I read this statement somewhere recently about researched teaching practices:
“X is at least as supported as Y.”
Since we’re talking about something that affects students, I’d begin by asking the kind of questions Eric Herman includes with each of his memos. Then I’d move away from data, and instead consider practical classroom applications, as well as personal observations and reflections (of both practices X and Y when applicable).
Does support for X apply to all students?
Almost no research has been done on K-12 students—the majority of it focusing on self-selecting college-aged students, already of a particular socioeconomic status if enrolled in college. The support for X doesn’t hold up if we see time and time again how it fails in the classroom, even if it has succeeded elsewhere, or in particular contexts. Results from students—all of them—are quite demonstrative of comparing X and Y.
Is it just as easy to implement X as it is Y?
A lot of teaching practices cause unnecessary work for both the teacher and students. This comes down to the ole “juice vs. squeeze” argument I keep returning to. If I can get 8oz of juice from one large orange (i.e. practice Y) that’s on sale (i.e. all can afford), why would I bother juicing 6 smaller oranges (i.e. practice X) at market price (i.e. only privileged can afford)? N.B. in case you think succeeded in a conventional school setting has nothing to do with socioeconomic status, you are completely wrong. Check that privilege.
What if the juice from the one large orange is sweeter?
The original statement assumes that the people I’m serving (i.e. students) like drinking the juice from each just the same. This is the affective aspect of language teaching practices, which is very real—perhaps more so during adolescence, but evident in younger students as well. So, even if practice X were just as effective as practice Y by some measurement (but what measurement, right Eric?), do students—all of them—actually enjoy practice X? Of course, that begs the reply of “it works for me and my students.”
Who are you? Who are your students? Who aren’t your students?
Language teachers are freaks of nature who have a particular cult-like interest in something the rest of the world has no need, or desire for—discreet features of language—especially textbook rules, etc., that don’t represent what’s actually going on in our minds when we communicate. Seriously, they’re not real! I’m sure that a few—small few—of your students feel the same way, which is fine. Give them what they—but not the rest—want. Lastly, if your older students find themselves in small company, or your demographics don’t match the school, something’s up, so look into that.
Of course, these questions are all related. A university professor uses practice X to teach the 4.0 student—who enjoys practice X—and happens to be a part of the study that supports practice X, who later becomes the high school teacher using practice X to teach to students—at least the ones who enjoy practice X—and then cites support for practice X in order to justify continuing to use practice X, because practice Y isn’t as easy to implement because they’ve been using practice X for so long…
So, “at least,” is certainly the operative phrase in that original statement. I do not deny that research might support practice X at least as much as practice Y when the focus of teaching and research falls upon at least the students it targets (but not all). Once again, we come back to inclusion.
Would you use the most effective teaching practice ever researched—let’s say, practice Z—if it excluded most, or even any of your students?
The values upheld by my old drum corps’ were (and are) “Respect, Responsibility, and Commitment.” Those have stayed with me for quite some time. I respect the individual learner, have accepted the responsibility to educate all of them, and am committed to that cause. You?