A little over a year ago, I started this blog for a handful of reasons, one of which was to put into practice a long-standing call from the American Psychological Association (APA) to “give psychology away.” As my regular readers know, most of my posts center on topics related to education and learning and come complete with advice for how teachers and parents can put the information into practice in their classrooms and their homes. Fourteen posts later, I am reflecting on the value of this endeavor: is it worth it?
There are many ways to address the question of “worth:”
Are these posts worth something to you, readers out there in the blog-o-sphere?
- Are my posts reaching my intended audience?
- Are parents and teachers trying out my suggestions?
- Are users experiencing positive outcomes from doing so?
Are these posts worth something to me, in terms of contributing value to my academic career?
- Is this endeavor what George Miller had in mind, way back in 1969 when he charged the members of the APA in attendance at the annual convention to use their work to promote human welfare?
- Can I list this work on my academic resume? If yes, where does it belong?
- Will the committee of my peers charged with evaluating the quality of my academic scholarship agree with the way in which I frame this work on my resume?
My aim with this post is to discuss the worth of such endeavors and to ask my readers to weigh-in as well. If my posts have proven beneficial for you, please let me know. If you have thoughts on the worthiness of such endeavors, I want to know that too. Here are some of my thoughts in the issues noted above, with a little more history about George Miller’s 1969 call as well.
Are these posts worth something to you, readers out there in the blog-o-sphere?
George Miller, named one of the topmost eminent psychologists in the 20th century, published the text of his historic presidential address under the title above: “Psychology as a means of promoting human welfare.” The text is worth a read, even now, so many years later. Some of his remarks still ring true today:
“I am keenly aware that giving psychology away will be no simple task. In our society there are depths of resistance to psychological innovations that have to be experienced to be believed.”
Still today I experience this in classes as I teach concepts to “applied” audiences. Students learning to be educators often bristle at many of the topics I discuss, such as the overblown importance placed on self-esteem or the lack of validity for the concept of learning styles (I broke this discussion up into two posts: part 1, part 2). For educators and others working in the field (be it educational, legal, and sometimes even clinical), looking to empirical reports for inspiration on best practice is just not the norm.
An example from an MAT class I taught several years ago comes to mind. A student in class scheduled an appointment with me to vet her grave concern about the course. Her concern went something like this:
“I don’t value science as an appropriate means to explain human behavior. So what is the point in taking this class? You can’t use science to understand people. That’s not science. Don’t you know that teaching is an Art, not a Science? And besides, I think it is demeaning to children to reduce their behavior to variables.
She said this to with arms crossed and brow furrowed. She was studying to become a high school science teacher. Getting through to folks like her is a monumental challenge, one that George Miller was aware of over 40 years ago:
“Diagnosing practical problems and developing detailed plans to deal with them may or may not be more difficult than solving scientific problems, but it is certainly, different.”
He continued to state that conducting the science and communicating the results to a lay population requires psychologists to “serve two masters at once,” a challenge not faced by scientists in other disciplines who hand their work off to engineers, who then pick up the mantle of putting the findings into practical practice. Not so for Psychology. Then, as now, we are put in the position of doing the work of two: scientist and engineer. But there are other engineers out there too: teachers, lawyers, and clinicians. And these engineers often feel like us scientists are stepping on their toes when we try to “tell them how to do their jobs.”
As a case in point, a few years ago one of my senior thesis students was interested in learning whether practicing teachers attended to empirical work when designing their lesson plans, so she created a survey and sought out real teachers to complete it (and she later presented her research at the annual meetings of the Western Psychological Association). She recruited teachers from five different schools (public, public charter, private secular, and private parochial) and asked them a variety of questions about what informs their practice. In one part of the survey, teachers were presented with a list of options and asked to rank order them from most to least helpful. Here’s some of what she found, presented from the highest to lowest rank:
1. School’s curricular goals: 53.7% find this to be most influential
2. Personal gut instincts: 26.8% find this to be somewhat influential
3. Other teacher’s advice: 26.8% find this to be somewhat influential
4. Outcome of program evaluation: 31.7% find this to be not very influential
5. Empirical research: 44% find this to be the least influential
Why is this? When it comes to bridging the gap between science and practice, even when the point of the bridge is to improve teaching and learning, there are many impediments aside from naive attitudes about the validity of psychological science. Three are relevant to this discussion:
- Teachers don’t have ready access to empirical results.
