Re: [xmca] Reflective Teaching: A Hall of Mirrors?

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at>
Date: Mon Oct 22 2007 - 20:35:15 PDT

Well, "always" and "never" are not wise words to use about possible
human behavior. At most they can indicate tendencies. I think
we both agree that a combination of reflecting on dis-contextualized
(re-contextualized? there's always a context? if we make one, or
can't help not making one) bits and doing practice in some sort of
apprenticeship-like model tends to work better than either alone, and
that the bits by themselves work least well, usually.

A good point about apprenticeship not working so well when we don't
enter into it as a way of moving towards better practice of some
specific sort. No doubt the "failed" apprentices were learning
something ... just not what we were hoping, and maybe not anything very useful.

Your final points raise the issue of how to connect the bits in
teacher training to the practices in the classroom, and this is where
teacher education seems to usually fail. I think one workable
solution is to hybridize the activity and the setting, putting both
the kids and the teachers-in-training in a setting that does both the
work of teaching the kids and the work of training the teachers, with
both the experienced kids-teacher and the expert teacher-trainer in
there with them. That's complicated, and not particularly efficient
on the surface. But it may be one of the few things that actually
works, which trumps efficiency. Someone has to catalyze the work of
"transfer" on the spot, in the live action setting.

We don't do this, I think, because it really messes up our neat
separations between institutions, authority lines, etc. We
rationalize not doing it by appealing to the efficiency of teaching
the kids, but that is short-sighted, and maybe self-serving for the
institutions. Kids are not going to get well-taught in the long run,
if we don't have a system that prepares good teachers. And we don't.
Every survey of good teachers that I know of, including my own, finds
them saying that they learned next to nothing from their teacher training.

Long ago, in a rare period that combined ample funding and
desperation for more good teachers (1970s), in New York we had a
system where the senior teacher education faculty were paid to go out
into the classrooms with the apprentice teachers and in many cases
co-teach lessons with them and with the experienced regular teacher.
It was a very expensive system. It would be terribly unpopular with
most research faculty. We never "perfected" it because budget cuts
killed it off rather early. We had two semesters, a full school year,
of this, with the apprentice being more peripheral in the beginning,
and taking over the role of the regular teacher for most of the
second half. It also requires good matching of personalities of those
involved, which goes against our "interchangeable parts" Fordist
ideology of education as well.

Being a good teacher, in my opinion, is NOT taking on an
institutional role. It is mobilizing aspects of your personality and
identity, as well as knowledge, judgment, and experience, to form
unique kinds of relationships with others. Something more like the
"guru" concept in India, but with a different kind of ideal
relationship. It would be possible to do teacher education really
well, if as a society, we really cared about it. I don't believe we
do. Social and political leaders usually do not see good education as
being in their privileged interest, and in the US at least they have
little respect for teachers because their policies lead to a
self-fulfilling prophecy about teacher quality and effectiveness.

It is of course very interesting that Korea seems to have succeeded
in getting high-quality primary teachers. How are THEY trained? or is
the success due to other factors than their training? On a national
scale there are a lot of other factors influencing the supply of good
teachers (self-selection, alternative opportunities, shifting
cultural values, attitudes toward the teaching profession, gender
biases, working conditions, etc.). Who, socially, are the apprentice
teachers today in Korea? and has their social profile changed at all
in recent generations?

Weaving a wider context ...


