By Judi Fusco
Today, for something completely different, I include snippets from conversations with Katie Hong, an administrator in a large school district in a school-wide Title 1 middle school. Katie is also a doctoral student pursuing her Ed.D. in the Pepperdine EDLT program.
One of the first things Katie told me was how Keith Sawyer got it right when he said, “Many teachers spend their entire careers mastering the skills required to manage an instructionist classroom, and they understandably have trouble envisioning a different kind of school” (Sawyer, 2014 p. 3). Teachers are told to implement Common Core Standards with student-driven learning, emphasizing collaboration, but they have not been equipped to implement or facilitate constructivist methods in their classroom. Another issue compounding the problem is administrators. Administrators often evaluate teachers based on the instructionist view. As they evaluate, they convey to the teacher how they want to see traditional classroom practices. When Katie was a young teacher, she did student-driven, collaborative lessons; she had one on Mesopotamia where the students were working together exploring the role of irrigation and how it impacted the growth of civilization. Her principal walked in to evaluate her and was a little miffed because the class wasn’t quiet. He told her he’d come back when she was “teaching,” as he couldn’t do an evaluation on her with her students so off-task.
Administrators have huge power over teachers, and teachers often continue to focus on the traditional classroom practices because they want to please their administrator, receive an effective evaluation, and be viewed as an effective teacher by their colleagues. Administrators aren’t completely to blame. as there aren’t good evaluation instruments or tools to help them evaluate constructivist methods or classes doing cooperative learning. Also, many administrators lack sufficient knowledge about student-driven methods and collaboration.
As Katie and I have continued talking, she has made many observations that have stayed with me. She spoke about how an ideal teacher evaluation should involve much more time than it’s given. Often there’s only time for one classroom visit with a pre- and post- meeting, but it would be better to have visits on a continuous basis throughout the year. She told me that she, as an administrator, would like to observe teachers facilitating student-driven lessons, but teachers often don’t use student-driven lessons on days she’s evaluating them unless she specifically asks them to in their pre-meeting. She also wishes she could have tools to help her understand what is happening more quickly when she walks into a classroom where students are collaborating. When there are a lot of groups, it can be hard to understand and evaluate what is occurring. And the forms she has to use for evaluation often involve a lot of answering of questions that may not capture the most important details. For her own research, she’s interested in thinking about how to help administrators evaluate a constructivist classroom effectively. She said, “I want to see the interaction with the students and teacher and how the teacher facilitates--that would be my ideal observation. I learn so much more when I talk to the students. I want to see if they can synthesize material and apply it. I know the teacher knows the material. I don’t need to see them lecture. I want to observe what the students have learned and understand.”
Thanks for the important perspective, Katie. We’ll have more of your thoughts on student-driven learning in another post, soon. Administrators and teachers, what are your thoughts about teacher evaluations and student-driven learning? What do you need to be successful? If you teach teachers, do you talk with them about the topics covered in this blog post? Cyberlearning researchers, can we help Katie with some new tools for evaluation of student-driven collaboration?
Sawyer, R.K. (2014) Introduction: The new science of learning. In: Sawyer R. K. (ed.) Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Second edition. Cambridge University Press, New York: 1-18.