Monday, August 23, 2010

My reply to Grant Wiggins

In case my comment does not pass moderation mustard at this post I am posting a copy of my reply to the comment left by Grant Wiggins here:

I wrote:

Grant Wiggins,

I would like to take issue with a few points you make here. First, most of the best teaching I have done and most of the best teaching I have observed in my time as an instructional coach would NEVER make for a good video. To insist that a video demonstrating a teacher’s teaching style be a litmus test for hiring a new teacher would completely eliminate many of the best and most effective teachers from ever finding a place in this profession. The best teaching does not come from a lectern or in front of a SMARTboard, it comes from building relationships with students, discovering what present and past experiences have shaped their understanding and guiding them toward new experiences and encounters with materials that will provide optimal growth. Moments of teacher influence in these situations are difficult if not impossible to plan as they come about through a teacher’s responsiveness to what their students are doing. It is not an easy thing to do and it certainly cannot be scripted or reduced to a formula.

Another problem I have not heard anyone mention in this whole debate is how can you have a test, be it a state mandated test or teacher drafted exam, that tests a teacher’s effectiveness when there is no agreed consensus on what the purpose of school is? The batter who averages only .167 and has his average printed in the paper at least knows what the purpose of baseball is. What is the purpose of school? Is it to prepare workers and consumers for participation in the economy? Is it to create an informed electorate? Is it to indoctrinate children into a way of thinking that will not disrupt established order? Is it to create life-long learners? Is it to prepare students for their past or is it to prepare students for their future? I ask this question a lot and I get a lot of different responses. High school seniors usually tell me the purpose of school is to help people get a better paying job. School teachers usually tell me it is to pass on a love of learning. Politicians usually say it is either to create an informed electorate or to prepare young people to compete in a world economy. What is it? One would be tempted to say yes to all of the above but there presents some contradiction.

Understanding by Design, your own formula, tells us that we have to start with an essential question then develop an appropriate assessment tool, and finally craft activities that will drive students to an enduring understanding. As far as scripted formulaic teaching methods go UBD is better than most and I support every teacher having a foundational knowledge of the concept. But, it seems to me value added assessment has failed to identify the appropriate enduring understanding to the larger essential question of, “What is the purpose of school?” How can any assessment measure to test teacher effectiveness be created, how can we know what constitutes a good teacher, if we cannot agree or identify what their purpose is?

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tomechucker said...


I have not yet read Grant Wiggins article but I thought your response had some great points.

When it comes to grading or evaluating teachers I think people are coming at it from the wrong perspective. Trying to grade or rate teachers is not going to be an effective means to determine if one teacher is good and another is not. There are just too many variables involved with number of students, personality of students, approved curriculum, state mandates and testing etc. All of these and others get in the way of truly evaluating the effectivness of an individual teacher.

What we can do is evaluate a teacher on what kind of employee they are. There are many very good and effective review processes already developed just for this purpose. Now you can review each staff members punctuality, accuracy of work, ability to work as a team, etc. You can easily weed out the ineffective teachers by determining who is and isn't meeting expectations with this type of criteria. If they are a bad employee, they are likely going to be a bad teacher. If they are a good employee, chances are, they are going to be a good teacher too.

Evaluating a teacher shouldn't be as hard as people are trying to make it. At the end of the day teachers are still employees and should be evaluated as an employee. Trying to determine if they are good teachers is difficult because everyone has a different view on what a good teacher is. It's much easier to determine who is a good and bad employee though.

Mrs. Tenkely said...

Excellent point, what question are we testing to answer? If that is not agreed upon then a test is not likely to reveal anything of importance.