At 07:59 PM 10/22/2007, you wrote:
>Thanks for a characteristically suggestive reply, Jay. I think
>Australia must be on the same time as Seoul--shortly after I wrote
>my last prolix post, I got a gentle off-line ribbing from Andy for
>spending so many paragraphs contextualizing what amounted to barely
>four turns of data. Yet I can see that from your point of view my
>data was UNDERcontextualized.
> The wonderful thing is that in a typical primary school the SAME
> teacher teaches ALL the subjects to the SAME children: the teacher
> changes the subjects instead of changing the children (or, from the
> kids' point of view, we change the textbook instead of changing the
> classroom).
> There you have it: a natural experiment, all variables but one
> controlled and one allowed to vary. We can compare the SAME teacher
> teaching the SAME children in Korean (music, math, Korean
> language, social studies, art, etc.) and in English. We can even
> eliminate the slight ordering effect of different timetable slots
> by comparing different classes. Since the teacher is the same (and
> the kids are the same) the differences we observe are not cultural,
> except insofar as they relate to the use of language as a
> culturally familiar or culturally unfamiliar tool.
> The differences are striking! In the English classes, we get one
> or two word answers or else verbatim repetitions of what the
> teacher says, usually from a single participant (often the same
> one). Here's an example:
> T: This is Sejong Daewang King Sejong the Great) (T shows a
> picture of King Sejong the Great, the fifteenth century founder of
> the Korean writing system) Who's this? (Up intonation to indicate
> a checking question)
> S: This is Sejong Daewang. (One student responds in kind)
> T: This is Sejong Daewang. Who's this? (Repeating in order to
> get other children involved)
> Same Student: He is Sejong Daewang. (Puzzled at the teacher's
> dissatisfaction, varies his answer to see if this will satisfy the teacher.)
> T (Giving up and responding to the one student who will answer):
> Right. This is King Sejong.
> In Korean, the children tend to answer in full sentences. Here's
> a bit of math class, on using regular polygons to tile a plane, for
> comparison. To cut down on extraneous detail, I'm just going to
> give the English translation here, so pretend this is in Korean.
> T: (How would you say we can confirm that the shape "ga" in
> number one will completely cover the form?)
> S1: (If there is an error you'll be able to see it.)
> S2: (If you use transparent paper you'll be able to know.)
> T: (Well, let's look in your math book on p. 37.)
> Something very different is going on here! You can see that the
> teacher is using much more oblique language, the children are
> giving multiple responses to the problem, and the teacher is giving
> a still more oblique response to the response, merely suggesting
> resources to be used in order to provide a more efficient answer.
> The English lesson is the lesson of Vygotsky's "rickshaw puller"
> (see Educational Psychology, pl 49, and also LSV's "Preface to
> Thorndike", Collected Works Volume Three, p. 160). The teacher is
> hauling around a single student, providing the sum total of the
> pedagogical content herself. But the math lesson is that of a tram
> driver, with the teacher organizing the social environment of
> learning and the children themselves providing a discourse which is
> self-sustaining where answers can compete with each other and the
> teacher's job is to control and organize rather than substitute
> herself for the discourse.
> We could blame the difference on the children's (or the
> teacher's) lack of language resources in the English class. So one
> response to this has been to make English a special class, taught
> by a (Korean) TESOL specialist rather than the general-subject
> teacher. In other words, instead of keeping the children and
> changing the subject, we keep the subject and erase the children.
> This "solution" is particularly appealing to our board of
> education, because it allows us to hire the surplus middle school
> teachers of English as elementary school teachers and pay them
> lower wages (because they are less experienced).
> But the solution has made the problem worse, not better. In the
> English lesson above the general subject teacher teacher who is
> familiar with the children can vary the speaker by calling out
> different names. But this is NOT possible for the TESOL specialist,
> because the TESOL specialist teaches all eight hundred students in
> the school, and never learns the names. Think of the BIG difference
> in everyday discourse created by knowing a person's name and
> magnify that by a factor of eight hundred or so and you'll see what I mean.
> (One of my grad students did some great work on this in the
> Canadian Modern Language Journal. See:
> In wealthier elementary schools (and there are many in this part
> of Seoul) another response has been to bring in so-called "native
> speakers", although there is some dispute as to whether the "native
> speaker" is an apprentice, or a "language teaching assistant" or
> the central figure of interest in the class.
> No matter what role the "native speaker" plays, they lack
> teaching expertise, and the way this SHOULD be remedied is, as Jay
> suggests, a period of apprenticeship. However, this kind of
> apprenticeship is not ALWAYS an effective way of transmitting
> teaching expertise, particularly when the so-called "native" is not
> at all a native of the classroom! For one thing, an apprentice has
> to KNOW that he or she is serving an apprenticeship and genuinely
> look forward to becoming a journeyman!
> (Believe it or not, ANOTHER of my grad students did some great
> work on this FAILURE of legitimate peripheral participation in the
> International Journal of Applied Linguistics! See:
> I'd like to finish by querying Jay's suggestion that a fully
> contextualized expertise can NEVER be taught by "decontextualized"
> media. I think this depends very much on what we see as "context"
> and the degree to which we accept the ability of texts to encode
> contexts. There is, of course, the example of tutorials attached to
> computer games, which J.P. Gee uses. And there is the example of
> XMCA itself, which as Andy points out, can carry an outrageous
> amount of detail about Korean education and Korean social life in
> order to contextualize a pitiful quantity of classroom text.
> Can CLASSROOM language have this function? In a few hours time I
> will go and teach my undergrads. We are going to learn three
> techniques for teaching repetition in the classroom, to wit:
> a) "Casting" the characters of the dialogue, by dividing the
> class: "Over here, we are Minsu. And over here, we are Julie."
> b) Making "hamburgers" of teacher-talk, where the teacher's voice
> has to frame the character's voice: "Now, listen Minsu: 'I like
> apples!' Repeat?"
> c) Providing a "continuation". "What does Julie say?" "What does
> Minsu say next?"
> My undergrads don't know quite what to make of this three-step
> trot; they are used to teachers who just play the bloody tape and
> then ask comprehension questions. But we can't do that in
> elementary school classes because the resulting questions are more
> complex than the text itself ("What did Julie say when Minsu said
> that he liked apples?"). Instead of putting the story into the
> children and then seeing if we can get answers out of them, we tend
> to put the children in the story and see if they can keep the story
> going ("What does Minsu say?").
> A lot of the undergrads think we are really just having fun and
> killing time (because they are used to a lot of that, too). When I
> put them in groups they tend to ham it up even more than real
> children would, and they are still prone to outbursts of good high
> school English ("Now, listen to my questions and let's see if you
> understood the dialogue!").
> However, in two weeks when they leave to do their practicum, they
> will stand in front of children who will NOT respond to their high
> school English, and I think it is quite POSSIBLE that they will
> find themselves falling back on a simpler, more direct way of
> teaching: possibly something quite similar to what we will be doing
> today. Of course, they will be recontextualizing. But in order for
> that recontextualization to happen in the future, they have to
> learn the decontextualized bits today. Isn't this what English
> learners ALWAYS have to do?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
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Received on Mon Oct 22 20:39 PDT 2007

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