Saturday, January 28, 2012

Teaching Mythology with Music Videos

In a nutshell: Might those modern goddesses of love, Pat Benatar and Bonnie Tyler, have a place alongside the Greek goddess Aphrodite in the classical mythology classroom?

In the mythology classroom, we have a number of objectives. We want our students to learn about gods and goddesses, heroes and maidens, and aspects of classical culture represented in myth. We also want our students to learn about the persistence of classical myth in contemporary culture. One approach we can take is to use lecture and discussion to get at the mythological text and its social, cultural, and historical context, while using film clips or videos to illustrate mythological figures, imagery, or themes in contemporary culture. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Aphrodite's ability to compel gods and goddesses to fall in love with mortals is described in military terms like "subdue" and "master." Love, you might say, is a battlefield, and Aphrodite is strong.

Zeus, however, is pissed off by Aphrodite's shenanigans, and compels her to taste some of her own medicine, that is, to fall in love with a mortal, in particular Anchises, a venerable Trojan descendant of Zeus. Aphrodite gets a little bit nervous, a little bit terrified, a little bit helpless--you might even say she falls apart, experiences a total eclipse of the heart.

I'm sure my students were quite surprised when I projected not one but two classic 1980s music videos in the middle of a lecture on the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. Frankly, I did this in a spirit of fun and experimentation. Much could be said about how the sex and gender dynamics dramatized in the Pat Benatar video correspond to those of classical mythology. Even richer, perhaps, are the bizarre action and imagery of the Bonnie Tyler video, with its candles, full moons, red curtains blowing in the wind, and schoolboys dancing around in a dark, cavernous hall clad only in satyric loin clothes. I touched on these points, asking my students to brainstorm images from the videos and words from the songs that resonated with the text we were studying; but I did not dwell on this kind of analysis during this particular class session. I mostly wanted to convince myself that it could be done, and shake up any complacency my students may have been feeling about what they could expect from me. Be that as it may, I think these power balladeers of the 1980s stood up pretty well alongside the Homeric hymnist, and I look forward to using music video in the classical mythology classroom again, perhaps next time with somewhat more sustained analysis of the videos as mythological texts in their own right.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Mary Poppins Theory of Storytelling

In a nutshell: The musical number "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down" from the film Mary Poppins helps students understand the Horatian principle of pleasure and didacticism in literature.

We generally credit the Roman poet Horace (65-8 BCE) for introducing the idea that poetry has the dual objective "to please and instruct" in his Art of Poetry (Ars Poetica), lines 333-4:
Aut prodesse volunt aut delectare poetae
aut simul et iucunda et idonea dicere vitae.

Poets wish either to profit (prodesse) or to delight (delectare) or at the same time to say things both pleasant (iucunda) and suited to life (idonea vitae). 
In English literary theory, this idea resurfaces in the writings of Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586) and John Dryden (1631-1700), among others. Parallels can be found in the other vernacular Renaissance literatures as well.

In recent decades, didacticism, particularly in the form of moral instruction, has fallen out of fashion as an objective of literature--as well it should have. On the other hand, this cultural change has had problematic consequences for pedagogy. Since the era of New Criticism (roughly speaking, post 1945), English teachers, and other professors of literature, tend to use close reading as their pedagogical approach: narration, description, characterization, plot, rhyme, rhythm, the many forms of metaphor, the operations of irony, and the whole range of literary and rhetorical devices--all of these have become the focus of literary analysis and also of classroom instruction.

This focus on literary devices and explicating the text is fine. We do a disservice to our students, however, if we do not ALSO alert them to the long history of pleasure and didacticism as competing/complementary objectives of literature. In particular, it is difficult, if not impossible, for our students to understand most literature prior to the twentieth century if they do not grasp the ancient Horatian construct and its modern legacy. Moreover, while our students tend to come into our classrooms thinking that any poem, story, or play we give them to read has a "moral" to which it can be reduced, they do not realize that they themselves intuitively embrace an Horatian concept of pleasure and didacticism in literature.

