Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stripping Language from Thought; Responsibility from Corpus: The Need to Invent, Not Ape

Want. (M.A. Reilly 2010)
I was participating on a listserv that privileged experimental and quasi experimental research as the sole type of research that should be used to inform classroom practice. This USDOE "think(less) tank" was an attempt to make teachers rely exclusively on recommendations by the National Reading Panel. Any pedagogical approach that was not developed directly from experimental and quasi experimental research was discouraged. 

I learned about the listserv after I had attended a conference the USDOE sponsored. It was somewhat surreal to be with several hundred professors and school administrators who believed in only using scientifically-based reading research (SBRR).  I was an observer on the listserv and at that time a professor at a college in NY.  I found my voice after reading  the following question that was raised by an employee from USDOE:
Do we want to teach preservice teachers they can use any approach...their own approach?
I thought a great deal about the question and wondered what approach is there, but one’s own? The lived discourse of the classroom is created through interaction in novel time.  Learners need response that is context sensitive. Simply aping some believed “perfect” instruction (a myth if ever there was) is a dangerous act, one we need to resist.  It strips language from thought, responsibility from corpus. What’s left?  Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin explains that “[d]iscourse lives, as it were, beyond itself, in a living impulse toward the object; if we detach ourselves completely from this impulse all we have left is the naked corpse of the word, from which we can learn nothing at all about the social situation or the fate of a given word in life” (1981, p. 292).  Can students afford teachers speaking the “naked corpse of the word”? Can teachers?

To think that teaching will be made more effective for students by having teachers rely only on pedagogical practices associated with experimental and quasi-experimental research as singular points of knowing is misguided. There are multiple ways of knowing, let alone unknowing.

Further, the work of teaching is not simply in the design of a given lesson but in the lived experience of the classroom and school.  Teaching requires us to make sense of patterns through patient contemplation and on-going conversation. We need to be keen observers and realize that we cannot know ahead what will happen in a class with any certainty.  Teaching and learning requires ‘slow knowing’ (Claxton, 1997).  Schools are lived places with histories—with stories.  They are acentered and rhizomatic.  When designing for emergence, there is an emphasis on middles; those places of action, largely found in the comings and goings of people.  In many ways schools resist the tenets learned through experimental and quasi-experimental research—as such research is ultimately epic in construct and schools cannot afford such positioning.

Learning, is a far from hardened matter, one that is conditioned by the time, place, and ongoing action.  So, as I read the question I asked, "Do I intend the preservice teachers I teach to develop hybrid approaches to teaching and learning—approaches that use methodology beyond what the National Reading Panel Report privileges?"  


Do I expect that theory, research, and practice will influence their thinking and help them to shape pedagogy?   

Yes, again. 

Thinking matters. 

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