Tag Archives: Piaget

Even Teachers Get the Blues

(With apologies to k.d. lang. Without apologies to  Gus Van Sant.)

In response to a forum discussion on teacher-rating sites, someone posted a link to this blog: Rate Your Students.

I also posted about disillusion. But the teacher in my post was meant more as a fictional character than as a personification of my own attitude.

Simply put,  despite some frustrations, I’m quite satisfied with my teaching life. Not necessarily because I get positive feedback from students. But because teaching is rewarding in many ways.

Been meaning to blog about the Spirit of Inquiry conference during which I presented on learning materials. It was quite interesting a context. Like-minded teachers from all over Canada, from many different disciplines and institutional backgrounds. Everyone pretty much in agreement on the necessity to think about teaching in a diversity of ways. A lot of thoughtful discussion about rather deep issues.  Almost as welcoming as the food and culture conference during which I talked about craft beer culture. So I’m thinking about teaching quite a bit.

I have been more impressed by students than by fellow teachers. Oh, some students are difficult to deal with, at times. But every single one of them has something interesting to contribute to any course they take. While I realise that this attitude sounds like the bursting blossom idealism decried by the aforementioned blog, I don’t mind saying it.

Here’s why: I don’t really feel disillusioned because I don’t recall ever being “illusioned.”

I’ve met a lot of teachers in my young life. My mother married two teachers and teachers do tend to connect with other teachers. My father (my mother’s second husband) transmitted part of his teaching philosophy to me. As [name-dropping]daddy was trained by Jean Piaget[/name-dropping], this teaching philosophy of his was quite specific. Yes, constructivism and all that. But also a certain dose of cynicism, especially toward blanket statements about student performance. This made me somewhat impervious to teaching disappointment.

In English-speaking parts of North America, there’s a lot of what I think of as “studies have shown” perspectives on learning. A good deal of blind trust for results of survey research on teaching effectiveness. These survey research projects often emphasize the most common responses to teaching. In the mind of some of these people, learning is something that the majority of students should do when a teacher is “good.” Teaching effectiveness is obvious when a majority of students have “learnt their lesson,” so to speak. As you might guess, I don’t relate very well to these views. I respect the people who hold them but I feel a disconnect between my views of teaching and their views of learning. Sure, I adapt to these views when I teach in an environment where they are held by a good number of people. But I wish to keep some distance from these views.

The part I don’t like is when we (as teachers) are told to use very specific methods in order to ensure student learning. I really don’t have a problem with tips and tricks for teaching. They’re very inspiring and can really enhance teaching experience. What I’m less enthusiastic about is the type of “you should teach in blocks of 20 minutes at a time because studies have shown that students tend to have a difficult time concentrating for more than 20 minutes at a time.” I understand the effects of the “change-up” (switching from one task to another during a class period) and I have started to implement a teaching strategy which does involve a variety of interaction modes during a given class period. Yet the notion that “The One Way to Teach” implies piecemeal development is quite foreign to me.

“Where I come from,” we could have seminars lasting for seven straight hours and everyone’s attention seemed quite focused. Oh, sure, I’m pretty sure many people were daydreaming when others were talking. But that daydreaming was quite relevant to the discussion. Kind of like the “drift-off moment” in a successful sales pitch. The whole “what you say makes me think of,” with surprising and satisfying results. For instance, it’s easy to imagine the response “your talking about aesthetics makes me think of baking.” Sounds absurd at first, but it can be very useful. We’re merging horizons, pushing inter-subjectivity. We’re not making sure everyone remembers everything that has been said. There are recording devices for that.

Am I ranting? Maybe. But not about people themselves. If I’m venting frustrations, it’s because I enjoy what I do in the classroom and want to go several steps forward.

I do dream about teaching fairly regularly. In fact, when I woke up this morning, I was thinking about my own concept of critical thinking as it relates to my teaching philosophy. I would assume that it means that I was dreaming about teaching, probably because of the conference. Unfortunately for those who really think about learning and teaching, many people merely use “critical thinking” or “skill transfer” as buzzphrases to convince administrators that what they do is trendy. Fortunately, most of the conference attendees were using such concepts as “social constructivism” and “inquiry-based learning” in non-buzzphrase ways.