How do we bring to life for our students the idea of pleasure and didacticism in literature? For those who tend to think in terms of "the moral of the story," how do we get them to recognize the element of pleasure? For those who want to know from nothing besides Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or more grownup versions like Scott Turow and Barbara Taylor Bradford, how do we get them to recognize that even these pleasure fests are replete with implicit meanings and values, including moral ones?

In my Classical Civilization classroom, I began approaching this important concept through what I christened The Mary Poppins Theory of Storytelling. I use the term "storytelling" instead of "literature" because I want students to apply this concept to ancient epic poetry, tragedy, and even history and philosophy, as well as to contemporary poems, stories, plays, film, television, etc.

As you may already have guessed, The Mary Poppins Theory of Storytelling states that "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." There is nothing brilliant or original in my citation of this sagacious dictum. What I do think is innovative, however, and what I have found to be successful in the classroom, is actually using Mary Poppins and the "Spoonful of Sugar" number from the 1964 Julie Andrews film to teach this concept.

First, I will ask my students, in the midst of a discussion of virtually any text (Homer's Odyssey early in a Classical Civilization semester, Boccaccio's Decameron early in a World Literature semester), what they think was the author's objective or purpose in composing or writing the text. Some students will obligingly say, "To teach a lesson." Others will say, "Because it's a good story." In fact, more students tend to say "teach a lesson" and fewer tend to say "good story" because, again, they come into the classroom assuming that I, the professor, am there to shove didactic lessons down their throat, even if they can't articulate it quite as elegantly as that.

Once I've got "teach a lesson" and "good story" out on the table, I will say, "That's what I refer to as The Mary Poppins Theory of Storytelling." And they will go glassy-eyed, cuz what the fudge is Dr. Broder doing talking about Mary Poppins in the middle of Classical Civ or World Lit or Intro to Myth??? So I wait. A beat. Or two. And then ask (cuz they are, after all, only 19-ish years old), "How many of you are familiar with Marry Poppins, the movie?" Many, if not most, will raise a hand.

Then I will ask, "So, can anyone tell me what The Mary Poppins Theory of Storytelling is?" And, because I have already gotten the ideas of instruction and entertainment out there, it is very likely that a few students will murmur, half under their breath, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." Or perhaps, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.....????" If so, great, and I will call on the murmurers to say it again, NICE AND LOUD. I have never taught a class where at least a third of my students were not familiar with the movie and the song. This is where, in the best of all possible worlds, you go to your Smart Console and press play on this YouTube video, which you have all queued up and ready to go. If not, you can post it on Blackboard and have them watch it before the next class.

What makes the video work especially well is the part about the robin building his nest, because "He knows a song will move the job along." I started teaching The Mary Poppins Theory of Storytelling in the context of Homer's Odyssey, and I had already taught my students that epic poetry was sung, not spoken, more like contemporary song than poetry. So Homer is the robin, and the Odyssey is the nest. The job is communicating social values and cultural practices. The fun is song and story. Moreover, they have learned that for the ancient Greeks, poetry and song are the gifts of the Muses, divine inspiration, almost a kind of magic. So when Mary Poppins starts snapping her fingers and the beds make themselves and the toys put themselves away, it resonates with the idea of divinely inspired poetry and song. Finally, the brother and sister start to get in on the act, seeking to snap their own fingers and reproduce the musical magic, as it were. The little girl is an expert finger-snapper from the get-go, and has wooden soldiers marching into toy chests in no time. The poor little boy, however (ah, boys), can't quite get the mechanics of finger-snapping down, and is very evidently quite distressed. Mary Poppins, then, is the Muse, the little girl is divinely inspired, like Homer, and the little boy, well, he's trying, but not everyone has the gift of the Muses. Finally, of course, he starts to get the hang of it. But his imperfect finger-snapping has untoward implications for slamming doors and flying balls, suggesting that the power of poetry requires considerable effort to master and can be dangerous if uncontrolled.

