I didn't mean to put the PD speaker on the spot last week, but I thought it was important to at least attempt to convey that there are other types of communication, different from the linguistics forms that were the focus of that session. In mathematics and science, a large part of our study is focused on helping students learn to communicate using symbolism. I was happy that the speaker seemed to understand what I was trying to say, but now that I’ve had more time to think about it, and the initial shock and frustration has worn off, I’d like to journal a few additional thoughts here.
During teaching, there are many, many variables to be considered simultaneously. (These are not listed in any particular order, because I believe that they are equally important.) The content taught should be accurate and factual, with an underpinning goal of preparing students to succeed at the next level, so that they are able to make well-informed choices based on their level of interest in various subjects. Teachers also need to be mindful of the range of ability levels of each class, as well as students’ many different preferred learning styles and communication preferences. In order to help students acquire knowledge of content that may not be their current preference, caring teachers encourage struggling learners as an integral part of the teaching process.
As a practical matter, the length of our school day and each class period is limited, yet we traditionally require students to have a minimum number of courses in various areas because we want them to be prepared to make informed choices regarding their future plans to become productive and happy members of society. I believe the underlying assumption, which we can all agree upon, is that a minimum amount of knowledge in these areas is needed as a basis for effective decision-making.
In order for our students to have opportunities to learn effective communication skills in mathematics and science, I believe it’s important to foster the development of these “languages” of symbolism in few classes which are built upon these nonlinguistic forms of communication. Mindful teachers have made efforts to convey content, as well as its necessary symbolism, through many modes of communication in recent years, but few courses throughout a students’ day include non-linguistics as a basic skill required for content acquisition as do math and science. For this reason, I believe it’s important to encourage teachers of those subjects to build upon the symbolism of the content, and not avoid it in an effort to incorporate more linguistic forms of communication. Those skills are appropriately utilized in most other subjects to a much higher degree, and rightly so.
It doesn’t seem practical to me that math and science teachers are often encouraged to utilize classroom activities that are designed to improve students’ linguistic acquisition of content knowledge, because the content that we teach is of a nonlinguistic nature. Some teachers feel frustration during “professional development” sessions that fail to recognize this important aspect of their profession, and that is unfortunate because I believe that our most district leadership teams really do seek continuous improvement in all areas, but they may not realize that their teachers can provide extremely valuable feedback that is necessary in moving toward that goal.
High-quality feedback is integral to the continuous improvement process. I believe that most local school systems seek to hire dedicated professionals who are prepared to elicit timely and accurate feedback and incorporate it into practices that enable schools to “learn” and grow, but problems can arise when the system is not utilized to its full capacity. When leaders don’t have the right types of feedback, sometimes decisions may not produce the desired results toward improvement.
If you want to receive feedback that's helpful to the improvement process, I believe it's important to survey teachers and students to better understand current realities and their beliefs on what is needed in moving forward.