Friday, February 27, 2015

Not all teaching is equally natural

A new book claims that teaching is as natural to us as learning.  Sounds interesting and--in the environment of embracing every new idea about the organic quality of teaching and learning--enticing.

But like too many other brazen claims, we should be careful about this.  The logic and evidence are weak...the article cites kids teaching each other how to use their smart phones as an example of how we're wired to teach.  That's evidence that we're wired to teach?

Extensive studies of neurology and observation of behavior make clear how much our brains are built to learn.  Teaching is something more of a practice, intentionally undertaken, and the neurological basis (naturalness) isn't so established.

I suspect that the word "teach" is undergoing a lexical stretch here.  Institutional school teaching isn't the same thing as a kid teaching another kid how to use a new app.  Both are "teaching," but not they're not the same.  And the "we can all teach each other" mindset that comes from the smart phone observation does not transfer well to the school environment.  Young people can learn and perhaps teach, but, if left to their own devices, what most (at least teenagers) want to learn and teach too often isn't all that great.

The supposedly tech-savvy generation, the digital natives, use their savvy more for entertainment than learning.  Many do not use the technologies to push themselves into new realms or material, but to escape into realms of pleasure.  Take a look at their own acknowledgment of this...

In the end, this claim about the naturalness of teaching sounds like philosophical backfill for the normative preference many "just feel" must be right--namely, that we should think about teaching and learning differently.  While that's no doubt true--I agree, for instance, that there's no such thing as best practice, the claims are stronger when made reasonably; say, explaining how different pedagogical practices accomplish different kinds of learning for different brains; or how to use co-learning well--spoiler goes better when a teacher shapes it rightly.

Now, if you wanted to claim that institutional school does not fit the natural learning process very well, you might be on to something.

No comments: