Realism or Pessimism!

For our pedagogy, I believe we should move ahead with the belief that there is no single approach that can help us categorize our students and their problems. Each student in the class is different like human fingerprints. Each student has different needs. In a class of 20 or 22 students, any practical teacher would still want a single syllabus, a single methodology and a single schedule to proceed. The question then is: as a teacher do I ignore the differences and just herd the students in one direction, disregarding what their individual needs are or what pace they are at individually?

Mike Rose’s questions in his conclusion to “Narrowing the Mind and Page” are very insightful. The plethora of theories and approaches regarding BW and composition in general when put to test to a group of students, may never yield the results that we would desire, for the same reason that students are different from each other and the differences too are those that cannot be categorized. Written responses, for example, to a prompt like “How I tricked a crocodile” may all range from poor to average to good to excellent. The variables behind these poor, good, average and excellent responses may be numerous. The worst response might be from the student who actually had had an encounter with a crocodile and the memory is so scary that the student might not want to even think about it. The excellent response might be from the student who has never watched a crocodile in real but has seen a documentary on Animal Planet where Alan Steve deals with a crocodile like one would play with their pet. The writer may recreate the scene from memory. Another excellent response may come from a student who is very imaginative. So, in such a situation, what is it that the teacher is actually measuring?

One of the ways (or perhaps the only way?), that I have personally observed, to create a group of homogenous students is that the college students being enrolled are only those that the institute itself has prepared over a span of 4-5 years. This again resonates with what Rose points out about “training” while discussing validity (or lack of it) of Piaget’s models. If students are trained in a similar fashion for a long period of time, no matter what background or other difference they have, they start producing similar (desired) results.

How far can Shaughnessy’s “Diving In” be helpful? Recognizing that there is difference is still not the solution to the problem. As a teacher, I may be able to identify all the numerous reasons behind each of my students’ mistakes. But the point to consider still is that “mistakes are still mistakes” and I have to enable my students to be better writers.

I might be sounding very pessimistic, but the fact is that our desire to create dichotomies and putting everything on the face of the earth in neat categories is at the base of our confusion. Being practical would demand that first we acknowledge that each individual is different from others, not in one way but in many ways and that our pedagogy, whatever and how much eclectic that be, cannot solve all the problems of all the students.

Ready-made syllabus can be a further cause of a teacher’s frustration. It is only after three or four classes when a teacher can roughly guess about the level(s) of the students. There may be a group of students not prepared for one of the assignments, for various reasons, the teacher and the syllabus should be flexible enough for accommodations.

The question still remains: As a teacher do I ignore the differences and just herd the students in one direction, disregarding what their individual needs are or what pace they are at individually? Or there are ways that can help me deal with problems in an efficient way?

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2 thoughts on “Realism or Pessimism!

  1. An optimistic response is that the diversity of existence implies with enough resources, the individuals will find somewhere to be themselves. But the realist knows the US education system appropriates business models such as the Taylorist system or the more contemporaneous Agile software development life cycle . The appropriations have ambiguous effects on educational organizations, I think.

    Maybe this comment misses the point, but I find rubric types and development as an interesting document to explore balancing options for individual-“herd” issues. At some point, isn’t a mark of maturation (since we are in the development model readings) the ability to compromise one’s own desires in the service of another person? If so, an effective manner to inhibit the compromise from transitioning into exploitation is to create instances where students not only participate but become vested interests in the activities of the classroom (“ownership”, right?). Therefore, in terms of rubric development, the practice of incorporating student input to the listed criteria and point allocations shifts the classroom dynamic.

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