Showing posts with label credentialing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label credentialing. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Temple Grandin on lack of mentors for autistic children

Watching a recent presentation by Temple Grandin on Youtube, I was struck by her increasing concern about the lack of mentors for school-aged children on the autistic spectrum. Rarely do such kids encounter teachers who encourage them to develop their strengths. Rather, most spend their school years attempting to remediate their weaknesses.

The result, Grandin observes, is that all too often people on the autistic spectrum end up as janitors rather than as engineers or computer programmers.

Grandin suggested that things are worse than they use to be, and I suspect that she is right. This first occurred to me a couple of years ago when I met Mr. X, a teacher at an alternative school in New Haven, CT--an eccentric engineering type whose classes had attracted large numbers of children with Aspergers. As I listened to Mr. X, who must be just a few years away from retirement, discuss the engineering projects he does with his Aspie students, I became increasingly certain that there isn't anyone like him anywhere in the Philadelphia public school system, where my children attend school.

There certainly isn't anyone like Mr. X at their specific school, where science class is all about communiating about science, and "technology" class is all about powerpoint and photoshop. And, unfortunately, this sort of science and technology curriculum--or lack thereof--appears predominate at Philadephia public schools in general. Nor do the Philadelphia charter schools appear to offer much of an alternative.

And, since current trends in math and science also permeate the training of math and science teachers--as a visit to any number of math, science, or technology "methods" classes will confirm--most Aspie-friendly eccentrics will never make it past a single week of teacher certification training.

For years I've been longing for a Mr. X in J's school--as Grandin observes, all it takes is one such person--and for years I've been increasingly concerned I'll never find one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Teaching with withitness

Malcolm Gladwell's article in this past week's New Yorker about how to identify the best classroom teachers risks being misinterpreted as one more reason to de-emphasize book smarts.

Gladwell's focus: a project led by Bob Pianta, the dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, which involves videotaping teachers in classrooms and analyzing their interactions with students. From these videotapes Gladwell concludes, along with Pianta et al, that the most successful teachers exhibit a high level of awareness of what's going on in the classroom and communicate this awareness to their students. "It stands to reason," he writes, "that to be a great teacher you have to have withitness."

Taking this a step further, Gladewell argues that this withitness trumps academic preparedness:

Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers—that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible. But after you’ve watched Pianta’s tapes, and seen how complex the elements of effective teaching are, this emphasis on book smarts suddenly seems peculiar.
Confounding Gladwell's conclusions is his conflation of cognitive and academic preparedness with teacher certification credentials:
A group of researchers—Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard’s school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications—as much as they appear related to teaching prowess—turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.
In actual practice, the inanity of much of the certification requirements, disproportionately turning off the smarter applicants, means that certification and masters degrees in education predict weaker-than-average cognitive and academic credentials. In other words Kane et al's conclusions, above, are no surprise whatsoever.

Also, while it's true that cognitive and academic credentials don't guarantee a knack for teaching, a teacher's intellectual or academic weaknesses, however pedagogically gifted s/he might be, places serious limits on what s/he can teach students--limits rivaling those of an under-challenging curriculum.

If your goal is to master upper-level mathematics, who would you choose as your teacher: Robin Williams, or a member of the Princeton math department, however dry and out of it s/he might be?