Posts Tagged "students"

Happy Birthday, John Dewey (1859-1952)


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Today, Learning List celebrates the life of John Dewey, the American philosopher, social reformer, and educator, who was born in Vermont on October 20, 1859.  Dewey was a leader of the Progressive Movement in American education, which emphasized active learning and democratic classroom practices as a means to transmit the core social and moral values (e.g., tolerance) needed to ensure the social continuity of America’s democracy.

In contrast to previous, more authoritarian instructional models that focused on rote learning, Dewey held that students must be actively engaged with and invested in what they are learning and that curriculum must be connected to students’ lives. Dewey’s approach recognized the role of students’ personal experiences in shaping their learning and that students learn best when they are ready for new content.  This idea was expressed again in 1966 with Jerome Bruner’s concept of the spiral curriculum where concepts are revisited across the elementary and middle grades in order to address differences in students’ readiness to learn.

Dewey believed that teachers should not act as instructional authorities.  Instead, they should serve as facilitators of student learning, observing, supporting, and attending to individual learning needs. Dewey also asserted that the curriculum should be relevant to students and their lives.  For example, in a 1916 argument in support of vocational education, Dewey wrote:

The problem is not that of making the schools an adjunct to manufacture and commerce, but of utilizing the factors of industry to make school life more active, more full of immediate meaning, more connected with out-of-school experience (from Democracy in Education).

This approach to curriculum and instruction continues to resonate in American education. Dewey’s work, along with that of Jean Piaget, is fundamental to the contemporary Constructivist movement. Beyond Constructivism, most contemporary American educators understand the importance of a relevant curriculum and student-centered instruction in engaging students with content and meeting diverse student learning needs.

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New Perspectives

Recently, I presented to a group of school board members and a superintendent. The superintendent made the following observation that I’ve been chewing on since our meeting. In his opinion, instructional materials increasingly are geared towards teachers, rather than students, and, specifically, towards making teachers’ jobs easier. Most people think that’s a good thing; he does not.

Teacher editions typically have provided instructional guidance to teachers. Today’s products provide more guidance to help teachers individualize instruction. For example, teacher editions often explain specifically how to adapt their instruction for specific student populations, including English language learners and struggling students.  Publishers do this to meet the market’s demand, as laws and regulations increasingly require that teachers individualize instruction.

Most educators appreciate publishers’ guidance to teachers. Policymakers and “education reformers” extoll online resources as a great “leveler” among teachers, arguing that adaptive online products help weaker teachers provide instruction that is as effective as stronger teachers.  That is precisely what this superintendent objects to.  To paraphrase what I believe he was saying, adaptive products lull teachers into believing that the product provides instruction, so they can facilitate or guide, rather than teach. He argues that is not good for teachers, for teaching, and most importantly, that is not good for students.

I love meeting people who make me think about things from a new perspective.

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January 2022