OK, I think I've given you the idea, and brevity remains the soul of wit, so I'll leave it there. But I beg you, once again, to make Pedagogishness an interactive forum, and leave comments, positive or negative, yay or nay, about The Mary Poppins Theory of Storytelling and its pedagogic potential.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Give Us This Day Our Daily Write

In a nutshell: A daily low-stakes writing exercise is a good way to monitor attendance, incentivize students to keep up with the reading, and develop critical thinking skills all at the same time.

From 2007-2009, I was a CUNY Writing Fellow at York College in Jamaica, NY. Writing Fellows support the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program at 19 CUNY campuses including undergraduate campuses (4-year senior colleges and 2-year community colleges), the CUNY OnLine Baccalaureate program, and the CUNY Law School (you can learn more about the WAC program at CUNY here). As a Writing Fellow, I learned about the WAC pedagogy that has evolved since the 1980s to promote writing as a mode of learning and an activity central to the development of critical thinking skills (the Bridgewater State University website has a nice definition of WAC).

In my experience (others may disagree, and WAC proponents are a vocal lot), WAC pedagogy addresses three major issues, often posed as binary contrasts:
  • "writing to learn" and "learning to write"
  • low-stakes writing and high-stakes writing
  • informal writing and formal writing
I would argue that the most important innovations of WAC have to do with the left-hand side of each of the oppositions listed above: writing-to-learn, low-stakes writing, and informal writing. WAC has much to say about learning to write, high-stakes writing, and formal writing, too, but the Composition and Rhetoric (comp/rhet) folks should be able to handle those issues at least as well as the WAC folks (although, to be sure, at many institutions, these two groups are the same people). Incidentally, the Bedford/St. Martin's website as a lovely page on the history of rhetoric and composition studies, going back to classical antiquity and leading to the rise of comp/rhet in the 1990s.

I can spend a few posts discussing WAC pedagogy if you like, but for now, I would simply like to describe one low-stakes, informal, writing-to-learn tactic that I have been using in my classrooms for going on two years now. I call it the Daily Write. For the first five to ten minutes of class, my students answer in writing a provocative question about the day's class content. In previous semesters, this was always a question about the day's assigned reading. This semester, I have started using questions that are more diagnostic or reflective, like "What do you already know about [insert topic of day's class meeting] and what would you like to learn in the next 75 minutes?"

The Daily Write has actually evolved into a low-stakes, informal, writing-to-learn exercise from something quite different, a very simple objective quiz using a matching format (names of characters 1-5 on the left, one- or two-line identifications A-E on the right, place the letter of the correct identification in the space provided next to each item). My Daily Quizzes were instituted, quite simply, as a way to make sure that students came to class every day and on time, especially in a core-curriculum general-education course on classical civilization at 8:00 am at Brooklyn College. No one quiz counted for very much, but cumulatively they would account for something like 20% of the course grade, and could not be taken late or made up, making it quite incumbent upon my students to be in class every day and on time as much as humanly possible.

The Daily Quiz worked, but after a year or two of using it, I got bored. More importantly, I believe my students were getting bored. To be sure, I knew very well that the quizzes were incredibly easy for anyone who had done the reading. In fact, in addition to encouraging timely and regular attendance, another objective of the quizzes was to encourage students to complete the assigned reading on time, and to reward those students who did so. These simple matching quizzes also rewarded students whose forte was objective details like "Telemachus is the son of Odysseus and Penelope." Finally, it provided an opportunity to succeed for my many English language learners who were compulsive about their reading, fierce in their attention to detail, but had difficulty expressing themselves in English, orally or in writing, particularly in conceptual terms.

