Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Great Beyond

"Somehow, understanding goes beyond knowing. But how?"

This thrilling question, which I am pondering now, and probably forever, is posed by David Perkins in an 1993 essay which you can read in its entirety here.

As you may recall, my new advocacy campaign is based on the idea that Teaching Artists achieve professional status only when we embrace the idea of accountability and find effective ways to integrate it into our planning model. Of course, many of us are already doing this successfully and have done so for decades, usually within schools and cultural organizations that provide the time, money and kind of administrative support necessary to document and assess our work.

The focal point of the discussion is the concept of UNDERSTANDING. There are many seminal books on the subject, including Understanding By Design. Indeed, talking about teaching for understanding is a cottage industry. But I can't afford to buy all these books and seminars. I just want to do good work and get paid a living wage.

Therefore, I shall begin to organize my random thoughts into a nice manageable list of do's and don'ts, or Yamas and Niyamas, mostly Niyamas.

I warn you, this may take some time and there will be detours. Please send me your thoughtful comments and suggestions.

Ok, here goes!

1. DO try your best to create delightfully challenging experiences that move students toward a deeper understanding of specific concepts.

2. DO be really specific about what you are hoping students will know, understand, or be able to do when they are done working with you.

3. DON'T do random things in your workshops that are unconnected to your desired outcomes. It's a waste of time and kind of unethical when you think about it. This does not mean you can't be creative. In fact, disciplining your mind to envision everything you want to say and do in the workshop means that you have to be more innovative and flexible. Also, teaching then becomes more like a partially improvised performance, and you can achieve the same kind of rush you get onstage, just don't go overboard because it's not all about you mister.

4. DO provide multiple ways for students to engage with the knowledge, understandings and skills-sets the workshop has been planned around. Don't set up just one narrow door, because everybody is different, and if you don't believe me, ask Howard Gardner.

5. DO make rubrics because they are infinitely adjustable tools that you can use for planning, assessment and eventually evaluation.

6. DON'T confuse Assessment and Evaluation when you are planning. These are two different things. Assessment is more about observing and identifying where someone is along a continuum. It's a conversation starter. A grade kind of says "we're done here".

In the next few weeks, I will continue to post about these things, but I am traveling, so don't judge me if I miss a day.

Also: ATA is on Facebook. Where are you?

Also: Joni Mitchell - Help Me

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