Monday, November 17, 2014
Reaching the Range
Wise and worldly readers, have you seen, or found, or developed, a professional development resource that was actually helpful in the specific challenge of reaching students across a wide range of preparation levels? Ideally, one that isn’t specific to a single discipline? I’d love to provide faculty access to something that would actually help, and that would help across a wide spectrum of disciplines. We aren’t moving to selective admissions, and the range isn’t getting any narrower, so anything that’s actually useful would be appreciated.
I think that your criterion of it no being discipline-specific is a guarantee of it being useless pablum. The only chance that faculty development has of being useful is if it is tied to the specific pedagogy of the field. Physics teachers may benefit from learning the model-based approach to teaching physics, but it won't so any other teachers any good.
One reason that comp/rhet folks have focused more on teaching students where they are at is that their faculty development has been specific to freshman writing classes. Of course, one consequence of the "teach them where they are" approach is that students coming out of freshman comp often still can't write at a college level.
Have you tried talking to an Education school near you? They spend a fair amount of time trying to teach strategies for differentiation and reaching a broad range of preparations and approaches to learning. I've got a Ph.D., and while the level of material varies from K-12 to undergrad to grad school, at some point the strategies are somewhat universal.
In this case, the topic was "reading". The facilitator (a philosophy prof at a state school) did a great job of identifying ways in which students get hung up over reading... and identifying various interventions, most of which apply across disciplines. I came away with great thoughts for my mathematics students about how to read proofs!
Gatekeeping is also helpful at addressing differentiation. I never learned how to teach! If I wasn't married to a K-12 teacher, I wouldn't know a dang thing about teaching! And that's a problem at an open-access school like mine. If the institution isn't willing to invest heavily in teacher training -- and will any of 'em be willing in this economy? -- where do we pick up the skills needed to teach remedial-through-gifted simultaneously? I'm pleased that you're looking for answers to this question; you have a long reach. However, this is a fundamental feature/bug of open access schools. If institutions (and governments and taxpayers) aren't willing to invest in ongoing training of their teachers, we'll adopt heavy-handed solutions so our classes can function.
TL;DR -- sometimes you use a club because there isn't a scalpel.