Kathleen Graves, teacher's teacher

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Blog - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/145

Kathleen Graves’s title contained the paradox that in teaching, you sometimes have to be less efficient to be more efficient. In a time in which testing and accountability have become paramount, in an attempt to cut out the dead wood in education, we have neglected the learner and a broader vision of what learning is for. The drive for efficiency has led to pre-packaged, standardized, quantifiable, short-term learning goals. This is at odds with what we know about how people learn in the longer term.

Drawing on the work of Leo van Lier, Graves argues for a more ecological perspective on the classroom. One key concept here is quality, not standards. We should look to improve the educational experience more broadly, rather than just focusing on getting them through tests. A second key concept was activity. Learning is not transmission of knowledge from teacher to learner, but something in which the learner is actively engaged. A third key concept was autonomy. The learners are authors and sources of their own development, not just recipients of it.

Graves illustrated her points with a video of a class in which black students in Los Angeles were learning standard General American English to prepare them for the academic world. The teacher was very careful not to suggest that the student’s own version of English was in any way inferior to GA, and that he wasn’t trying to improve them but rather empower them to code-switch between the two varieties. The students and their own variety of language was a resource, not something to be negated.

There was a very measured dignity and confidence about the way Graves delivered this plenary which spoke of long experience in the classroom. This was a talk for teachers by a teacher about teaching.

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