Reflections on Reflections: mastery & expertise and long standing inequalities

The revive old post plugin on WordPress is great (and random) , and gets you re-reading old reflections. Learning Expert and the Skilled Master shone a light on the PD I was about to walk into that morning.

Things keep happening at work that I’ve just had surface online.  The resonance between ideas from years ago and now always makes me wonder about the progression of education.  The more things change the more they stay the same, I suppose.

Last week before our first PD day of the year I was re-reading a three year old post comparing learning experts with skilled mastery (when you’ve been blogging for six years you get to see a lot of old ideas remembered).

Learning experts are like chameleons, perfectly camouflaged by their quick minds.  They’re able to effectively consume large amounts of information and present it effectively in an academic setting.  They’re who you want to explain to you how an internal combustion engine works, but they aren’t who you want fixing one.  Learning experts tend to have a finger in a lot of pies.  They don’t focus on developing a single set of skills because they prefer the rarefied air of pure learning; they tend to be informational creatures.

By contrast the skilled master is someone who has spent a lot of time honing stochastic skills though trial and error in the real world; their’s is a situated intelligence.  They might have an encyclopedic knowledge of their specialty but they tend to shy away from theoretical recitation in favour of relying on personal experience.  Their expertise is in the particular, not the general.  They are able to demonstrate that expertise concretely.  Learning experts shy away from that sort of tangible skills demonstration.

High school teachers are expected to have mastery of their subject area, but you’d be amazed at how many English teachers don’t write and how few science teachers do science.  In fact, in my experience, the vast majority of high school academic specialists don’t practice their specialty in any discernible way.  They come dangerously close to making that annoying Shaw quote look accurate.  One of the exceptions I’ve found is in the technology department where our chefs chef, our technicians repair and our materials experts do carpentry and metal work, every day.  Constant examples of their expertise pop up all over the school.

We spent PD last week doing the learning expert thing as we always do.  We began by being given statistics so laughably incomplete as to be essentially useless and were then asked to suggest sweeping changes to our school based on them.   After being handed a Ministry document so dense in edu-speak as to be practically incomprehensible (which isn’t a problem if tangible results aren’t a requirement), we were asked to apply whatever it was to how our department teaches.  We then spent time touching so lightly on mental health as to barely register our presence before ending the session blasting off into the school as the resident experts on it, ready to develop deep personal connections with all the students who least want that.  In the afternoon we learned how to make our own statistics to justify any course of action we choose.  At the end of the day all the learning experts felt like they’d done many things, I felt like I’d been desperately treading water for eight hours.

Tangibles from the day?  Nooooo.  We don’t do tangibles.


NOTES:

The sub-text of our data driven morning was that our school doesn’t do enough to support our essential and applied students.  Seeing as we’re not sectioned to run those courses and have to squeeze them into existing classes, it’s little wonder they aren’t being served well.  Rather than trying to pry this open with insufficient statistics why not talk to the actual problem (our essential sections are given away to a school miles away)?

Since then there has been some top down pressure on making open courses easier.  Essential and applied students don’t need easier, they need curriculum delivered to their needs.  It’s hard to do that when we prioritize running a dozen half empty grade 12 university bound science courses but barely any non-stacked essential classes.  I’m guessing because these stats weren’t given, but we spend more than half our class sectioning to satisfy university bound academic students who compose less than 30% of our student population.

LINKS:
consumerist learning: less challenging classes aren’t what students are looking for.
proliferation of fifties:  we already pass students we shouldn’t.  How low should we go?
situated intelligence:  it’s the only real kind we have. Everything else is politics.

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