9/365 We Must Blend Theory and Practice


A movement is afoot in some parts of the country to prepare future classroom teachers without regard to those educational thinkers who have come before. In order to build the schools we need, that regard is paramount. Only through the blending of theory and practice can we move toward teachers who are both thoughtfully reflective about their practice as well as adept at developing new practices based on their students’ needs. Graduate education programs that focus primarily on practice and turn a blind eye to the study of pedagogical theory cite the needs of beginning teachers to enter their classrooms with tools to help their students learn. Yes, this is important.

What, though, when the novice teacher has tried each of the 49 techniques offered in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and finds himself in need of a fiftieth? It is possible this teacher will begin to look more deeply at the 49 practices in his repertoire and then begin to suss out the underlying theories of learning guiding those practices. This should not be left to chance.

The study of great and deep thinkers like Dewey, Piaget, Papert, Lampert, Sizer, Lawrence-Lightfoot, and Dweck alongside the learning of a collection of beginning practices will prepare beginning novice teachers to enter the classroom feeling prepared as well as prepare them to think critically about their own practice when the tools with which they left their graduate programs are found lacking. These teachers who might otherwise feel they are discovering the practice of teaching and learning in a vacuum would do well to carry with them reminders that wise minds have spent their careers thinking and writing on those very dilemmas facing teachers in modern classroom.

Such a reminder would do well to help with the psychological health of teachers, but a reason stands for such historical understanding that is greater still than letting teachers know they are not going it alone when they enter their classrooms. Understanding the theories of learning, the theorists who developed them, and then working to synthesize that knowledge into a coherent personal philosophy and teaching practice asks teachers to be more thoughtful about their practice, to make choices through critical analysis of evidence, and to back their practice in reasoned arguments. In short, they will engage in the type of thinking we would hope they seek to elicit from their students.

By asking how children learn, how others have suggested children learn, and how teaching might assist in that learning, teachers are driven to train their minds to think critically and putting a premium on the asking of questions and the seeking of answers. This is different than a practice built around the largely unthinking deployment of a set of pre-packaged “tools” delivered absent any question of why they are being deployed.

Teaching is complex; so do not take this to be an argument that teachers well-versed in the study of the history of learning theory and various pedagogies would be able to enter a classroom, develop a curriculum, and implement that curriculum such that all students in the class are enthralled, enlightened, and driven to answer questions. Quite the opposite. This is an argument that teachers should learn the pedagogy of those who have come before concurrently with their learning of those practices thought to be most basic and effective in the hands of beginning teachers.

With such an approach, novice teachers will feel prepared to take on their first days and weeks of teaching and be prepared to meet the critical challenges guaranteed to arise later in their careers. What’s more, it is likely that the critical thinking required to blend pedagogy and practice in whatever context a teacher finds himself will lead to an inquiry-driven practice. While such inquiry within teachers does not assure that those teachers will include such inquiry and critical thought in their classrooms, it does make such an overflow more likely than the plug ‘n’ chug method of practice without theory.

Things I Know 254 of 365: I’m working on crafting my thinking around the purpose of school

Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to ; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.

– Thomas Jefferson

The thing that’s been driving my thinking as of late has been an assignment for my School Reform class that asks us to articulate what we believe to be the purpose of school and then describe a school that would embody that value or purpose.

I’m open to feedback and have included my notes below. I think I know where I’m headed, but it’s clearly still in notes/outine stages.

Purpose Statement: The purpose of school is to provide a space for gradual practice and mastery of literacy, numeracy, citizenship and inquiry.


Learning is incremental. – Carol Dweck

Making Learning Whole (David Perkins):

1. Play the whole game.

2. Make the game worth playing.

3. Work on the hard parts.

4. Play out of town.

5. Play the hidden game.

6. Learn from the team.

7. Learn the game of learning.

Ted Sizer:

p. 43 It is a new experience to make up one’s own mind.

p. 44 The supervised youth does the homework but may never learn the self-discipline that he will need in the future.

p. 48 Many adolescents parade their new sexuality. The choreography in a high school hallway during a break between classes is colorful, with awkward strutting, overdressing or underdressing for effect, hip swinging, hugging, self-conscious and overenthusiastic joshing, little bits of competition clumsily over expressed. (If they’re on silent, where does this socialization happen?)

p. 50 Eighty years ago, most adolescents had far more sustained contact with both older and younger people than do today’s youth. The separateness and the specialness of adolescence were less attended to.

p. 51 They are impressionable, but also autonomous; the two are not contradictory.

p. 51 Franklin Zimring: “How do we train young people to be free?” he asks. “If the exercise of independent choice is an essential element of maturity, part of the process of becoming mature is learning to make independent decisions. This type of liberty cannot be taught; it can only be learned.” Adults can help this learning, in powerful ways, by example, by being honest, by trusting young people, and by giving them the compliment of both asking much of them and holding them accountable for it. (This aligns w/ Perkins. Also reference Elmore saying in class that people often underestimate what students can do.)

