Conservative Viewpoints

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The Science of Artful Teaching

Posted by Stephen on March 20, 2007

There is growing concern that a shortage of quality teachers exists in the United States.  Accountability is the theme that drives school systems to search for teachers that are ready for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s solutions. A teacher must have a sound educational philosophy, be flexible, and have a thorough understanding of their belief system.  They are then left contemplating their approach to teaching. Is teaching a science, or is teaching an art?  The answer will provide the foundation for their teaching style and set the tone for how learning is achieved in their classroom.

The scientific approach

Teaching as a science has been described as clinical problem solving. In the journal Review of Educational Research, Dona Kagan discussed this issue at great length in her article entitled, “Teaching as Clinical Problem Solving: A Critical Examination of the Analogy and its Implications.”  Kagan feels that the science of teaching emphasizes the, “…importance of classroom ecology in attempting to infer problem solving strategies,” which effect instruction, classroom management, and discipline.  Another aspect of science in teaching is illustrated in a Hierarchical Model of problem solving. Teachers establish structured activities that differ in size and difficulty.  The teachers respond to several guidelines including:  interpreting large quantities of information about students, keep the lesson moving, get through the task, call on different children, watch for stragglers and help them, do not embarrass children. 

The time it took to adhere to these guidelines dictated the pace and movement through the syllabus. A positive element of the Hierarchical Model is its flexibility. Because progress depends on students moving through tasks, teachers must have the ability to adjust their curriculum if additional effort and explanation is required for a particular topic. The unique steps provided by this model are ideal for today’s unpredictable classroom settings. 

Another aspect of science in teaching addresses educational research. In Horace’s Compromise: The dilemma of the American high school, Theodore Sizer feels, “educations job today is less in purveying information than in helping people use it…to exercise their minds.” Technology today has created an impatient student body that is becoming addicted to real time information. Today’s culture is overloaded with information and information systems that are more effective at providing information then previous generations. How much a teacher researches the use of technology in their classroom will be important in determining their level of success in implementing it. 

However, Sizer believes that technology gives away to the research of students and human interaction stating that no matter how prepared a teacher is, “…the ultimate breakdown of each subject into daily lessons is largely cast in terms of material to be covered,” and this process of reduction to a class by class plan leads teachers farther from original curricular objectives. By the end of the day Sizer says, “…one might be hard pressed to recognize a curricular atoll shaped as originally intended.”

The paradigm of teaching as a science is beginning to change. Today more educators believe teaching as a science centers on the behavioral sciences. Teachers emphasize the cognition’s of students and challenge them to seek and make decisions. The paradigm shifts from teacher and subject-centered work to student-centered education. Teaching considers the needs of the whole student and learning is an active process. Teachers ask questions and create projects that force students to seek answers and results outside of the guidance of the classroom. It is no longer acceptable, or applicable, for a student to wait for the answer. Teachers interested in progressive teaching give the students great freedom in deciding their educational path, and the teacher serves as a guide. The students learn what is important and understand what the impact of each lesson has on their lives. 

In The Art and Science of Teaching, Forrest Parkay and Beverly Stanford write that, “The ideal curriculum is one that provides students with extensive individual freedom and requires them to ask their own questions, conduct their own inquires, and draw their own conclusions.” The scientific approach to this philosophy provides extensive cognitive interaction between teachers and students. Teachers are required to chart the progress of students to assure themselves and the community that they are not leaving any children behind. 

The impact of science in teaching is vast and allows teachers to chart their success and failure in the classroom. Teachers are keenly aware they need to be part of the solution to today’s challenges so that they may be a part of tomorrow’s success. If teachers see their work as a science then the benefits of behavioral science and student cognition’s within the classroom will assist them in answering accountability questions and will determine the conditions they will face in the future.

Teaching as an art

Creativity is nothing new to the classroom environment but accepting the notion that teaching is an art seems far-fetched to some. However, in “Experienced Teachers Insist that Effective Teaching is Primarily a Science,” from the journal Education, Stanley Ivie, Flora Roebuck, and Rodney Short quote Gilbert Highet, “Teaching is not like inducing a chemical reaction: it is more like painting a picture or making a piece of music…you must realize it cannot all be done by formulas…” 

Teachers perform works of art on a daily basis. They lead a classroom like a director leads a band. The more interactive teachers are with their students the richer the music. Studies once supporting teaching as a science are beginning to sing a different tune. Kagan reports a shift in the science community stating that, “…renewed interest via stimulated recall can be attributed to the new, artistic view of clinical problem solving…”  If a shift continues to materialize, teachers influenced by the science of teaching will have to adjust their focus to the art of teaching.

In an edition of the Shakespeare Quarterly, Edward Rocklin expanded on the subject of teaching as an art. In “Shakespeare’s Script as a Cue for Pedagogic Invention,” Rocklin discussed teaching practices for performance based classes such as acting and dancing, but concentrated on how these tactics could be utilized in a variety of settings. He describes the process of breaking down a Shakespeare play, defining it, and then creating inventive environments by encouraging students to take possession of the material. 

The parallels become surprisingly clear. Rocklin feels that as we learn to, “…recognize and respond to the dramatic text as offering cues for invention by actors, we also learn how to create pedagogic scenes that offer cues for invention, discovery, and new practices by students,” and that by, “…learning something about the poetics of Shakespeare’s drama, we can also learn about the poetics of our own pedagogy.” 

A more interactive class may make it easier to discover what motivates students to learn. Rocklin believes, “what is missing in our classrooms is what is sometimes spoken of as ‘learning through doing’.”  An interactive class is an essential ingredient of the active learning process. The teacher composes a script that the students play out. A teacher becomes a practitioner showing students how to achieve ownership of a text.
In Rocklin’s practice the teacher should assimilate some drama background. A basic understanding of a director’s role and how they share their vision of a production with their cast will help them transpose these ideas to their classroom. The relationship between director and actor, like that of student and teacher, is delicate and must be built on a foundation of trust and communication. 

An effective director encourages performers to take possession of their script. A teacher must do the same with a student and their text. A successful director also recognizes inexperienced members of a cast and addresses them appropriately. In the same context, teachers have a responsibility to impart knowledge while guiding the inexperienced student when they are struggling to recognize material in a text. 

There are many art forms that can be associated with teaching, but drama is the most creative. The creativity associated with drama is easily transferable to most classroom environments. Teachers who are willing to step out of their comfort zone to incorporate drama techniques in their class will see immediate results. An active learning process will ensue and the more the teacher directs the class the more knowledge they will impart through interaction and collaboration with their players.  The dramatist, Rocklin wrote, “…can be seen as someone who engages in the craft of provoking us to respond to the performance of an action,” while the teacher, “…can be seen as someone who engages in the craft of provoking us to learn.”

The more teachers analyze the differences between teaching as a science and teaching as an art the more similarities they will find. Both processes are flexible if applied correctly. Both process demand strong communication skills. Both processes rely heavily on the cognitions of their students to create synergy in an active learning environment. 

Lastly, accountability within both processes can be measured because both require a script and provide a measurable goal.  Teachers today are placed under a level of scrutiny never before seen and they need a full tool box to maintain the foundation of their belief system while building additions to allow for growth.  Teaching style is an important tool in the classroom.  Teachers should strive to utilize science and art in their teaching style.  Utilizing both will provide balance in the educational journey of their students. 

One without the other is like a one parent family.  The job may get done, but the child will never gain all from the experience that they are entitled too.

Stephen Winslow holds a MAEDS and is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

Copyright 2005 by Stephen Winslow. All rights reserved.


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