I typically write from a blog ideas list that I keep in my "big picture planner." Planning posts ahead of time works sometimes, but other times, when I reach the planned post, it no longer feels relevant.
Maybe part of the fun of blogging is to allow for days like this? Maybe just writing until something appears can bring forth valuable ideas that people might enjoy reading?
Just now, as I was writing this (trying to avoid writing this), I popped on Twitter to find this piece on EdSurge: A 'Golden Age of Teaching and Learning at Colleges?
The pictures of brain scans associated with the article caught my eye. I've been using and studying brain-based teaching techniques for a long time. The article is the transcript of a podcast with Matthew Rascoff, an AVP of digital ed. A couple of things jumped out at me:
A recent edu conference had the unfortunate acronym of H.A.I.L. I don't love this. Hail is nasty stuff that falls from the sky. Or, it's a sort of creepy, totalitarian greeting (e.g., "All hail...). The "H" stands for Harvesting. Harvesting Academic Innovating for Learners. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think we should generally avoid the word "harvesting" when talking about students' brains. Words create worlds. Words matter. Higher ed is in need of new words (e.g., distance education, soft skills, non-traditional learners). I left this article grateful that I consider myself a word person, and hoping that all institutions and innovation efforts will make sure to have a word person at the table, to think through the possible implications of their word choices.
Rascoff said, "I think we’re doing such a bad job of telling our story right now." I do agree with this. As an industry, we've got work to do. I think about online education in particular. Horror stories abound, but those of us on the ground can fill books with success stories. One of my personal goals is to continue to spread the good news about online education. There's that, and there's also the fact that we need to do better. We're failing too many of our students, both online and in traditional education. We need to tell better stories; we need to do better. Both are true.
I think many of us are sharing good news about higher ed as individuals. We need to come together more to tell these positive stories. How? I'm thinking about it. I have an idea. I DMed a couple of colleagues about it last night.
Rascoff also said that we're in a "golden age of teaching." Are we? No. No, we are not. Again, there are pockets, often big pockets, doing amazing work grounded in the art and science of teaching and learning. That said, I fear that the norm is still passive learning, not just in higher education, but across K-12 as well. I hear stories about schools with no recess, no art, and no music. I wonder how many kids are being taught right from the textbook, with assessments that most closely resemble autopsies, and no active learning or formative assessment in sight. I suspect that we are still teaching people of all ages from the model of a fixed mindset. Again, there are huge movements to improve teaching and learning in American education, but we've got work to do.
Yes, as Rascoff said, "We know more about how people learn than we ever have in the past." Our knowledge of the human brain and how it learns is, at this very moment, greater than it's ever been. And, at the very same time, most of our field believes in neuromyths, like the existence of learning styles.
What comes to mind is the John Naisbitt quote, "We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge."
Again, we have lots of work to do. That's almost always my final thought on these twisty education conversations. We have a lot of work to do in connecting teachers (at all levels) with information about how the brain learns best, and in supporting teachers in making that shift in their classrooms. We have to help them transfer that information into knowledge and action. We've got to do it all with a deep respect for students as people, not as brains waiting to be cultivated or harvested. We need the resources to do this work.
I know I'm not the only pedagogy geek who went bananas over seeing the art and science of teaching reach the masses via this article in The Cut last week.
If you haven't read it, it's well worth your time. For those of you who want to zone in directly on Warren's teaching tips and insights, I took the liberty of compiling them here.
In the words of Austin Kleon, "Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you." Here goes the wondering.
Warren's Teaching Tips
1. Don't do all the talking. Ask questions. Create space for your students to speak and think.
A couple of caveats I want to attach to this tip:
2. Simplify and clarify.
Patient and plainspoken. I love this. Ditch the academic speak. We know you're smart. But can you convey complex ideas in a simple manner? That's the mark of an expert teacher.
3. Respect your students (a.k.a. your fellow human beings).
They are human beings first, students second. Treat them with respect. We can be experts without denying our students' own expertise. My students know a lot of things that I don't know. I always identify myself as both a teacher and a student in our classroom. I am always learning too.
4. Meet students where they are, and then nudge them outside of those comfort zones.
Find that magical balance between challenge and support. Get to know your students. Believe in them.
P.S. Someone has read her Vygotsky and I'm #hereforit.
5. Learning takes place in the brain, but it involves a hell of a lot of heart.
The brain is the primary organ of learning. We, as teachers, should have a basic understanding of how the brain works. This brain-based awareness should not strip our work of its heart, however. The best teachers capitalize on the power of emotions to support teaching and learning.
6. Partner well.
If you're planning on doing this thing called life with a partner who's a teacher, a teaching observation should precede any long-term commitments. Obviously.
7. Declare your teaching mission statement.
How do you define great teaching? I think it's important that we speak that aloud, write it down, and share it with others.
8. Teach all students how to participate.
We have to get creative about getting all students to participate. If we rely on those who raise their hand when we ask questions, we're going to hear from the most confident voices. This only serves to reinforce existing inequalities. Use small groups or one-on-one partner exercises to build students' confidence, and then, over time, challenge the quieter voices to speak in larger groups.
9. It's not rocket science.
The best teaching tips that I've ever heard have been simple and not terribly time-consuming. I love this strategy of Warren's. Compile frequently asked questions, whether from office hours or student emails, and distribute to the class.
10. Great teaching is a journey, not a destination.
A cliche? Absolutely. Also true.
Lecturing at students can often feel safer at first — easier. To me, the willingness to try new strategies is the mark of a great teacher. And then to try again. And again. And again.
Last night on Twitter, I saw this post:
I have been meaning to write more about trauma-informed teaching and the impact of trauma on how the brain learns. That post inspired me to do so.
As I sat down to write this morning, I saw this:
A timely reminder for me and for those of us who choose to write, teach, and talk about trauma.
Before I get to some thoughts on how educators can utilize trauma-informed practices, I also want to mention that there are people working tirelessly to end gun violence in all of our communities. Many of them are calling for widespread protests and school walkouts. I can anticipate a critique of this post that argues that we should use our energy, not on becoming trauma-informed, but on protesting the people and policies that allow trauma to happen in the first place.
I think we need to do both.
Finally, before I get to some recommended strategies, I want to acknowledge that trauma isn't new. What is new is that we know now, more than ever, about how trauma impacts the brain and about how we can best support individuals who've lived through traumatic experiences.
As a new academic year begins, these are my thoughts on how educators in the field of higher ed can integrate more trauma-informed teaching practices into their classrooms.
There is so much outside of our control, but I know that how I choose to teach and treat my students is well within my control. I can choose to become trauma-informed and to use that information in my teaching and my daily life.
One of my hopes for the coming year is that as a community, higher education steps up and begins to take trauma more seriously. Having spoken to several trauma-informed education leaders over the past few months, it is my sense that this work is happening in pockets in our industry, often coming out of schools of social work or counseling at individual institutions. This is good, grassroots work being built from the bottom up. We now need to build on that on a national level. That conversation is taking place right now, so if you're interested, send me an email or tweet and I can add you to that loop.
Thanks for reading.
I write about higher education.