Nevertheless, despite the many advantageous features and benefits of daily quizzes (can you tell I used to be in pharmaceutical marketing?), I decided to make the switch from Daily Quizzes to Daily Writes. For one thing, Daily Write sounded cool. For another thing, I found that the very idea of a daily quiz caused undue stress to my students; or, rather, it caused due stress, which I wanted to minimize or eliminate if possible. In fact, the Daily Write is a quiz, in the sense that it is a brief, targeted assessment tool that counts toward the student's final grade. I hope, however, that by avoiding the word "quiz," I am minimizing the test-related stress. To date, I have no objective evidence that I have succeeded, but I also have not had any expressed complaints.

Now, those of you familiar with WAC pedagogy may be raising your eyebrows at the idea that I call the Daily Write a low-stakes writing activity while counting it towards the course grade. I know, I know. Nevertheless, I do not believe that "low stakes" has to be "no stakes." In a class that meets 28 times per 14-week semester, students have 28 Daily Writes, give or take. Cumulatively, they account for perhaps 20% of the course grade. However you do the arithmetic, no one Daily Write is worth very much; that is, each Daily Write in isolation is a fairly low-stakes activity. In addition, in calculating course grades, I drop the three lowest or missing Daily Write grades from the Daily Write average. Despite the (can I get away with saying "airy-fairy"?) WAC dogma about low stakes and writing to learn, I find that students prefer to do things they get credit for, things that count towards their final grade; if it doesn't "count," then why should I waste my time doing it? This may be an attitude more characteristic of the business-and-technology oriented 2000s than it was in the early decades of WAC, but these are the times we live in, and the times we live in are the times we teach in (no, I will not change that to "in which we live," but don't you just love the way Paul McCartney has his prepositional cake and eats it, too, in the lyrics to "Live and Let Die"?).

This post is getting t-o-o  l-o-n-g, so let me just say a final word about feedback. Feedback is key. I have to read these things, for real, not just put a check on top of the page and mark the assignment as completed in my grade book (which in fact used to be an Excel spreadsheet and is, as of this semester, the Grade Center on Blackboard--yay for me and digital technology!!!). In past semesters, I graded on a 5-point scale and students could receive full or partial credit, depending on how completely they addressed the question. Starting this semester, for various reasons including my insane workload, I am switching to a completion grade: 1 or 0, you hand in the piece of paper with some words on it, you get the credit. Nevertheless, every student writes something, and I do my best to give some kind of concrete and specific feedback. Yes, sometimes I just write "good" (or "good!") at the bottom of the page. Other times I underline some key words in the student's response, like "enjoyed" or "confused," mostly to indicate that a real live human being did in fact read what you wrote. At my best, I will write a brief comment, like, "Good use of a specific example to support your claim," or, alternatively, "Good point, but could you give a specific example to support your claim?"

One of the main objections raised by teachers who are new to WAC pedagogy is that low-stakes writing takes a lot of time: time to develop the assignment (even the simplest assignment takes time to develop), time to administer, and, perhaps most annoyingly, time to GRADE, especially if the teacher gives FEEDBACK, which every WAC expert or would-be expert will say is MISSION CRITICAL. To all of this I say: Yes, it takes time. You, the teacher, have to decide if you have the time; if the benefits in learning outweigh the risks to your own sanity; if you are really committed to a student-centered, critical-thinking centered, writing-centered pedagogy--not just in principal, but in practice.

OK, enough. Back to reading, commenting on, and grading my Daily Writes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Learning objectives

The issue of learning objectives connects with two other pedagogical issues that have become important in recent years, (1) assessment, and (2) student-centered learning. Assessment means how we measure what our students are learning. The idea is, in order to assess learning, you have to start with specific learning objectives that you can measure (i.e., you can determine whether students achieved the objective or not). Student-centered learning is the idea that education should be primarily about students learning, not teachers teaching. Learning objectives are not only important because of assessment and student-centered learning; they are also useful to you as a teacher, because they help you organize your course design and your class design (my newly coined alternative to "lesson planning" because anything with "lesson" in it sounds finger-waggy to me).

