Saturday, March 20, 2010

Throwing Diana Senechal "Under the Bus" Part 2 #NEA #AFT #edtech #edchat

Ok, in fairness to both the author of this poorly written and what I quite frankly feel is a damaging article published in American Educator I have decided to finish my notes on the article:

"At my former school, I led lunchtime literature clubs...The fifth-grade group read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn...We discussed Huck's confusion...The discussion was slow, with pauses. At one point the room fell into a long silence. One student said, 'Ms. Senechal, you're quite today!' Another student responded, 'She's thinking. There's a lot to think about here.'...I am proud that the students were able to appreciate the quite in the room." ¶21
-Does this story really illustrate a focus on student learning or is the focus on the teacher's learning? So far in this article all the content learning she has been talking about has been about teachers acquiring content knowledge so they can pass it on to their students. Very little mention of student acquisition of or construction of knowledge.

"Teachers should not have to give up intellectual authority in the classroom; they should bring their knowledge, insight, and expertise to students." ¶22
-Completely reinforces my assessment of the previous paragraph and clearly states her philosophy that teachers impart knowledge to students.

"One of the benefits of apprenticeship is that it allows for a long period of learning." ¶23
-Is she implying that one ceases to learn when they finish school and enter a profession?

"Twitter, Facebook, and texting add nothing to Skakespeare; they are only distractions." ¶27
-Used ineffectively this statement is correct. However, it is not the tool that is important with successful tech integration, it is how it is used. Used effectively these tools can deepen a student's understanding of content and increase student motivation to engage in the content. This author is clearly missing the boat on this point entirely.

"They learn much more about technology this way than they would by blogging and texting-activities they likely pursue on their own."¶27
-It is precisely because they likely pursue these activities on their own that make them applicable in the classroom as a medium of engagement. When using these tools to teach Shakespeare it is still Shakespeare the students are learning, whatever learning about blogging and texting that occurs is secondary and ought not be assessed. Additionally, we have a moral obligation to use these tools in our teaching because the use of them affords us the opportunity to teach students how to be ethical and safe when online. By this logic we could also argue that classroom strategies that include talking or listening don't need to be used in school because they are "activities they likely pursue on their own."

"Deeper engagement is sacrificed for a more trivial kind, and quiet, independent thought has little place." ¶28
-Again, where is she getting this view of learner-centered classrooms? This seems more true of "traditional" classrooms than "21st century" ones.

"We do nothing to elevate the level of communication by having them read an write blogs, watch and make videos, an send text messages and tweets during English and history classes. Students know how to use the equipment, but their writing ability remains deplorably weak, forcing colleges to offer remedial writing courses and to assist students with basic writing throughout their undergraduate years." ¶32
-Blogs, video, text messages, and tweets are all new and important forms of communication. Engaging students with these forms of communication in any class elevates student literacy in these new mediums. This is the same as arguing that having students engage in oral presentation erodes their ability to write or visa versa. It is also like saying that if a student learns a second language their ability to communicate in their first language will suffer Additionally, colleges and universities offering remedial writing courses is not a new phenomenon, they were doing it before the advent of social media. There has been no study that can substantiate these claims. Otherwise I am sure the author would have made sure to mention it.

"We could seek ways to combine disciplined practice with inspiring lessons, projects, and discussions." ¶34
-In other words, learner-centered, constructivist, project-based, progressive, 21st Century classrooms.


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Mrs. Tenkely said...

Obviously she has a very different philosophy of education than I do. It makes me sad for her students that the learning has so much to do with her and so little to do with them.

Rick Unamuno said...

I googled her and found two New York Times references that confirm your criticisms, Carl. Not that I consider the New York Times an authority--they're way too complacent--but I'm talking about the facts here.

An article by Michael Winerip describes how Diana Senechal led her English-language-learner students in a production of The Wizard of Oz, which we know is Western and sequential. How cruel of her to make her students perform--even memorize--a musical play with beginning, middle, and end. Not to mention that it was in English instead of in their languages.

An op-ed by Susan Jacoby mentions that Senechal demonstrated "in inventive fashion" that one can pass some of the New York State tests just by guessing. The implication here is that there's something wrong with being able to pass by guessing! Given how racially and culturally biased these tests are, isn't it only fair that students should be able to guess their way through? Isn't it cognitively imperialist to suggest that those who "know the answer" (Whose answer? one might ask!) should be given a higher score than the others?

This proves that you are right and that Senechal is a dangerous proponent of Western sequential and hierarchichal cognitive hegemony. She should be stopped.

Carl Anderson said...


After your comment I also did a Google search of Diane Senechal. I am far more interested in her own words posted online. While I may disagree with Senechal on many things I am far more critical of the union's inclusion of this particular work of hers in their publication. In particular, even if I disagree with her point of view, is that she does a poor job of defending her positions. While she does throw around a few citations here and there she bases most of her main arguments on statements that begin like, "I once heard..." or they are based in what she considers common assumptions and confuses them with fact. Too many unsubstantiated claims to consider this a high quality piece of academic writing.

On the other hand, the other works of Senechal's I found online, especially her writing on the Core Knowledge Blog, is far stronger. In most of those posts it appears she has been more careful to back up her own claims with good evidence. Her case for a strong curriculum is articulated far better in those posts.

The problem is, I fear the piece was chosen because many of those unsubstantiated claims, poorly argued points, and transparent biases are a reflection of a large percentage of the union membership. The piece screams "status-quo" while her other work seems not to. The problem with this is, the American Educator was sent to each union member's home while the work she has done that lives up to a higher academic standard does not. The union is essentially, by making this their cover story, supporting writing of this low level of academic integrity and supporting the biases behind it. What impact will this have? How many teachers will read this and not question its logic? Where is the other side of this argument given space in this publication? Daniel Willingham is hardly an author with views far from Senechal's.

I find no fault with the work described in those two NY Times articles. She may be a good teacher too. But, what is at issue here is not Diana Senechal but rather the editors of American Educator choosing to run this piece of hers without much push-back. This issue of American Educator in effect draws a line in the sand and sends union members who support and use teaching methods that fall outside the "traditional" umbrella a message that they (indeed I) are not in line with the union position.

Dan McGuire said...

The whole theme of the current issue of American Educator seems to be "Oh, we don't really need to know how to use all these new fangled things; they're not really all that important;" and "you old fart teachers who don't want to learn how to use a keyboard can hang on a while longer; Dan Willingham, Senechal, and AFT will keep giving you cover."

This is the kind of stuff that's going to kill teacher unions faster than the right-wing wing-nuts.

Anonymous said...

Came to this one late. For your information, I just posted a similar set of complaints this morning, to which Senechal actually responded.

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Obviously she has a very different philosophy of education than I do. It makes me sad for her students that the learning has so much to do with her and so little to do with them.

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