/ #teaching 

My learning manifesto (aka teaching philosophy)

Introduction

I have purposely titled my ‘Teaching Philosophy’ as a ‘Learning Manifesto’ changing each word with purpose. I provide my learning manifesto after a description of the words.

Learning vs. Teaching

Teaching has many positive connotations and has an impactful connotation in our society1. However, I have often observed teachers believe the myth that they have to be THE experts and that no other person in the room can be an expert. This failure in the perception of what a teacher provides in a classroom is my motivation to use the word ‘learning.’ A class (and society) that believes one person offers the solutions and that the rest should fall in line and accept them cause failures in learning by both the teacher and student.

  • The teacher forgets that every moment can be insightful and that collaboration with others is what brings more significant understanding.
  • The student is conditioned to believe that they are to assimilate information from experts and that there is only one way of thinking about the topic. In many instances, creative questioning is squelched.

Philosophy vs. Manifesto

A Manifesto is a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions2. While a Philosophy is a comprehensive system of belief or an outlook regarding fundamental tenets underlying some domain3. As such, I prefer to make a public declaration of my principles instead of declaring that my ideas are comprehensive or that they cover a defined domain.

Mathematician’s Lament

Paul Lockhart on page 16 (62 and 63 in the book) provides the hypothetical conversation between his two characters in Mathematician’s Lament about teaching methods - I added the bold emphasis.

SIMPLICIO: I don’t think that’s very fair. Surely teaching methods have improved since then.

SALVIATI: You mean training methods. Teaching is a messy human relationship; it does not require a method. Or rather I should say, if you need a method you’re probably not a very good teacher. If you don’t have enough of a feeling for your subject to be able to talk about it in your own voice, in a natural and spontaneous way, how well could you understand it? …

SIMPLICIO: But aren’t you asking an awful lot from our math teachers? You expect them to provide individual attention to dozens of students, guiding them on their own paths toward discovery and enlightenment …?

SALVIATI: Do you expect your art teacher to be able to give you individualized, knowledgeable advice about your paintings? … But seriosly, I don’t expect anything of the kind, I only wish it were so.

Being a Learner

My domain is statistics and statistical programming. Current industry trends would give me the title of a data scientist. I believe my perceptions of learning are broader than these areas, but I will focus on them as I manifest my thoughts on learning. Lifelong learning involves skills that last over 80 years and for an eternity beyond this mortal life. Based on a 1,000 hour learning years and 16 years of education in traditional schooling, it accounts for less than 2-years of our lives4. Teachers and academia should mimic the best learning techniques used in professions and personal lives.5

On learning

Shorn of all subtlety and led naked out of the protective fold of educational research literature, there comes a sheepish little fact: lectures don’t work nearly as well as many of us would like to think6.

Classrooms that function like a well-scripted drama or action movie provide entertainment and build a perception of enjoyment that can result in high student evaluations and cathartic emotions to the teacher. These well-scripted events feed the teacher myth entrenched in the students well before they arrive at college. Learning events, where the teacher exhibits vulnerability and works with the classroom to come to an understanding when faced with new challenges and ideas, give students the space to become lifelong learners.

My implementation

  • In statistical consulting, we have an open curriculum that allows the teacher and student to build an experience together as if they were in a consulting business. It is built on team discussion and real-world projects.
  • In data wrangling and visualization, students take 15-30 minutes each week to present their work to each other and discuss their conclusions.
  • In design thinking all work and most class time is built around group skill development through varied projects.

On Assessment

Assessment is a powerful servant but a lousy master. As soon as assessment considerations are allowed to influence either what is to be learned, or what it means to learn, we are likely to slip from making the important assessable to making the assessable important.7

We need to understand how our learning and abilities compare to our peers in the classroom and industry. We need to be assessed and need to learn to assess. Tests too often leave students with a percentage score that makes it difficult for them to compare their work as the score abstracts too far away from the “what” of the quality work.

The essential assessment that needs to occur in our learning process is how to assess ourselves. Tests open up the idea that students don’t have to evaluate their learning that “the expert” will determine it for them. Employees need to understand how to assess their work and make adjustments. Without learning how to evaluate their work in context during their educational experience, they can suffer from “Dunning-Kruger Effect” which is the cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their incompetence.

My implementation

  • In statistical consulting, the students are to provide a ‘growth development’ cover letter that helps them evaluate their experience.
  • In data wrangling and visualization, students assess their work during the semester. They meet with me for an exit interview where they propose their final grade.

On Collaboration

Collaborative partners find themselves spending much time establishing and maintaining relationships. A teacher in a collaborative project is not a detached observer, but a committed colleague who reflects on his or her [teaching] practice. … Collaboration is challenging because the human element of social interaction is a major part of every collaborative project. 8.

It is energy burning to collaborate in teaching. The structure of education motivates individualism and isolation as the traditional classroom instruction limits collaborative conversations.

  1. Teachers must open up a collaborative space for students to move beyond their fears of collaboration with a person that is in a position of status and power. Fixing the grading paradigm may be one step towards a solution.
  2. Unlike building a bridge, software, or algorithm, a lesson is often much more connected to the essence of the faculty collaborating. Sitting in each other’s classes and building conversations around helping students come to the essential principles of the course can enliven the collaborative spirit.

My implementation

During my first nine semesters, I have attended the semester classes of three different professors covering religion, computer science, and statistics. I have had professors attend my course daily from computer science, computer information technology, and math education backgrounds. In most of these cases, we regularly discussed what was going well and where we could make improvements.

