The Problem with Classroom Teaching

This book was part of my 2009 teacher credential program. I was explicitly taught how to manage a classroom of students such that they become, through my instruction and guidance, cooperative learners.

I'm not going to say what is in the book is misguided, because there are obvious concepts and ideals expressed in this book that are valid and worthwhile from which any new teacher would benefit. What I will say is that this is one of many books that insist that I, as the teacher, am solely responsible for the learning that takes place in my classroom and that the students assigned to me, under my care and tutelage, must learn to abide by rules by which they can become cooperative learners.

For example, a section in this book talks about creating a positive climate through incentives and rewards, stating that "praise, symbols, or prizes should be tied as specifically as possible to positive behavior." Today, we call that a form of Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), and is inherently a behaviorist practice by design. The book does address negative uses of this practice of tying rewards to behaviors, particularly when rewards are removed as a form of punishment for undesired behavior, but it is all rooted in behaviorism as a theory of instruction.

Behaviorist practices take the position that strategic use of interventions can preemptively develop desired behaviors. Much like signaling to children that it's time to stop talking by holding up two fingers while standing in a designated spot in the classroom, or pressing a clicker twice to signal that students are to line up at the door, trained behaviors have come to be known as a reasonable means for creating a "positive climate".

Many teachers have experienced firsthand how these kinds of behaviorist practices can create a "positive climate" such that students learn to behave in ways that allow the teacher to engage, instruct, model, guide, and assess student learning throughout the day. These teachers are actively teaching in classrooms around the country as a result of university credential programs hiring experienced teachers-turned-college-professors promoting such practices. The result is students being trained to behave according to teachers' cues and commands from one year to the next for the purpose of improving academic learning.

Historically and philosophically speaking, behaviorism developed out of a deep-rooted belief that students are empty vessels passively receiving information from expert instructors. However, there has long been a contrasting belief, one that today is referred to as constructivism, that views students as conduits of all the world's knowledge who discover and construct meaning for themselves, and are limited only by their developing cognitive and psychosocial capacity.

These two contrasting beliefs have largely guided the last hundred years of instructional theory in what has been an evolution of schooling in the U.S., beginning with the work of behaviorist B.F. Skinner in the first half of the 20th century, followed by the works of social constructivists Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bruner. However, more recently, small groups around the world have become increasingly aware of ideas related to self-directed learning from the likes of Malcolm Knowles, Gerald Grow, Peter Gray, and Kenneth Danford. One area of theoretical evolution often overlooked is Metacognition, a term first coined by John Flavell in the 1970s and has since seen numerous books and studies on metacognition in psychology and education from experts around the world.