Western Teacher : Volume 46.1 - January 2017
18 Western Teacher January 2017 Professional Re-thinking instructional power By Barrie Bennett Adlerians argue that one of the key needs in life is the need for power, to have control over one’s life. For example, if you understand how to calculate a common denominator, then you have control or power over the addition and subtraction of fractions. That need for power (aka skills and disposition to solve problems) is also important for teachers in the classroom. So the focus of this article is on power as it relates to instruction. That said, I’ll start by stepping back and away from instruction. Let’s say you had to beat two eggs and a bit of milk together to make the batter for French toast, and someone asked you to identify the most powerful tool for mixing the batter: a fork, a hand whisk, or an electric mix-master. What would you say? Of course multiple issues come into play, one being time, another being cleaning up. When we think more carefully about the options, we realise that power is not always what it seems. One tool may indeed be more powerful but be simultaneously less efficient. Personally, I’d take the fork; easy to find and easy to clean and I’d be done before someone had even set-up the mix-master. Of course if I had to mix four cups of flour and a half-pound of butter and a cup of sugar, I’d use the electric mix-master. That analogy holds for a lot of tools. Take for example taking wood off a plank. If I wanted to take a lot of wood quickly off a big plank of rough-cut lumber, should I use sandpaper, a wood rasp, a hand plane, a power planer or a table saw? Well, the power planer and table saw clearly have the most power. That said, if the question changes to taking off enough wood for a fine smooth finish on an antique table then sandpaper has the most power. Clearly the idea of power shifts as the problem shifts. So now, if we return to instruction and ask, “Which instructional method has the most power?” we end up in a similar but more complex situation. In education, power is known as effect size, the idea of how much of a difference a specific approach or method has on student learning. John Hattie’s (2009, 2012) research in his texts Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Student Achievement and Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, provide a most useful and insightful synthesis of the power of different methods to impact student learning. I highly encourage you to read those texts. That said, that research also has a wee tragic flaw. The flaw emerges when Hattie argues that teachers avoid those methods with lower power (see Hattie, 2009, page 20, top of page) and use the methods with the most power. That statement has a logic, and in one sense Hattie is definitely right; however, in another sense his statement needs a slight re-think. The flaw goes back to the idea of which tool has the most power. If I want to blend one egg and a bit of milk for batter, I’d take the fork. IfIwantedtotakeabitofwoodoffa plank, I’d use sandpaper. The situation determines the power not the tool. The electric mixer and the table saw are definitely more powerful in one situation; but less powerful in another. For example, if we take three instructional methods: wait time in questioning (researched at Deakon’s University by Tobin back in the early 1980s), Think Pair Share (developed by Lyman back in the 1980s) and Concept Mapping (developed by Joseph Novak also back in the 1980s) and asked which one is more powerful, then as educators, we end up having to ask “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” If we want to have students summarise their thinking at the end of a unit of inquiry and to push their thinking at virtually all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy then use Concept Mapping.
Volume 45.9 November 2016
Volume 46.2 - February 2017