- Teachers don’t have the technical skills to translate research findings into useable lesson plans
- Teachers don’t have the time to translate research findings into useable lessons plans
When scientific work is published, the status quo is to publish in scholarly journals. These journal articles are not written for the general public, rather they are written for professional colleagues to read, digest, and improve upon. That is the way in which scientific knowledge progresses. We (professors) spend years training our students in this process of scholarly communication and progress. To my mind, to assume that a practitioner not versed in the vernacular of the discipline could pick up one of these articles and easily “use it” is unfair, short sighted, and inappropriate.
If we want our work to matter, we need to do more. Skipping ahead to the present day, Kelly Lambert, a celebrated Behavioral Neuroscientist who works at Randolf-Macon College, recently published a pointed article on just this topic – 40+ years after George Miller – stating the same general thing: behavioral scientists need to learn how to communicate with more than just their colleagues, if they want their work to matter. Her article is a great resource for aspiring popular-press authors, as it emphasizes tips on how to transform science writing into something readable.
Writing for a lay audience is one thing, but accessibility is really a bigger hurdle. Indeed, if you want to read Dr. Lambert’s article but don’t have ready access to a university library complete with subscription privileges, it will cost you $31.50 to purchase a .pdf from the publisher.
If we want to really take George Miller’s call seriously and make our work “worth it”, we need to do more than write well – we have think about accessibility too. To my mind then, that’s the value of a blog like this:
- I give my writing away at no charge to you!
- I don’t clutter my writing up with statistics and citations.
- I try to define terms and avoid esoteric references (though, admittedly, I can still stand to improve on this)
Indeed, my blog is even better than public radio — I am not even asking for donations! Though I will say, I would be much obliged if readers would let me know how you use my work.
Are these posts worth something to me, in terms of contributing value to my academic career?
The latter request (“please, tell me what you do with these posts”) brings me to the other side of the “worth” coin. What’s this endeavor worth, for me and my career? Professors like me hesitate to give their work away, because giving it away is expensive (this being the title to a paper published by the APA in 2005, about why Psychologists don’t give more away for free). Our promotions, grant applications, and merit decisions are based in large part on the number of peer reviewed publications we have listed on our resumes – that’s what the whole “publish or perish” thing is all about. If we are clinical research scientists, then our livelihoods come from billing our clients for services rendered. How can we make a living if we just give away what we know and create? We have bills, mortgages, and life expenses.
With these real pressures in mind, you will likely not be surprised to learn that very few psychologists, over all, give their work away. Every ten years or so, a big name in the field takes the time to publish an article (in a journal, of course) restating, in the present time, this problem (e.g., in 2004 Philip Zimbardo, another giant in the field, published a lively and optimistic discussion titled “Does Psychology Make a Significant Difference in Our Lives? In the American Psychologist).
Recently, I did a little informal polling to test the question about how many of us give our work away too, using three social media sites. The challenge has been out-there for a week at the time of this writing. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- On Facebook, I posed the question to my friends list about 200-strong, many of whom are psychologists, both clinical and experimental. Three friends clicked “like” but only one responded with an answer, though a laudatory one, at that. She does indeed take on pro-bono cases here and there, to provide her services to someone who otherwise couldn’t afford them.
- On Linked-In, I posed the question to the “Psychology Network” discussion board, a network over 50,000 strong. After a week, two Psychologists posted a reply, only one of whom has given away his skills for free.
- On Good.is, “a social-media site for social good”, I posed the question as a challenge for something “good to do.” One reader tweeted my challenge, but no one has reported in as having taken up the charge.
Granted these are not the results of a scientific poll, but they make the point loud and clear: our attitudes and our behaviors, as psychologists, don’t always match (yes, that’s a pun of sorts for you social psychologists out there!). Sure we want to help, that’s what lead many of us to the field in the first place. But are we really, after all?
To test this latter question I want share one more non-scientific, but compelling comparison. In my career thus far, I’ve spent two years at a large “R-1” research university and 11 years a small, comprehensive, liberal arts university. As such, I have a handful of peer reviewed journal articles on my resume, but many, many more senior thesis projects and courses taught. I took a moment the other day to run my publications through the Social Science Citation Index and Google Scholar Indexing (the use of google is “thanks” to my Master’s thesis adviser Ira Hyman – thanks Ira!) to get a sense of where that work has gone over the years.
