Art and Science of Teaching

The Art and Science of Teaching

I was intrigued by an article I read recently in The Atlantic. It was called The Future of College? by Graeme Wood (Aug 13, 2014). The Minerva Project has opened a new college in San Francisco. Or at least that is where its offices are located. It is hard to know if Minerva is actually anywhere in space.

It is a proprietary online model that leverages lessons learned from Skype, Khan Academy and Coursera. It is actually a for-profit accredited university. The CEO is youngish Ben Nelson whose goal is either to reform or to disrupt the liberal arts college model. Perhaps he simply wants to substitute online learning for face-to-face instruction.

Education in the modern world: What questions do we need to ask?

Some claim education is an art and a science. Nelson, the CEO of Minerva, has disputed this: “It’s a science and a science.” What do you think?

Pablo Picasso created a unique perspective of the world through “cubism,” his unique style of art. He once said of the modern technology, “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” What does that imply?

Is teaching art or science?Art or Science: What is the upshot?

Teaching is an ART in important ways:

  • It is humanistic, organic and inherently indeterminate.
  • Art is creative and often expressive. Material is organized in novel, artistic ways so that it stays fresh.
  • It is an interactive process of engagement between teacher and learner, or between person and subject.
  • Teachers relinquish creative control to students so that they can fulfill their own artistic side.
  • Art and Play live together in the same cognitive home.

Teaching is a SCIENCE in important ways:

  • It is predicated on scientific method.
  • It is based on the use of evidence.
  • One can test whether a lesson was successful.
  • It can be improved through research-based best practices.
  • It has elements that must be included in the formula for success such as planning, standards alignment, student feedback, and assessment.

Alternate Minds for an Evolving World

Our students are not ingredients in a stew recipe. Why do we need an educated public anyway?

“The Mind Is Not a Vessel That Needs Filling, But Wood That Needs Igniting”

Whether we attribute the above quote to Plutarch, Socrates or Yeats is immaterial. Teaching is the search for inspiration. It is a desire to invite students to take responsibility for their own learning, and to make that learning both more meaningful and more effective.

Much of the debate about art and science of teaching has been driven by various external factors:

  • The need to find efficiency.
  • The desire to have control of teachers, curriculum and outcomes.
  • The quest for political consensus.
  • The very human desire to have a predictable method and results.

Sir Ken Robinson has explored the creative process extensively. He argues with humor and facts about the need for greater focus on the arts. He is persuasive in giving examples of how mixing art and science, for example, produces many intriguing discoveries. In addition, creative arts are demanding, yet they can inspire many at risk students in our education system.

Robinson has written a great book entitled Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (2nd ed. West Sussex, UK: Capstone Publishing: 2011). You may want to check out this YouTube video from 2013 TED Talks: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. “The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning.”

Robert Marzano is one of many who have discussed research and meta-data of art and science of teaching. Many focus on the effectiveness of various instructional strategies, listing the research that supports their efficacy. However, one salient point stood out: “Teacher behavior is the language of relationships. Students ‘listen’ to every behavior made by the teachers as a statement of the type of relationship the teacher desires, even when the teacher’s actions have no such intent.” (p. 152; see citation below). This captures the essence of “art of teaching.”

Marzano has written a number of books.  A key book is The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction (Alexandria, VA: ASCD: 2007). In the book he indicates how research-based strategies can be woven into the creative process of teaching. For more information, check out the Marzano Research Laboratory on the web.

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