July 28, 2007

Objectives, importance of, in teaching

(Photo credit: skydive_upload12 by MikeyDotCom on Flickr)

Borderland has an interesting post up called Ground Rush. Great story! Skydiving for school credit, wow! Wish I could have done that.

His WordPress spam police fried my comment, and as this could be crucial to the future of education on this planet, I'm posting it here.

Turning the main point of his entry, about planning for classes, I was reminded of the following:
1) "Plan the class AFTER the class" (Caleb Gattegno, inventor of The Silent Way of language teaching)

2) An anti-objectives anti-objectives point of view from educationalist heterodox, James Atherton (slightly less subjectively here here ; but see also here for a more thorough treatment of the subject.)

3) And this blog entry (Atherton again, sorry!): I got a course outline (two sides of A4) which specified a "syllabus" with "aims" and "content" but no "objectives".... He had a white-board, on which he wrote basic propositions, about three times. There were no handouts. There were no transparencies. There was no PowerPoint. It was brilliant.
(Admittedly, he's writing about teaching teaching adults, not children).

4) I also recalled this PDF from NALD, which refers to Pratt's model of Direction and Support (thanks to Harold Jarche for the link).

I realize now that I relate objectives closely to direction and support for students. I think my students require greater direction from me than I have realized, and working on providing clearer instructional objectives has been my way to provide greater direction.


Doug Noon said...

Nice picture! And to return the favor of sharing interesting links, you might like this one, the first chapter of People in Quandries, by Wendell Johnson a 1946 vintage interpretation of general semantics.

Here's a bit that seems to apply to what you're saying:

"The ideals of the maladjusted are high in three chief respects. In the first place, they are high in the sense that they are vague. Being vague, they are difficult to recognize; being difficult to recognize, they appear to be elusive. It is the consequent misfortune of the individual whose ideals are vaguely defined that he has no sure way of determining whether or not he has attained them. He maintains, therefore, the disquieting belief that he has failed, and he becomes increasingly convinced that his ideals are difficult to reach. Ideals that are difficult to achieve, though it may be primarily because one remains uncertain of whether or not one has achieved them, have the practical effect of high ideals.

As we contrive to go from A to B, from what we may refer to generally as "failure" to something else which we may value as success, the crucial point in our journey is that one which we agree to recognize as the point of transition -- the point at which we leave A and enter B. Unless such a point can be recognized, we are denied the experience of believing that we have reached our destination, that we have achieved "success." And until we can believe that we have achieved "success," we continue to assume that we have not achieved it -- we continue to experience "failure." Under such circumstances we feel frustrated and, eventually, distraught.

I've checked this old classic out of the library and am avidly reading. Neil Postman and S.I. Hayakawa both recommended it, and it does hold up remarkably well for a book that's 60 years old. Reading it has helped me to think about the value of concrete and specific expectations as I move into a new academic term. Much of my frustration with teaching is self-induced, I know.

The general idea, as I understand it, is that we can bring a measure of sanity to our lives by applying the scientific method to the routine problems we face - by becoming aware of the degree to which language shapes our thought and consequent activity.

A little sanity might very well be crucial to the future of education on this planet!

Marco Polo said...

Hm. From Mosaic of thought to mosaic of misery in a few easy steps! On reflection, much (perhaps all?) human frustration is self-induced. Wow! That's profound for a Saturday night! Reading Doug's comment above, it occurs to me perhaps the person who really most needs the clear objectives is myself.