On Grading

The central argument here is that by acting as if grading motivates learning, we put both student and faculty energies in the wrong places. Does grading represent learning? Maybe … but mostly, grading motivates getting grades9.

As learners, we must figure out how to motivate learning, not “getting grades.” I want to get the teacher out of the way of the learner. Measurements of education do need to happen, and they should be standardized measurements, like grades. These measures can be useful for students, teachers, and employers. Specification grading10 is an elegant solution to prompt discussion and learning in the classroom – without the teacher dictating the final answer. We need a learning environment where the underachievers understand the minimum requirements, and the overachievers can move beyond finding the teacher solution and work on advanced skills around their needs and interests.

My Implementation

Conclusion

Large parts of the investigative process, such as problem analysis and measurement, have been largely abandoned by statisticians and statistics educators to the realm of the particular, perhaps to be developed separately within other disciplines. The arid, context-free landscape on which so many examples used in statistics teaching are built ensures that large numbers of students never even see, let alone engage in, statistical thinking10.

Many degrees that require multiple foundational courses to reach the upper-level material can fall into teaching “the particular,” or in quantitative fields the “compute steps,” versus the “thinking” that moves the discipline. Mindsets are hard to grade and take a collaborative team of faculty with safe, collaborative classrooms. It requires teachers that have lived in their fields and continue to learn and grow in them11.

Too often, I hear teaching defined as students liking their teacher and getting good grades on tests. These things should fall out from the result of teaching domain specific mindsets. However, good test grades and liked teachers are attainable in multiple ways that do not include “thinking” development.

A learning environment has;

  • vulnerable teachers that are willing to learn with and from their students,
  • assessment opportunities where the learners understand how to measure their capabilities in the context of their peers beyond assigned points on work, and
  • grading systems that prompt learning and not “getting grades.”

  1. See verses from across the LDS standard works and[] many traditional Christian websites](https://lynndove.com/2014/03/12/25-encouraging-scripture-verses-for-teachers/) [return]
  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/manifesto [return]
  3. http://www.definitions.net/definition/philosophy [return]
  4. Based on 1000 hours $\times$ 16 years divided by 8760 hours in a year. [return]
  5. I understand that learning institutions face the serious implications of cost and diversity when moving beyond one-on-one education. These implications have forced the creation of ideas like letter grades and grade-level competencies. However, we don’t need to allow the side effects of mass learning and academia to control the learning and thinking process. [return]
  6. George Cobb{target=“blank”} [return]
  7. The text from the article before the included quote. “What students should learn in mathematics is a highly contested domain. For example, in discussing the widespread preconception that mathematics is about learning to compute, Fuson, Kalchman & Bransford (2005) illustrate their discussion with the following question: What, approximately, is the sum of 89 plus 1213? They point out that some people will, sensibly, conclude that the answer is a little less than two, just by observing that the two numbers to be added are each a little less than one. Others, however, will attempt to find the smallest common multiple of the denominators of the two fractions. They comment: The point of this example is not that computation should not be taught or is unimportant; indeed, it is often critical to efficient problem-solving. But if one believes that mathematics is about problem-solving and that computation is a tool for use to that end when it is helpful, then the above problem is viewed not as a “request for computation,” but as a problem to be solved that may or may not require computation-and in this case, it does not (Fuson et al., p. 220) but that is not to say that simply knowing this formula is not useful. Indeed, anyone who knows and can apply this formula accurately has what Richard Skemp called “instrumental understanding.” [return]
  8. https://search.proquest.com/openview/4e2b7736ca124090d16d6f60a40ffdfb/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=34114 [return]
  9. Author Background and article. Another great reference from her, “There are some aspects of teaching that we keep in cages in hopes they will never escape… . We don’t share our concerns with our own grading approach or that of a colleague’s often, and we don’t spend time with each other determining the meaning of a C, an A, or discussing what constitutes a 3.5 on a rubric… . The day is upon us, however. It’s time to talk about grades, grading, and report cards openly, if we haven’t before, questioning assumptions, embracing alternatives, and focusing on the promise of what teaching and learning can be.” [return]
  10. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4729/ff2eadf9c4b0f5374db6bba41ded944e218e.pdf [return]
  11. In David S Moore’s article, Should Mathematicians Teach Statistics?) he states, “Satisfactory teaching of the science of data requires experience with data. It is the misfortune of statistics to be a small and methodological discipline. Being small, statistics warrants a separate academic department only in large institutions. Being methodological, it attracts teachers from a dozen disciplines to which statistical methods are fruitfully applied. Mathematicians may understand statistical theory but usually lack experience with data. It is an unfortunate result of the dominance of academic statistics by mathematics that some theoretical statisticians also have had little contact with real data and real problems of inference. Economists, engineers, and psychologists often understand data but are poorly informed about statistical theory. It is difficult to say which group of teachers is less qualified, but it is not surprising that statistics is notorious among students as a dull and poorly taught subject. In my opinion, introductory courses that contain mathematically false statements but require students to work with data are less damaging than courses consisting solely of correct proofs of true theorems. Recognition of statistics as a separate discipline is essential to adequate teaching, in whatever academic department statisticians find lodging. Mathematics should be taught by mathematicians. Psychology should be taught by psychologists. And statistics should be taught by statisticians. What could be more obvious?” [return]
Author

J. Hathaway

Data Scientist, Consultant, Teacher, Learner