Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Jason has a book

What is pedagogy?  

I was at a meeting this morning where we talked about "best practices" and "challenges" and file names for quiz questions and linking questions to outcomes and whether each distracter in a multiple choice question should be capitalized and invoices and contracts and templates, banners, headers, training, and standard's manuals.  The last 15 minutes was scheduled for a discussion on teaching presence in online instruction, a topic near and dear to my heart. We didn't have time for that item.

Years ago I asked our staff to define what they meant by "distance education pedagogy". The response? "Jason has a book." Yeah.  I am sure Jason does have a book. Jason has a lot of books.

A friend of mine was at an in-service awhile back. The topic of pedagogy came up. "Isn't it 'teaching methods?' a new teacher asked. One of those "higher pay-grade than you" people told the group no, pedagogy is about outcomes.

Two good questions, two bad answers.

Is real teaching that hard to define?

Looking at its etymology, the word literally means 'to lead the child.' 

Merriam-Webster calls it the 'art, science and profession of teaching.'

In 2016, the government defines pedagogy as "'..the styles and methods of instruction used in the teaching profession, including grading practices, assessment, and instructional strategies.' Alberta Education.

Well. 

Pretty darn nebulous.

Art and science and methods and practices and professionalism. Can something be both an art and a science? What methods work? Which practices are good? Do some instructional strategies result in optimal learning for all students, or do some work better for certain kids- and for certain teachers?  Even in the now infamous report of the Task Force on Teaching Excellence, "excellent" teaching was never defined. 

And that made me think about what one of my aunts said, after 34 years of teaching grade one.  I asked her how she taught kids to read. "I have no idea," she said. "I try lots of things. Then one day they just start reading."

Pedagogy is discussed at length in academic papers, books and universities, but in my experience, real teachers rarely have the time or energy to talk about it. Why don't they feel like they are experts in the thing they do every day?  

Maybe they don't have time to read Jason's many books. Maybe they cannot put into words what it is that they do.  

Maybe they just know when they are doing it.