but I don’t think this makes me anywhere near a professional musician.  Likewise, i think teachers should understand not only the subject matter they teach, but to whom they are trying to teach it- and that requires some understanding of how people learn, think and develop over time.  The lack of this foundational knowledge is a large part of why some silly whole have developed in our educational system, and taking a shortcut around this knowledge is more harnful than not.

But if you don’t ever bother to ask the question of WHO is your customer, WHO are you trying to communicate with, and how to best perform that task, but instead only focus on yourself as a learner, aren’t you missing out on the success you could have otherwise?

We should expect teachers to teach students, not subjects.  (Hat tip, Chris Lehmann.)