- Peer Reviewed Article “Readership:” Determining readership of peer reviewed journal articles is decidedly tricky. When I select those articles related to memory & language development – my long standing research interests – the SSCI shows that these articles have been cited, on average, 10 times (range: 1 – 18). Yet, the SSCI yields a low estimate, in that it doesn’t capture book chapters, whereas Google Scholar Indexing does. When I broaden the search with Google to include both book chapters and other articles I contributed to as a graduate student but that no longer reflect my research activity today, the number is much higher, with a citation average of 37 and a range of 2 – 144.
- Blog Readership (WordPress & DailyKos): Collectively, my blogs have been viewed about 4500 times. Some posts have received over 500 hits, others only 20 or so. Several posts have been “reblogged” and “tweeted” – which might serve as rough analogues to “citing”.
Though small beans in the blogging world where anyone can self-publish anything, in this case you can see quite clearly that my web-logging has reached many more sets of eyes than has my peer-reviewed journal writing. Across the two sites I’ve used, and in combination with facebook and face-to-face conversations with readers, I’ve learned first hand that members of my blog audience do indeed use this work to inform their practice and their general well being. When it comes right down to it, I satisfy my own desires to help in this forum more than in the traditional publishing forum. My scientific articles have contributed to the progress of science too, but on a much smaller scale.
So What’s it Worth?
In closing, I think giving psychology away is worth a whole lot. Blogging isn’t the only way to do it, and I am doing it in other ways as well, ways that make more sense to the personnel committee that evaluates the quality of my work. I believe that personnel committees should start thinking about meaningful ways to assess the quality and potential impact of blogging too though. I’m not the only one considering this in the virtual realm (for a very thorough and thoughtful discussion of this see here), and I hope more folks will join in this *discussion.
If science-blogging were more universally accepted as a form of scholarship then I expect that we’d see an increase in the quality and the quantity of what’s out there. We can use technology to promote many things. And I believe it is an endeavor that’s worth a whole lot.
* Speaking of discussion, if you have something to say, but prefer the less formal setting over on Facebook, you could join in (or start up) a conversation over there on my companion CognitionEducation Facebook group. Over there, in addition to sharing links to my posts here, I also “pin up” and discuss recent news stories that cause me to stop and pause. I’d love to see your “faces” AND “thoughts” over there too.
NOTE on citation of this work: This is an original piece of writing, not published elsewhere. If you would like to refer to this work in your own writing or scholarship activities, cite it appropriately:
- Kleinknecht, E. (2013). Giving Psychology Away: What’s it Worth?. Retrieved from ttp://cognitioneducation.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/giving-psychology-away-whats-it-worth/
- Evidence-based education: is it really that straightforward? (guardian.co.uk)
- A New Push for Science in Education in Britain (danielwillingham.com)
A few comments for you Erica.
First, Miller is a part of your academic family, so you should follow in the family tradition of giving away Psychology (Miller was Neisser’s undergrad mentor and Neisser worked with him some in grad school as well). I learned ecological validity and writing for the broader public from Dick.
Second, giving it away doesn’t mean free. I’ve always taken it to mean giving back to the public that supports us, applying findings. Most of us are in the business of giving it away — teaching and maybe working in other contexts. Some of us even try to write for the broader audience.
Third, blog views and citations of articles are not the same metric. We don’t know how many people read our articles (although some journals now keep track of downloads and note that number when you view the article at the website — closer to the blog views number). By the way, our chapter together has quite a few cites — look it up on Google scholar (oh, and create your own Google Scholar account).
Fourth, how should we count popular press writing (including blogs) in reviews of faculty. I list mine as other writing in my 5 year reviews. Clearly nice, but they don’t really matter. Peer-reviewed papers are the key still. Even the text book I’m working on isn’t important in the academic cred, but is if we are following the family tradition of giving away PScyhology.
I like your blogs and value them.
Thanks for the comments, Ira. I knew your Neisser connection of course, but hadn’t traced Neisser’s entire tree, that’s cool to know about the Neisser – Miller match. It is a small world, even still today.
