Learning from the experts: do as I say

Picture this: the teacher stands in front of the class and starts his lesson. A few minutes in, he asks the students a few questions about their prior knowledge, interest in the subject, etc. There is some reporting – vaguely, averaged across a group. The teacher then continues with his prepared talk. He talks. And talks. And talks. After a long while, he pauses and tells the students to discuss in small groups their reactions to the material. After a couple of minutes, he then continues – without even acknowledging the participants’ reactions. And talks. And talks.

How many teachers do this? Lecture throughout a lesson, allowing students to participate only in ways that do not contribute to the lesson? Certainly not the good ones. Certainly not the ones we want for our children. Certainly not the ones we want to emulate or to have our colleagues emulate. We want our students to be actively learning. They should be investigating, analyzing and synthesizing information, constructing their own meaning, etc.

Now turn it around. How many times do we put teachers through exactly this kind of experience? Professional development experiences – whether in school, at a conference, or otherwise – are often just that. The Expert leads a session for teachers and stands up front and talks, providing occasional opportunities for participants to share at their table. This sharing does not inform the session – it really only serves as a break time: a chance for the session leader to get a drink of water and for the participants to move around & talk a bit and get their circulation flowing again. The Expert may ask for some information about what knowledge or experience the participants have with the matter at hand …but then goes on with his prepared slideshow. At the end of the session, the Expert thanks the participants for their time, the audience claps and then everyone moves on.

This includes even the Experts in improving education. The Expert stands in front of the room and tells the teachers how important it is for them to engage their students dynamically. The Expert exhorts a roomful of teachers to differentiate their lessons. The Expert shows graphs of how important it is to find out the students’ prior knowledge and adjust the lesson appropriately. Does the Expert model these behaviors? Or does the Expert simply tell? Show?

Sure, this might be an extremely efficient way of getting information across to a large group of people, but is it actually efficient or effective in providing professional development? Does this develop the skills of those in the crowd who already know much of the information? Does this reach the people who are kinesthetic learners? Does this reach the people who do not have English as their first language?

And how do we/he/they know? Is there any assessment of learning? (Or assessment for learning?) Does the Expert have specific learning objectives or outcomes? What does he expect the participants to be able to do at the end of the session? How will he know if this is achieved or not?

Wouldn’t it be great if school administrators, conference coordinators, etc. held the Experts up to the same standards we expect of our teachers? Wouldn’t it be great if the Experts treated the adult participants in their sessions with the same diligence and consideration that teachers show their students?

Sheesh. Wouldn’t it be great if these chairs had better cushions?!?

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