Betsy Allen – Week 2 reading blog: The Passion of the Pedagogy

I found the “How People Learn” chapter, “How Experts Differ from Novices,” to be very interesting in its examination of experts’ abilities to find key patterns and “chunk” important information – concepts that are certainly indispensable, but not new to me. However, the part of the chapter that discussed the different ways experts exhibit flexibility (or not) in their approach to new situations was a bit of an eye opener. The ideas of placing an emphasis on adaptive expertise and the value of metacognition serve a classroom teacher exceedingly well. It’s not enough to know the subject inside out or to be well-versed in pedagogy. It is the melding of these two concepts – and the inclusion of the instructor within the continual learning process – that, in my opinion, represents a great classroom environment.

When I was reading this piece, it put me in mind of my first “Career Switchers” teacher training class. I was accepted into the program by passing the Praxis II and as a function of my 25+ years of experience in writing, editing and professional communications. However, beyond my participation as an instructor in a number of creative writing workshops and my role as an active volunteer in my kids’ schools and as an Odyssey of the Mind coach and judge, I had little experience as a teacher. As we went around the room for our perfunctory introductions, the program leader asked us to share what had prompted us to enter the program. Most of the students said they loved to work with kids, or loved teaching.  Just a couple of us explained that it was a love of our subject (in my case, literature and writing).  I started to wonder which was more important – loving a subject and bringing the accompanying knowledge and enthusiasm to students, or developing proficiency in the teaching practices that help kids learn the things on which they will be evaluated. The easy answer is that both are important, but in fact, they may get in the way of each other.

As the chapter points out, the combination of passion and pedagogy in its best practice goes hand-in-hand with adaptive expertise, where the expert (instructor) can continually evaluate the approach to a given problem or interpretation, including in the ways he/she attempts to reach students and address their unique learning styles. As the authors quote Shulman: “… pedagogical content knowledge is not equivalent to knowledge of a content domain plus a generic set of teaching strategies; instead, teaching strategies differ across disciplines” (45).  As the example (Box 2.4) so nicely shows, it is easy to get wrapped up in one’s love of subject, to the detriment of learning. A better practice is to evaluate one’s approach based on where you know your students are (intellectually, developmentally) and to come to them on terms they can understand and expand upon – with all the passion you can muster.

One thought on “Betsy Allen – Week 2 reading blog: The Passion of the Pedagogy

  1. lnorcros

    I absolutely love the fact that you’ve put your finger on an issue that seems to haunt educators across a wide variety of fields and specializations. I agree that teachers are often forced to “serve two masters,” negotiating between the requirements of the content area and the classroom space.

    It seems that you ultimately decide that the instructive aspect of teaching should come first, with instructors then being left to muster up whatever passion is appropriate for the educational context. I wonder, however, if you might not be selling yourself (as a passion-over-pedagogy teacher) short, underestimating the degree to which a teacher’s passion for/engagement with the subject area is capable of sparking interest in students.

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