To the second point, I think “giving it away” is open for interpretation. You can argue that teaching and writing aren’t “freebies” because students pay tuition, journal companies charge subscription fees, as do popular-press magazines and other print media. So even though academic authors do not receive payment for the their services, the organizations that promote their work does charge fees and many do make a profit. Volunteerism in other contexts certainly counts as free work and I am doing that these days too. In one context I am working with the local charter school on building a curriculum for them, one that boosts students’ perspective taking and emotion regulation skills. The principal invited me to actualize her idea and I complied. Of course, if the program is really great and seems to work (and it’s looking really promising!), I plan to seek out publication options too, but for now, the work is voluntary and I am giving it to the school. In another context I am working with a start-up group in PDX, helping them create and assess a summer camp for youth in middle & high school. I am providing them with academic resources (and interpretation therein) and before the first camp commences will hold seminars with camp leaders (many of whom are computer programmers and graphic designers, not teachers) to coach them in the power of their words and attitudes, as they relate to campers’ motivation and engagement, and of course am designing and will oversee the assessment process. From this process, I also got connected with the PDX-Metro STEM partnership, and have lined up one continuing education venue with their STEM teachers (to help them put Carol Dweck’s “mindset” research into practice). Again, for now, I am volunteering, but eventually I may charge fees for my services. To the broader point of “giving it away” and how to operationalize that “charge” — in a sense there is no free lunch, because everything is valued. Terms for my next promotion are such that I volunteer outside the bounds of campus – so my “free” work now is contributing to my promotion portfolio and the raise that comes along with it. As well, the work I am “working out” now, once it becomes more polished, will be something that I could feasibly charge fees for. That said, I still think, as I read and re-read George Miller’s address, that he did imply providing the public with knowledge or expertise “for free.” And that is exactly how I see my blog.
To the third point then, I really didn’t mean to imply that I thought blog views were equated to article citations, rather I was suggestion that the only comparable comparison was a “re-blog” or “tweet,” but even then, I know they aren’t quite the same. But in practice, from the perspective of the intent, they do serve a similar purpose. In an article, we give credit to the origin of our ideas, as if to say: “Hey readers, other people think like me too (or not, as the case may be).” Keeping in mind that I know there’s more to a citation than just that, the intent with a re-blog or tweet is the same: “Hey bloggers/Tweeters” check this idea out!” Back to the idea of “where it fits”). Whether we are talking about articles or blogs though, figuring out a way to determine quality is a thorny issue. In the academic world, the convention is that if a jury of your academic peers deem it worthy (i.e., the peer review process), then it is. Its the publication that counts more than the number of citations (at least in my neck of the world). BTW – I looked up the chapter as you suggested on google scholar and see that the entire book has been cited 61 times – that’s cool! – but I don’t see it broken down by chapter. Did you see it by book, or by chapter? Back to the point of determining quality, in the blog world the only analogue available to us is views and re-blogs. So really what I want to see folks discuss is the question of metric: “What’s an appropriate metric for quality?” Wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to take the time to work out a meaningful metric that could be applied to both articles and academically oriented blogs, and do a more uniform comparison? Any takers out there?
To your fourth point then, it follows that if the academic community could put their collective smarts to the task of creating a more meaningful metric for quality assessments, then this conversation would be very different. As it stands now, some academic blog posts pale in comparison to the quality found in peer reviewed journals and certainly do not belong side-by-side. But that’s not true across the board. BTW – on that note I am doing what you are Ira, and I have my blog posts in a section of their own, not side-by-side. And the current personnel committee is considering how to value them. That’s why I am doing this little exercise – to solicit more fuel for the fire, as I am joining the ranks of faculty personnel next year.
Thanks for taking the time to read, comment, and perhaps re-read this lengthy reply!
Ira, if you are still reading, I thought I’d send along a question for you, about your blogging activities (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps). What are your aims with the blog, in terms of your personal and professional ambitions? What’s it worth to you?
A good excuse to read and think. Really I’ve always followed the approach of giving away Psychology. I’ve known the Miller address for years. I’ve always done work that has ecological and applied aspects — that’s the reason I studied with Neisser. The chance to write for Psychology Today seemed right for me at this time. I like teaching, I think Cognitive Psychology is crucial for understanding what it means to be human, and I like the opportunity to reach out to a different audience than my students in the classroom.
I don’t see it furthering my professional career in the sense that it doesn’t fit a clear category in the evaluation process for faculty. In my last review I think I listed it under scholarship, but as tertiary work rather than primary or secondary. So it had no influence on my evaluation. I could also list it as service.
I have used it as a chance to practice writing for a general audience. I am writing a cognitive textbook — trying to push a more applied, ecological orientation for the field (still has enough neuro to fly, of course). So it has been personally valuable.
