Positive Learning Experiences

What aspects of the classroom environment contribute to positive learning experiences?

At a minimum, the environment needs to be predictable. Whatever systems are in place, they need to be executed consistently and fairly. This includes both the harshest and most permissive learning environments. The rules need to be clear and fairly and consistently enforced. All participants (students and teachers) need to be treated consistently with respect.

I believe (somewhat controversially) that this includes understanding that most students will not thrive with boring and/or seemingly irrelevant coursework. This is where constructivist pedagogy particularly distinguishes itself. Allowing the students to construct their own knowledge, making it more durable, more relevant, and more fun.

I also believe in a risk taking classroom. In such a classroom, the students dare to be excellent and learn to cherish their mistakes. Being wrong is on the road to being right. Included in this is the humanity of all participants, their desire for inspiration.

One of my most basic philosophies comes from William Butler Yeats: “Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire”.


Who Needs Advanced Degrees?

This is one of those education discussions that sends shooting pains through my head. In what other profession would anybody think that advanced degrees are not effective? Should we encourage a shift towards undergraduate medical degree programs, undergraduate lawyers, engineers?

Intuitively, masters degrees have to add value. If that isn’t true, nothing in our world makes any sense. The question we should be asking is why research shows that advanced education doesn’t improve teaching outcomes.

There are three simple answers. The truth probably lies in the intersection of all three.

First, it’s all about incentives. We pay teachers to complete these courses. We don’t pay them to have better outcomes. Why should we be surprised when they take a lot of courses but their results don’t improve?

Second, we should examine the content of the courses. Our educational system is infested with archaic concepts of dubious merit. If we want to teach teachers to be more effective, we have to teach them effective techniques. I am of the mind that teaching is an art and therefore there isn’t one effective way to teach. We need to teach alternatives – but effective alternatives. See Teach Like a Champion and Rafe Esquith for examples of two very different ways to be effective in this century.

Third, we need to look at the educational environment. Look at the pay structure. Look at the benefits structure. Look at the incentives, or lack thereof. Look at opportunities for job satisfaction and personal efficacy. Most importantly, look at what it takes to be a successful teacher. Ask if the environment attracts the people who can do the best job? All too often, teaching is much too much like working at the DMV. Why should we be surprised that the intrinsic motivation of many teachers doesn’t match our aspirations.

Anyway, here’s the article. What do you think?

States’ Costs Skyrocket on Master’s Degree Pay for Teachers

By Stephen Sawchuk on July 17, 2012 2:18 PM
Despite little research supporting the practice, paying teachers for earning advanced degrees continues to cost states billions of dollars—in 2007-08, an estimated $14.8 billion, or 72 percent more than just four years before that, according to a report released today by the Washington-based Center for American Progress.

The report contends that the funding could be better spent on other compensation schemes, such as offering more to teachers in shortage fields, like math or special education; higher salaries to retain the best teachers; or incentives to teachers who take difficult teaching assignments.

Research indicates that, outside the areas of content degrees in math and science, there’s not a lot of evidence to support the idea that advanced degrees make for better teaching. (About 90 percent of the master’s degrees held by teachers are from education programs, the CAP report states.)

The report builds on CAP’s 2009 analysis, which estimated that the degrees cost some $8.6 billion in 2003-04. The study employs much the same methodology—using U.S. Department of Education and National Education Association collected data to compute the average salary increase for earning a master’s and applying that to the average salary figure and total number of teachers. The report’s authors, CAP’s Raegen T. Miller and the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s Marguerite Roza, provide a state-by-state breakdown of the figures.

To read more, go here.