P. 52 In a word, we shouldn’t pander to youth. WE should show them respect by expecting much of them and by being straight – and part of being straight is telling them that they are still inexperienced and therefore must share their freedom with older people until they have learned the dimensions of liberty. (Learner’s Permit)

p. 52 Wise teachers and parents wait, explain, encourage, criticize, love and explain again.

p. 53 But the kid who’s fun to teach is the questiong one, the kid who wants to know why. (Connect to Dweck and the importance of building a school modeled around supporting and drawing out an incremental theory of intelligence.)

p. 113 Hold a students commitment requires convincing him that the subject matter over which he is toiling is genuinely usable — if not now, then in the future. (Connect to Perkins and making the game worth playing.)

p. 105 observing-recording-imagining-analyzing-resolving

p. 103 One thinks, one imagines, one analyzes those ideas, one tests them, and then thinks again.

p. 94 Israel Scheffler, “Knowing requires something more than the receipt and acceptance of true information. It requires that the student earn the right to his assurance of the truth of the information in question.”

p. 86 The essential claims in education are very elementary: literacy, numeracy, and civic understanding.

p. 84 Education’s job is less in purveying information than in helping people to use it – that is, to exercise their minds.

p. 68 A sensible school would have a variety of means for exhibition – timed tests, essays, oral exams, portfolios of work.

Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner:

p. 1 To the extent that our schools are instruments of such a society, they must develop in the young not only an awareness o this freedom but a will to exercise it, and the intellectual power and perspective to do so effectively.

p. 11 Change changed. (RE: fourth information age)

p. 19 It’s not what you say to people, it’s what you have them do.

p. 23 Once you have learned how to ask questions-relevant and appropriate and substantial questions-you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.

p. 33 The full spectrum of learning behaviors – both attitudes and skills – is being employed all the time.

John Holt:

Loc. 69 What teachers and learners need to know is what we have known for some time: first, that vivid, vital, pleasurable experiences are the easiest to remember, and secondly, that memory works best when unforced.

Loc. 374-377 A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees bigger people doing. Why can’t we make more use of this great drive for understanding and competence? Surely we can find more way to let children see people using some of the skills we want them to acquire—though this will be difficult when in fact those skills, like many of the “essential” skills of arithmetic are not really use to do anything.

Loc. 520 All children want and strive for increased mastery and control of the world around them, and all are to some degree humiliated, threatened, and frightened by finding out (as they do all the time) that they don’t have it.

– When we feel powerful and competent, we leap at difficult tasks.

– There are times when even the most skillful learner must admit to himself that for the time being he is trying to butt his head through a stone wall, and that there is no sense in it. At some times teachers are inclined to use students as a kind of human battering ram. I’ve done it too often myself. It doesn’t work.

– I feel even more strongly now than then that it is in every way useful for children to see adults doing real work and, wherever possible, to be able to help them.

– While this goes on, I say nothing. (RE: Dan Meyer “Be less helpful.”)

– Where the young child, at least until his thinking has been spoiled by adults, has a great advantage is in situations – and many, even most real life situations are like this – where there is so much seemingly senseless data that it is impossible to tell what questions to ask. He is much better at taking in this kind of data; he is better able to tolerate its confusion; and he is much better at picking out the patterns, hearing the faint signal amid all the noise. (loc. 910)

Purposed practice:

– school of play for half the day for young children. The rest of the day is focused on literacy, numeracy and citizenship. At the lowest grade levels, less focus on inquiry as it occurs naturally in kids as noted in the reading. Field trips will be a strong and frequent portion of the early years experience. Students will be asked to reflect on what they experience with moviemaking, photos and other tools as the become available. Teachers will help facilitate discussions of relevant literacy, numeracy and citizenship content while on field trips with an intent on modeling its integration into experiential learning. Students will exhibit mastery through assessment techniques agreed upon by the faculty and older students. These criteria will be on a regular review schedule and be required to include multiple forms of assessment.

– as students move to mid-adolescence, the inquiry process will be made more explicit. The Learner’s Permit referenced by Sizer will accompany greater freedoms in charting learning experiences outside of the classroom. These may include designing field trips for the entire cohort or small groups around inquiry projects of their design. Other students from inside or outside the cohort will be allowed to accompany the planning students on the trip. Should the trip interfere with the scheduled literacy, numeracy or citizenship instruction, that instruction must be re-scheduled by the planning students. All field trips will be designed with a product in mind (Perkins) as well as a public presentation (Lehmann).

My earliest notes:

  • learner’s permit
  • junior version of the game
  • math, literacy, citizenship
  • Sudbury
  • SLA
  • make as many mistakes as possible as quickly as possible
  • time for personal coaching