Learning objectives are based on something called Bloom's taxonomy. Benjamin Bloom (1913-1999) worked with a group of cognitive psychologists at the University of Chicago in the 1950s to define cognitive processes and types of knowledge (or types of learning) as the basis for a system of learning objectives. Like many educators, I've learned about Bloom's taxonomy from secondary sources available on the Internet, rather than from the book that Bloom and his colleagues first published in 1956, The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. To be fair to myself, I have viewed a video of a lecture by Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom's and one of the members of the team that revised the taxonomy in 2000. The result of this revision was A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, often referred to as Anderson and Krathwohl (for co-author David Krathwohl). Most people who refer to the system, even using the revised terminology, continue to call it Bloom's taxonomy.

Bloom's taxonomy is important, but I find that it is widely misapplied. I hope this post will both explain the basic concepts and help teachers write good learning objectives. 

Ideally, a learning objective coordinates two “dimensions” of learning: (1) cognitive processes and (2) types of knowledge. 

Cognitive processes
Cognitive processes are the skills of what we often call "critical thinking." In the list below, the terms in parentheses reflect the revised terminology of Anderson and Krathwohl. I tend to prefer Bloom's original terminology in most cases. The order of this list also comes from Bloom, and represents what he and his colleagues believed to be a hierarchy of cognitive processes. Anderson and Krathwohl flipped evaluation and synthesis (which they renamed "creating"), but again, I prefer Bloom's original ordering. 

OK, so here are the cognitive processes:
  1. Knowledge (remembering, recognition, recall)
  2. Comprehension (understanding)
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis (creating)
  6. Evaluation
Types of knowledge
The types of knowledge are the objects of learning:
  1. Factual knowledge
  2. Conceptual knowledge
  3. Procedural knowledge
  4. Metacognitive knowledge
That is, we can know facts (e.g., Zeus is a Greek god); we can know concepts (e.g., the Greek gods personified aspects of nature and humanity); and we can know procedures (how to do something, like knit a sweater, build a robot, or build a movement for grassroots social change: what the ancient Greeks called technÄ“). Metacognitive knowledge is a bit more obscure. Metacognitive knowledge is knowledge about knowledge, and about cognitive processes in general, as well as awareness of one's own cognitive processes. Metacognition was added to the original taxonomy by Anderson and Krathwohl. In fact (pedagogish insight #3), the best illustration of metacognitive knowledge I can think of is the lyrics to the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime" ("You may ask yourself, 'Well, how did I get here?'"). 

Now, some sources, including, unfortunately, Anderson and Krathwohl, will lead you to believe that you can join any of the six cognitive processes with any of the four types of knowledge and come up with a perfectly good learning objective. But I do not agree that all cognitive processes are equally relevant to all types of knowledge. Or, to put it in more positive terms, I believe that certain cognitive processes are particularly relevant to certain types of knowledge. 

