Our reading this week focused on a unique way to re-evaluate our approach to education. If you asked me before reading this week what makes good teaching, I would have said that it is when a teacher recognizes that students learn in different ways and finds a way to address each student’s individual needs. For instance, the example of the third graders learning about apples for two weeks through a variety of interdisciplinary activities would have gotten my approval. This activity-oriented approach, in my previous opinion, would be excellent. Additionally, it would be far preferable to some experience I have had, even in my undergraduate education.
I had many classes in my undergraduate degree where the professor wrote a textbook, assigned readings from that book, and then lectured for hours on the same material I had just read. The entire syllabus simply showed what readings from that one textbook, we would do each week. In essence, the textbook was the syllabus. This is basically an example the Understanding-based education concept would use as a bad example. In their view, “the textbook should serve as a resource, but not as the syllabus” (Wiggins and McTighe 41). While these opinions are primarily expressed in relation to elementary and high schools, I believe that they are just as salient in post-secondary education. From my personal experience, I can tell you that I memorized a bunch of facts in classes like the one mentioned above and today I couldn’t tell you the professor’s name, let alone actual contextual facts.
Additionally, I dislike the idea that all information in a class is coming from one point of view. Whether that be a single textbook, a single author, or a single professor who also is the single author, it is difficult to achieve understanding when you are only exposed to a single voice. This seems like a reflection on the current state of teaching. Instead of ensuring that students reach a understanding of the subject through purposeful design of courses with overall goals in mind, they simply throw everything that they know at you and hope for the best. In the alternate reality where understanding is the priority, I believe that textbooks would be used supplementally with additional articles that expose students to a variety of viewpoints.
Where I never believed that textbooks should be the key to the curriculum, I no longer believe that activity oriented teaching is the best option. In this particular case, apples could just as easily be dogs or muffins or theoretical physics. There is no purpose to the choice beyond that it occurs in fall. Without a purpose behind the activities, it is unclear what the educator hopes her students will understand by preforming these activities. This is where the backwards is best idea is so essential. If you start by establishing clear educational goals and refer back to those goals at every step, you will end up with activities that have true value and will hopefully yield true understanding.
On all levels it seems like educators are losing sight of their goals. Instead of keeping in mind that they want to arm students with information they can use in the future, they simply inundate them with tons of information about a certain subject that fails to fulfill that goal. I would love to see what a classroom actually fulfilling these goals looks like in reality. No matter if they are practicing this understanding method or some other option, it would be great to see student’s engaged and applying their knowledge.