Is There Madness in Teacher `Methods'?

By Innerst, Carol | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 9, 1998 | Go to article overview

Is There Madness in Teacher `Methods'?


Innerst, Carol, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"Modeling" is the buzzword in the "methods" classes at many of the 1,300 colleges and universities responsible for training our future teachers.

In class after class, professors remind their students that they are "modeling" the teaching techniques that they want them to emulate when they become teachers.

Professor Margaret L. Stish of East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania demonstrated the technique at the first meeting of her "Child Growth and Development" course, a three-credit prerequisite to all courses on how to teach. She asked the class to think about their "least favorite teacher" and recall what it was that made them dislike that teacher. The class was hesitant in the presence of a new professor and new classmates. No hands shot up. The professor waited. And waited. Silence. Finally she spoke:

"I was modeling the `wait time' you will sometimes experience when you ask your students a question. Learn comfort being quiet with children. Some children need a longer `wait time' to answer a question. Learn to slow down. If the `wait time' goes beyond four minutes, ask another question."

The question for an interested observer in the classroom was: So what does modeling have to do with teaching youngsters reading, math, science and history? When parents complain that children are not learning the basics, they are less interested in the process of teaching than in the actual learning results. But despite the widespread criticism of public schools, most teachers' colleges continue to emphasize methods over content. The result: New teachers may be learning more about how to teach, but they miss the point of teaching - to impart knowledge. The view of the teacher as a font of knowledge actually has disappeared from many of the important teacher-training institutions. Instead, teachers are trained to be "facilitators" who help children construct their own knowledge.

A four-month review by The Washington Times shows that teachers' colleges are trying out a host of new ideas and techniques to improve education in public schools. But it's still not clear whether modern methods are proving superior to the rigorous, content-based instruction of the past. Indeed, distinguished professors differ among themselves about the value of the changes - and even about the goals that new teachers should pursue in the classroom.

FOLLOW THE MODEL

Throughout the semester, Miss Stish's class of 25 students, including five males, would explore the interaction between heredity and environment, parent-child relations, development of personality, attitudes toward self and others, and physical, emotional, social and cognitive development.

"Heredity deals the cards; environment plays them," she told the group. "You can be born with the genetic potential for intelligence, but it depends upon the environment how it develops. Retardation can result from environmental deprivation."

Students must complete three "practical" assignments. One involves observing two infants of different ages, the second involves observing a group of preschool children at play, noting such things as gender differences in play and aggressive behavior.

The third opens the door to the kind of invasion of privacy that many parents find so objectionable when it occurs in the public schools today. It requires the future teachers to interview a classmate or friend whose parentsdivorced during the middle childhood years and to describe their responses to 13 questions. Among the questions: "What fantasies did you have about your parents after they divorced?"

Assistant Professor Denise LePage, who teaches a class in "Mathematics in Childhood Education," says she adheres to the philosophy of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and would spend several days discussing the standards with the class. She says people have a misconception of what the standards say. …

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