How cognitive processes mediate types of knowledge
The natural fit between cognitive process and type of knowledge, I think, is clearest for the first three types of cognition: factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, and procedural knowledge. That is:
  1. We want students to know (remember, recognize, recall) facts.
  2. We want students to understand concepts.
  3. We want students to apply procedural knowledge.
So, for example, we might, in a course on the legislative process in the United States, expect students to "List the steps by which a bill becomes a law." That is a lovely learning objective that combines knowing as a cognitive process (what Anderson and Krathwohl prefer to call remembering, recognizing, or recalling) with factual knowledge. Then, we might ask students to "Explain the role of compromise in the legislative process." This is a lovely learning objective that combines comprehension (or understanding) with conceptual knowledge. Now, not only are these two learning objectives quite lovely, but I do not think they would be nearly as lovely if you switched them around. That is, I would not want to ask my students to list the role of compromise in the legislative process; nor would I want them to explain the steps by which a bill becomes a law. We should list facts and explain concepts, not vice versa. As for procedural knowledge, what we do with procedural knowledge is apply it; we do not list it or explain it. Thus, I might ask my American government students to "Lobby their congressional delegation in support of a legislative priority." I mean, you won't find "lobby" on any list of action verbs typically suggested for expressing learning objectives for applying knowledge; but a lobbying trip would, in effect, be a way to demonstrate procedural knowledge relevant to the legislative process in the United States. 
Metacognition: Analysis, synthesis, evaluation
I would argue that cognitive processes 4 through 6, that is, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, are all metacognitive processes. This makes metacognition a qualitatively different type of knowledge than factual, conceptual, or procedural knowledge. We can know facts, understand concepts, and apply procedures. But what can we do with metacognition? Kind of squidgy, don't you think? But not useless. In fact, quite useful. We simply need to recognize that metacognition is itself a process, almost like a subset of procedural knowledge, and very different from factual or conceptual knowledge. Thus, if I ask my American government students to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a bill; or evaluate the prospects for passage of a certain piece of legislation; or draft a piece of sample legislation ("draft" is one of the verbs you will typically find on lists of action verbs suggested for expressing learning objectives for synthesizing [or creating] knowledge), then I am asking them to engage in metacognition.

Wrapping up
Now, I believe that what I said in the last couple of sections, about certain cognitive processes having a natural fit with certain types of knowledge, and about metacognition being a type of knowledge that is itself almost another cognitive process, and about the natural fit between metacognition as a type of knowledge and analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as cognitive processes (Whew!) is sort of new, and not to be found in other sources on cognitive processes, types of knowledge, or how to develop learning objectives. But I would like you, dear readers, to let me know: Do you think these observations and claims are in fact new? Do you think they make some sense? Do you think they need to be expanded upon? Please use the comments feature to tell me what you think.

And that's enough for now.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is gaming f-u-n-damental?

Sipped my coffee this morning while reading about "The Pedagogy of Play and the Role of Technology in Learning" on the PBS Mediashift blog. The author, Aran Levasseur, is a middle school history and science teacher and the Academic Technology Coordinator at San Francisco University High School. He writes about the video game Civilization, in which players create a civilization and maintain it by managing its military, science, technology, commerce, and culture. His main contention is that you learn from this game, as from any game, not by accumulating information from books, but by playing.
"You start by exploring the world with curiosity and begin to develop a hypothesis of what you're supposed to do. Through trial, error, pattern recognition, logic and chance you continually reformulate your trajectory."
Levasseur argues for the importance of play, particularly digital play, as a pedagogical "keystone" for the current century. Citing Stuart Brown's book, Play, he claims that
"play is vital for normal cognitive, social and emotional development. It reduces stress and increases well-being. Absence of play leads to maladaptive behavior." 
Play, he argues, is about “exploring the possible," adding,
"Our systems of education haven’t prepared us to think and act playfully, nor do our institutions of work by and large encourage this behavior. Yet it is this kind of playful disposition that is the muse of all great thinkers, artists and innovators.”
This is all great news, but some caveats are in order. Caveats, moreover, that bring us back to cognitive psychology and Bloom's taxonomy. What Lavasseur describes as play is in fact an application of procedural knowledge, knowledge about how to do something, like knit a sweater, build a robot, or build a grassroots coalition for social change. Procedural knowledge is important, but it is only one type of knowledge, and it is a relatively high-level type of knowledge that is only possible once other types of knowledge have been mastered, including factual knowledge and conceptual knowledge.

Lavasseur points out that you learn to play the game Civilization by playing the game, not by reading Gibbons's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. While that is quite true, what it implies is that once you have learned to play the game, what you know how to do the game. You have mastered one very particular sort of procedural knowledge. Perhaps you could learn more quickly and easily how to play another, similar game. But could you knit a sweater? Could you build a robot or a grassroots coalition for social change?

