Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Wisdom of Experience

All summer long I've been griping about this curriculum project that I voluntarily agreed to work on. It is an electronic course on adolescent development for middle school teachers. The concept is that those who enroll will spend about thirty hours working their way through the materials and assignments that the four of us who are creating the course put together. At the end, the objective is that the participants will have a better understanding of adolescent development and the best instructional practices that are rooted in that theory; in addition, teachers who complete the course will have had the opportunity to connect the theories that they are exposed to with what is happening with real students in their own classrooms.

Now that I've typed it out like that, it sounds pretty good, but my objection to it has been that the people they have tapped to put this course together are not experts on adolescent development. Take me for example: sure, I've been teaching middle school for sixteen years, and it's true that I have my National Board Certification in Early Adolescence/English Language Arts, but I don't really think I'm qualified to teach other professionals about Adolescent Identity Development. (Why did I say yes to this?)

Anyhow, I committed to doing it, and I've struggled all summer trying to get a handle on the task of designing seven contact hours of reading and responding on my segment of the curriculum. I've spent plenty of time reading up myself on adolescent development and the formation of identity, to be sure, but my lack of confidence has impacted my focus, and I'm a bit behind deadline.

In tandem with this dilemma, I have also been reading Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Thomas Newkirk. One of his major premises is that teachers, like doctors and nurses and other skilled professionals develop "the wisdom of experience." Every minute of every teaching day, we make innumerable decisions, many of them unconscious, based on specific situations, our experience, and our knowledge; we adjust and readjust our instruction and directions student by student and moment by moment. In recent years, the value of this experience has been undermined by the search for objectives standards to measure student learning.

Today, as I labored to organize all my research on adolescent identity development, I realized that none of it was news to me. All of the theories of Erikson, Piaget, and the subsequent researchers who designed their studies based on the work of those two, made intutitive sense to me after spending the better part of the last couple of decades working with children of that age. I have seen those " temporarily disorganized egos" in action, witnessed the usually messy transition away from the "internalized parent", as well as the often painful struggle to "integrate physical changes into a new sense of self." And the "affiliation-abandonment dynamic" as it relates to peers? Check.

Perhaps more importantly, I have some pretty good ideas about how to address such issues when they impact my students and their learning. Hm. Maybe I am an expert, after all.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you really struck a chord with me on this: "In recent years, the value of this experience has been undermined by the search for objective standards to measure student learning."

    Our little community college is in danger of losing our accreditation because we are not doing enough assessments. Yep. Not because we are terrible teachers. Not because we don't meet student needs. Not because we don't show up and do work. Not because the students arent' learning and graduating and moving on. Not for any of the real reasons for building a school and having teachers and students interact.

    It's solely because they want an external measurement of how we're doing--one of those new-fangled "truths" that seems nonsensical in light of the older Truths--that is, that what goes on in the classroom matters much more than what goes on outside the classroom (i.e. Admin, etc.). I'm obviously biased.

    I think the data to measure us is already there: matriculation, grades, retention numbers, etc. But this overlay that you refer to is what will keep us from accreditation.

    P.S. It's not in the English dept. Apparently the Math folks are the ones digging in their heels on this one. With the availability of scantrons and a standardized test that they have at their disposal, go figure.