Still lots to say about teaching. But true to my RERO resolution,  I will leave it at that, for now.


Defending Quebec’s Cegep System: Back to School Special

Someone using the nickname “Erasmus” replied to my post about Defending Quebec’s Cegep System. She/he makes interesting points. Here’s my own reply to her/his comments.

Erasmus,

As it so happens, I agree with almost all of these points.
It’d be interesting to know more about your background and experience. You make interesting points and it’s always fun to know where people are coming from, in terms of their ideas.

To give you more of my background (assuming you don’t know me). As explained in my post, I do teach at the university level and have gone through the Cegep system a long while ago. My father spent his whole career teaching students with learning disabilities at a junior high school (Secondaire I) in what is generally recognised as a socially and economically “disadvantaged milieu” («milieu défavorisé»). Much of my teaching philosophy comes from him. He studied with Jean Piaget but has always been a real “hands-on” kind of guy, especially in his teaching. His goal wasn’t to fill students’ heads with non-essential information but to help them get the tools they needed to cope with social life in Quebec. For instance, much of his math training was based on very practical training (for instance, calculating how much money you can save in one situation or another). His goal was never to “keep children in school” but to make sure students got something out of school. Many of my father’s former students did get a lot out of school and have had fulfilling careers afterwards.

I completely agree with my father’s goals. Teaching at the university level, I see the role of the university as having quite distinct goals from high schools. Not that there isn’t any continuity. But that universities aren’t supposed to be “general training for life.” When universities are limited to that, they are very costly and ineffective.

I sincerely care about the varied fates of people who aren’t university-bound. In fact, it’s one of the things I was trying to say in my post: a Cegep is a place where some people can find out that going to a university isn’t the best solution for them. There’s no use in going to a university if all you want is to have a happy life doing something you can effectively learn outside the university system. Many people who never went to a university are more “learned” than many university-goers. To be blunt, I think some people’s attitudes toward universities is too prestige-oriented. In fact, to be blunter: I think some people are snobs.

From what I can see, the main point of disagreement between you and I has to do with the way we frame “education systems” in general. I want us to take a broad view of Quebec’s education system as a whole instead of blaming one dimension of that system.
Some people blame universities, others blame high schools, many blame Cegeps. What I’m saying is not that Cegeps are free of blame but that the ‘g’ part of the Cegep mission is more important than some Cegep critics seem to assume. Especially since a lot of people do go through Cegeps, whether or not they start university degrees afterwards. I know too little about the ‘p’ part but I do know some people who teach in professional Cegep programs or who have gone through a professional Cegep program and I still see many of those programs as fairly equivalent to community colleges in other parts of North America. In fact, some professional Cegep programs look much more effective than many university degrees, especially in technical fields.

I also don’t think that Quebec society’s woes are due to one specific aspect of its cultural context. My view is holistic, not deterministic. In fact, I don’t even think that Quebec is such a bad place to live in. It’s pretty much equivalent to other places where I’ve lived (in Canada, Switzerland, Mali, and the United States).

One thing I dislike about Quebec’s education system is that there is this assumption that everyone should go to a university. Too frequently, professional training isn’t valued at the high school level and some professional Cegep degrees aren’t as valued as they should be. My friends who have not gone through Cegeps or universities often feel dismissed by “Quebec Society.” Part of it might be their own attitude toward formal education. But part of it is systemic, IMHO.

In Switzerland, for instance, apprenticeships are well-considered and universities have a specific mission. There are issues with the way career paths are chosen “for” students in Switzerland, but I like the idea of valuing non-university training.

Personally, I don’t think Cegeps are taking anything away from high schools. I’ve seen a lot of people who come directly out of high schools in other parts of North America and I really don’t see the one year difference as detrimental to Quebec high school graduates. As for school “dropouts,” my point is exactly about making sure that people distinguish goals of different parts of the education system. I personally think that high schools focus too much on preparing students for universities. And I dislike the application of ideas from social constructivism in the so-called «approche par compétence». To me, it’s typical MEQ mumbo-jumbo which often does more harm than good.

Yes, you can call me a “bench critic” of high schools. I never taught there. But I do dialogue with teachers at different levels and I don’t think I’m that far off. If you tell me more about your background and explain exactly where I’m off the track, we can all get something from this discussion! 😉