I'm excited about the prospects for digital technologies, including games, as pedagogical tools. But we need to keep in mind that we as teachers need to use these tools responsibly. We cannot just put a game in our students' hands and call it a day, go home, let them have at it. We need to design our courses in terms of facts and concepts as well as procedures. And we need to ensure that we are giving our students opportunities to practice recollection, comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, as well as the application of procedural knowledge that seems to predominate in play.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blaming teachers, again

An article on school reform in today repeats some oft-heard criticism of teachers, their unions, and other professional educators for the failure of public schools.
"A major contributor to public education’s problems is the hiring of teacher college graduates. Those who enter America’s teacher colleges are exposed to a curriculum that is light in academic substance, one that is held in contempt by professors and students of serious study." 
I tend to doubt that this is really the problem. On the other hand, I would like to know more about the potential connection between teacher education and student performance in public schools. I have personally taught students in college classes who were among my lowest performers and, lo and behold, planned to become public school teachers. On the other hand, one of my best students approached me last summer for a letter of reference as he was beginning his student teaching experience as a New York City public school social studies teacher. So it clearly goes both ways.

A part of the article that I found more compelling connects, in a way, with my interest in learning objectives and critical thinking:
"The public school system’s obsession with the rejection of memorization makes the retention of knowledge impossible. No one has ever been able to replace memorization and retention of information as the basic method of learning. Despite the education establishment’s rejection of traditional education, no one has been able to replace the mental need to make connections based on acquired information."
A basic tenet of cognitive psychology is that learning begins with knowledge of facts and then proceeds to higher-order types of cognition such as understanding concepts, implementing procedures, and engaging in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. What concerns me about the attitude expressed above, however, is that it seems to suggest a call for memorization of facts as the basis of public education, with little awareness of the rest of Bloom's taxonomy or the need to include other types of cognition and learning in the educational mix--too much emphasis on the "acquired information" part and not enough on the "make connections" part.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome to pedagogishness

If it's 2012, this must be pedagogishness. Yes, in 2012, I am starting a pedagogy blog. I thought of calling it paedagogus (Latinate) or paidagogos (transliteration of the Greek), but neither was available as a subdomain on Blogger, so I went whimsical and decided to call it pedagogishness. In the end, I think that was a good thing. Pedagogy itself is like that sometimes: you think you are going to do something in your course design or your classroom, and circumstances force you to do something else, and the something else turns out to be better than you could have hoped for or imagined, and better than anything it would ever have occurred to you to plan. So, pedagogish insight #1: Take innovation whence it comes.

So what is a pedagogy blog, and what business do I have writing one? Well this blog, at any rate, is going to be a place where I share ideas and insights based on my own experience in the classroom. I can't help using that phrase, "in the classroom," but the fact is (pedagogish insight #2), good pedagogy begins W-A-Y before you ever set foot in the classroom. So course design is going to be a big part of this blog. And for the moment, what I'm thinking of as course design is not so much the topic of the course (although I may get to that at some point, too) as things like learning objectives, assessment tools (i.e., quizzes, exams, writing assignments, etc), planning assignments, incorporating writing, and so on.

Another big topic, linked somewhat to that of learning objectives, is critical thinking and the prospects for teaching it. Lots to say about that, in due time.

Another thing I'm interested in might be thought of as the flip-side of learning objectives, and that is teaching objectives: why do I want to teach this course? Or, more likely, why do I want to teach, period? As someone who resumed work on a long-deferred doctorate after more than a decade in a successful corporate career, and upon earning that doctorate, quite in mid life, embarked on a full-on academic career--well, I think I may have a thought or two on why we teach.

OK, this post is supposed to be an intro, welcome, etc, and here it is, getting on the long side, so let me wrap this up. Expect to see my next post in about a week, on a topic yet to be determined, but I'm leaning towards learning objectives, about which much to say. For now: finished!