Traditional vs. Transformative Teaching, Part 1

In my inservice yesterday, they discussed the differences between traditional and transformative teaching. Here are some of them:

Traditional Teaching/Learning
– time is constant; performance is the variable
– expectation of bell-curve when regards to grades
– based on linear learning
– lecture, teacher disseminates info
– breadth, not depth
– lower order thinking skills
– abstract
– text-book driven
– short-term memorization

Transformative Teaching/Learning
– Time is the variable performance is constant
– Expectation of performance standards to be obtained by ALL students
– based on spiral learning
– Inquiry-based and discovery teaching methods
– depth, not breadth
– higher order thinking skills
– concrete-to-abstract
– domains-driven, integrated curriculum
– long-term retention

There was an interesting discussion on whether these bullet lists were accurate and whether or not teachers can really teach transformatively when under pressure to raise test scores. Here are my two cents:

* Time does have to count in today’s test-crazy era. If I know what is going to be on an End-of-Course test, I have to teach those concepts and skills. Ideally, I should focus on the entire curriculum and all required standards. However, given time restraints and again, pressure to keep my test scores high, sometimes I can’t go into as much depth as I would like.

* Sometimes, lecture will have to occur. Math teachers will have to demonstrate problems on the board. Social studies teachers will have to explain concepts. Sometimes information does have to be given to students. However, once they have new information, they can be asked to apply it in new ways, which will utilize those higher-order thinking skills.

Example: After a couple of years of teaching vocabulary words the traditional way – having students write out definitions and do worksheets – I realized that they weren’t really learning to use the words correctly. English language learners especially have trouble with usage. They might use a noun where they need to use an adjective, for example. So I started giving the kids the definitions. (I now firmly believe that copying definitions is useless – particularly for ELLs – though some of my colleagues will disagree.) Then we talk about synonyms and antonyms of the word and look at examples of how the word is used. We also talk about different forms of the word (quiet, quietly, quieter) and look at how those forms are used, too. We do group activities or games, draw pictures, and try to use the words in speech. It is only after lots of practice and examples that I ask students to use the words in sentences or do a completion worksheet.

* Teachers should expect the best from all students, and expect all students to meet a given standard. However, in reality, the grades of most classes will still look like a bell curve – a few Ds, a few As, and a lot of Bs and Cs in between. A long time ago, Metro Nashville schools gave skills tests to all students in math and language. All students had to pass all these tests in order to pass the grade. These tests were unrelated to the students’ grades, which were based on classwork and homework. While it was still a non-authentic form of assessment, it allowed the students to show proficiency in specific skill even if they didn’t do their homework.

On a related note, I need to applaud the state of Tennessee’s education department for writing standards for ELL students that are appropriate to each students’ oral proficiency level. For example, if the standard is “Using adjectives to describe”, the Beginner objective might be to orally describe an object’s color, shape, and texture, while the Advanced objective might be to write an essay describing the animals and plant life of a level of the rainforest. Therefore, the state is allowing for some leeway as to what mastering the content or reaching the standard looks like based on how much English the student has.

Okay, long enough for today. To be continued . . . .


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