I wouldn’t recommend doing a blog to junior faculty. Got to publish. You’re tenured. You can afford writing in a variety of styles for a variety of venues. I imagine you need to do some of the academic writing as well to move to full prof.
Lots to think about here! Without getting into a long, involved intellectual discussion (not sure I’m really up to that), I’ll just say that every person who walks the earth could stand to learn more about behavior and mental processes if he or she wants to live a more effective and fulfilling life. At the same time, not everyone is open to learning the principles that would be beneficial in this endeavor. Should you give psychology away? Yes, if for no other reason than you might reach someone who could start a ripple effect for the betterment of a family, a community, a state……..
P.S. I’m posting from http://www.jaynebowers.wordpress.com, but for some reason my posts to others’ blogs always link back to my momsmusings blog.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Jayne. I absolutely agree with you. I will take a look at your non-mom blog next. All best, Erica.
Good article! But, which is a bigger problem: Giving Psychology Away by Psychologists or Taking Psychology Away from the Psychologists?
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, discoveryofjoy. I wonder if you could elaborate on the latter half of your question? What do you mean, by taking psychology away?
For readers who might be considering these comments, Ira and I continued our conversation elsewhere, and I thought I would import the gist of it here:
Ira: …one other quick note — we have to worry about problems that matter. Too much Psychology research is far removed from real problems and is testing small manipulations that the authors find interesting, but which may not matter for the price of coffee in Seattle.
Me: I totally agree, Ira Hyman! That’s really the issue I am getting at with my blog. Just as there are both meaningful and meaningless blogs, and many shades of grey in between, when it comes to practicality, the same is absolutely true for peer reviewed research reports.
Ira: Thinking about impact. The standard academic measure has to do with the number of citations. SSCI uses citations in other journal articles in its data base. Google scholar is more general since it has reference sections for books and book chapters and reports. But what about impact in other ways? Impact on public policy maybe? Impact in schools. Science can and should have an applied impact, especially psychological science.
Me: Exactly so, Ira! I couldn’t agree more. Folks doing applied work often conclude their papers with application suggestions, but there is no tracking system to enable assessment of whether those comments end up an idle thought or a call to arms. In the education realm, my thesis student’s survey results (discussed in the blog post) suggest that teachers don’t look to journal articles anyway. We need to put our collective energies together to go beyond the APS “wikipedia cleanup” and start a new movement.
A thought-provoking post; thank you.
Reading it had my mind wandering off in all sorts of different directions which are useful to my own work as an instructor of Literature, as well as composition, and as a researcher interested in what the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning might tell us about the lit classroom specifically. But one reading I stumbled upon recently came to mind that might be of interest to you, or your readers: a short article titled, “Assessment Might Dictate the Curriculum, but What Dictates Assessment?” by Phillip Dawson, Margaret Bearman, David J. Boud, Matt Hall, Elizabeth K. Molloy, Sue Bennett, Gordon Joughin (Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 2013). In particular, the authors cite a few studies that seem really very important for teachers to consider, esp. those invested in learning about teaching (ie., reading the research on teaching, and/or more popularly-available and accessible resources like blogs & books). Here’s an excerpt summing up the issue:
“The previous example highlights the issue of knowledge translation (Straus, Tetroe & Graham, 2009), where understanding how ‘good’ assessment practice in a theoretical sense may not result in its application within a particular local context. This difference has been identified by Eley (2006), who empirically studied the gap between educational theory and enacted educational decision-making. His work described teachers’ emphasis on the local immediate context rather than accessing “higher level conceptions of practice. [End Page 108] Similarly, recent case studies in assessment ‘thinking’ in higher education indicated that, although university teachers could learn more sophisticated thinking about assessment, this may not lead to changed assessment practices” (Offerdahl & Tomanek, 2011).”
What happens there, in the gap between learning and knowledge application? I wonder if I’m guilty of it myself…
Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Lisa, and for the article reference as well. I will look it up, as it does indeed appear to parallel a theme in my post.
To add to the reply above as well (i hit “post” too soon), I thought I’d say that something I am really thinking about (and working on acting on) is that the gap between learning and knowledge application (or theory and practice) can be closed (or perhaps bridged is a better word?) when we take the time to suggest concrete steps practitioners can take to put the knowledge into practice at the local level. I’ve been guilty of assuming (incorrectly) that teachers have the time and/or inclination to build that bridge themselves, but I’ve learned over the years that that just doesn’t happen.
