Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Why Pedagogy Matters: The Importance of Teaching in a Standards-Based Environment

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Why Pedagogy Matters: The Importance of Teaching in a Standards-Based Environment

Article excerpt


Teaching and learning are complex processes. Throughout history, society has looked for better ways to educate children. Americans are still struggling with that fundamental issue, particularly in light of our diverse population and the rapid rate of technological change. The editors of Time magazine featured this challenge with a recent cover entitled How To Build A Student For the 21st Century (Wallis & Steptoe, 2006).

Educators and researchers at The Center For Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE) have examined the processes of teaching. The research focus of this federally funded research and development program has been the improvement in the quality of education for all students, particularly for those at risk for educational failure due to language or cultural barriers, race, geographic location, or poverty. CREDE findings, the culmination of thirty years of research, are conclusive and compelling. They speak to the importance of pedagogy in general and in particular to the pivotal role of the teacher. These findings also underscore the importance of the instructional structure. Solid teaching practices are important for all children, but they are essential if vulnerable learners are to achieve positive learning outcomes. By focusing on pedagogical practices that work with the most challenging and vulnerable students, it is possible to identify the critical elements of teaching that results in successful for all children.

The CREDE research is useful in the context of school reform, which emphasizes improving student outcomes. Articulating desired outcomes, setting benchmarks and establishing various types of standards are important steps in designing a quality educational program, but they are not enough. To achieve the desired results, particularly with the most challenging students, the teaching process itself needs to be examined. Not to do so creates two problems. It leaves open the question of how educators are to reach the lofty goal of educating all children and it implies that all forms of pedagogy are equally viable. How a teacher approaches instruction is an important area of inquiry, particularly how she chooses to interact with learners, structure the classroom and deliver the content. Each teacher has a vast array of pedagogical approaches and teaching techniques from which to choose, but it is clear that they are not equally effective in producing positive student outcomes. CREDE research provides the classroom teacher with a conceptual framework for making decisions on pedagogy. Since learning is an active process rather than something that is done to the learner, a brief discussion of early learning may provide a useful context for the CREDE research findings.

The Foundation: Relationships

Infants are born into social context. In fact, without the physical care provided by another human being, the newborn wouldn't survive. From the moment of birth, learning has a social dimension. Mother feeds the baby and teaches the skill of joint attention by interacting and responding to the infant. Even self-exploration, such as the discovery of the thumb or of gravity (in the form of a dropped rattle) is often accompanied by an askance look to see if the caregiver has noticed. "As people (adults and children) act and talk together, minds are under constant construction, particularly for the novice and the young." (Tharp et al, 2000, 44). The role of a caring and more knowledgeable person in helping a child learn new skills and concepts does not diminish as the child matures. While caregivers, teachers and even older children eventually join parents in the responsibility for these critical interactions with the child, the central role these interactions play in the process of learning remains the same (Vygotsky, 1978; Shankoff, 2000; Berk & Winsler, 1995). It was described by CREDE researchers in Teaching Transformed (Tharp, et al. …

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