Yes, I totally agree with you, on both counts. I am an advocate of “critical pedagogy,” but what has always bothered me about that field is its lack of concern for how specific practices might/might not engender the equitable learning environments and critical thinking it desires. Even those instructors with the deepest of ethical commitments to teaching might entirely miss the mark if they have no way of gauging the effectiveness not so much of what they teach, but how they teach.
Glad to have found your blog, Erica. You’re interested in a lot of the same things I’ve been into at various times in my life. At some point when I have time, I’ll start an education blog. For now, I’ll just comment here and there and be supportive. 🙂
Should psychologists give more away? Sure! Especially if you’re trying to reach teachers or community influencers who don’t have easy access to scholarly research.
Will it do any good? Well, it can’t hurt! But if you want to actually observe some fruits from your labor, then there’s a strategic question of who to target.
At the school level, targeting teachers is dubious as a leverage point. As you’ve observed, they just don’t have the time to commit to inspecting research, nor do they generally have the time and energy to overhaul their classroom strategy in the light of new research. (Though I’ve seen groups of strong-willed teachers organize over summer breaks to implement meaningful changes, which sometimes last for a few years.)
Unfortunately, teachers don’t run the schools. School systems are run by communities and the politicians who presume to speak for them. Reaching those individuals — the administrators, school boards, superintendents, and influential parents — is proven to be extremely effective at getting research-based reforms implemented quickly… albeit in a completely watered-down and compromised way that typically “fails” by some arbitrary standard within a few years.
As for the teachers themselves… I got my credential at a highly-regarded program that’s at the top of the game in preparing new teachers with cutting-edge progressive methodology. Since I’d been studying educational reform for nearly twenty years, I was already familiar with all the research going in. The incoming teachers — though all very smart — were brand new to it all. They were expected within a short time to come away with some level of embracing a paradigm that was completely foreign to the system they themselves excelled in. They each graduated the program with a mixed appreciation for the new research-based methodologies, and were dropped into school systems expecting them to run at full steam in a system that would consider their newfangled teaching styles quite alien. For the most part, from what I hear, these teachers mostly started their careers just doing things the old-fashioned way, hoping to find places they could implement maybe one idea here and there. And after a couple of years… it sounds like they are basically doing the same thing.
For myself… I burned out after student teaching. “Unfortunately” I had years of research in cutting-edge discovery-based math education in my head and the bravado to attempt to actually implement it. I was called to the principal’s office twice in the first week because of complaints that some students didn’t recognize what I was doing as a “math class”. The second complaint — which prompted a rash of transfer requests — was that I invited them to think.
I’m convinced that the real leverage points in education reform have nothing to do with teachers and schools (or the schools that train the teachers), but with the greater society and especially politics. It’s a battle of traditionalists vs. “progressives” (or whatever you want to call them). It’s about the articles in Time and Newsweek about “why can’t we compete with Japan?” and the ignorance within the proposed answers (and the question itself) on every side.
So the upshot is… YES, I think blogging is probably the most effective way to get the word out about what works! If you’re in a position to influence the national conversation on any level whatsoever, then it’s going to be way more effective overall than debating other academics over intricate tweaks that are unlikely to be implemented in more than a handful of laboratory classes sprinkled in random isolated places. By and large, the “problem” is that there isn’t a critical mass of people who realize that education can be done differently. They want it to be “better.” They’ve thought it sucks since they were in school. But because they’ve never seen or experienced it done differently, the only answer they can see is to do it the same way, but with more effort!
Keep blogging. You’re a good writer, and the conversation needs more voices who can point in a constructive direction (rather than the dime-a-dozen journalists who can do no more than lament the state of education as somehow “news”).
I’m sure I’ll have more comments to add as time allows. 🙂
Rik, thank you for sharing your experience and impressions here, on this blog! Putting ideas “out there” into the blog-o-sphere seemed to me to be a fruitful approach. Though I had initially hoped for more dialogue like this at the outset, I realize that not everyone wants to tip their professional hand in such a public manner. Thus whereas it is difficult to know what happens to the ideas once they make it onto a stakeholder’s screen, I suspect more folks than have commented here have thought about the ideas I’ve posted.
Your experience in the classroom (or should I say principal’s office?) sure is disheartening. Students always balk at the unfamiliar, but given time will turn around once they buy-in, but you can’t attain full buy-in overnight. Following your summary of what secondary teaching is like these days, we (in higher-ed) are seeing more and more students arrive as very insecure learners, in no small part because the challenges they overcame to get to college were quite different than the challenges they need to overcome to stay in college. In high school, students learn to game the system and when they get to college they are expected to be flexible and to think! Students who drop out of college (at least at the college where I work) usually don’t leave because of their ability, rather they leave because they cant shake the feeling of disenfranchisement that comes with realizing that your skill set is entirely wrong; that is, those who leave are struggling with how to adjust their approach. I ad a student in my Intro class just this last Spring who came from a very well regarded prep school Portland, and who clearly understood the material, came to class prepared, and all that, but who couldn’t pass the exams. To his credit, he sought me out and we talked at great length, and he adjusted what he was doing and made it through the class. What sticks with me from getting to know him though is what he said about his high school — his demeanor in my class was a direct reflection of what he was taught. In HS he was taught to be an active listener and to diligently read his text book, but in college you need more than that. He was NOT taught how to take notes (i.e., they were told what to write down when) nor was he taught how to study (they were taught to the test). He was used to knowing what the exam would entail so he could cram. I applaud him for working so hard to recalibrate, but he told me that many of his HS friends dropped out after just one semester in college because they couldn’t cut it. I’m sure there are many cases like these around the country.
As I move forward with my education-reform musing, I realize that I probably can be more strategic in targeting the correct stakeholders and I appreciate your thoughts on that. You do have a point about audience, and that teachers may not be the correct target. As I’ve thought about your comments, I recall many interactions over the year’s with MAT students in my classes, and am thinking of one in particular right now that was a hard one to stomach. At the end of the course, a handful of students put it to me this way, saying something to the effect of “So we understand all you’ve been discussing with us and completely agree with you. But what are we supposed to do when we get our jobs and our principal’s tell us we have to (for example) use the Myers-Briggs or a Learn Styles typology to guide our work? How are we supposed to put this information you’ve shared with us into action?” Indeed, that group of students came back to me the next term to tell me that their fears came into play sooner than we thought — someone in the College of Ed was making them learn “learning styles” typologies and claimed that was a fool-proof way to reach students. Sheesh! Talk about conflict and a deep-seeded problem. I admit that I have never felt that I gave that particular group good advice on how to stay employed while fighting the good fight, and I had that particular group in mind when I started this blog.
I’ve always maintained that if teachers understand principles of human growth and development, principles of cognition and knowledge acquisition, and they know their subject matter, then they don’t need a curricular package to tell them how to teach and that philosophy guides my work. Some education students find that sentiment inspiring, others threatening. All that said, I really do appreciate your support in this endeavor of mine. I really do want to reach the right folks with useful ideas on how to transform teaching with empirical foundations, artfully applied. We see far too much of the reverse right now, as you note, artful expression of something that once resembled science but became something else entirely during the transformation.
I hope that you’ll start posting again.
Thanks for the encouragement, Sally. I have a couple of posts in the works right now, but in summer when my daughter and I are out of school I don’t have as much time to sit and think. But something will come up soon. Im working on one right now about what’s learned through play – fitting for the start of summer. Stay tuned…
I’ve always found your blog posts educational and I appreciate that you take the time to look at my blog posts too. Like you, I have wondered whether blogging is worth the time spent. I have not written a post for a year and then have just come back to it again.
Thanks for visiting and commenting, Faye! My blogging activities have slowed down over the last few years as well, though mainly for time reasons. When I wrote this post on “giving psych away”, I mentioned I was gearing up to join the faculty personnel committee, and I am currently still on it. It is a very time consuming job! Once my committee term ends, I hope to get back to blogging…ideas abound but I haven’t had time to take them out of my head and get them onto the screen. This fall I’ve been challenging myself to log on and start reading other’s posts too, to see what’s been happening the last couple of years, and I was delighted to see a new post from you. I also enjoy your posts and find them “right-on the mark.” Back to the theme of this post though — I DO think blogging is worth it — there’s an audience out there for sure, even if they don’t write much in the comments. Anything we can do to help keep good solid, empirically backed advice out there and available is worth the effort. And it does pay back, for example, since writing this post I have applied for and received a promotion, and the personnel committee did value my blogging work alongside my traditional scholarship. Hooray for that!
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