B: So when you sent me the link to this vide0
I was really excited at first. There was so much energy and gesturing and engagement of all sorts of learning types… but then the video kept going. It it started getting a little odd. What were your initial reactions?
S: When I first watched the video, I was alarmed at :22, when the teacher mandates that the class feign comprehension. It went downhill from there; I realized the teacher was trying to harness the natural wildness of the students. There might be something to the principle (there might not), but I was truly disturbed by the level of control going on. Clap when I clap. I give instructions, you follow them precisely. Instruction after instruction. Reward and punishment system. It wasn’t, in many ways, different than anything in standard schooling- it was just higher speed and with more energy. It might be better for teaching CONTENT (the kids might remember their Order of Operations well after this lesson), but the meta-content (unequestioning, thoughtless, immediate obedience) has enormously disturbing implications.
Questions for Blake: How would you feel if you were in this class in 6th grade? In 2nd grade? In High school? Today, in College? Does the nature of the course make a difference for this method of teaching? Is it better or worse than other methods? In what ways?
B: Oh hmm… I’m trying to remember what I was like as a 6th grader. I don’t think it would have suited me. My own classroom experience was quite different. I went to a one class per grade Catholic school and we had different teachers for different subjects. There was some class participation and projects, but not much. It would have been really difficult to get us to go along with something like that. As a 2nd grader, it probably would have been fun at first, but I can’t imagine that I would have gone along with it for any extended period of time. I didn’t see the point of just following instructions. We had this weekly art assignment where the teacher would go through the steps to make a given drawing on the overhead and we would all have to follow along one step at a time and I hated it. Sure, the pictures turned out better overall but they were also really lame. I much preferred my original attempts. High school- hell no. People would walk out. I’m inclined to say the same, if not more for college. I think the overall execution of the method is worse for students, although parts of it (embodied learning) are really neat.
S: I’m inclined to think that any classroom would have trouble accepting this method. That is one thing that does surprise me that I feel merits investigation: how did these teachers get these different students to go along with this?! It’s unnatural, awkward, and uncomfortable to boot. Is it possible to get students to get out of their comfort zone in surprising ways- and if so, can that be put to better use than synchronized spaz attacks?
B: I wonder how they got the teachers to go along with this. It’s very different from the image we normally have of a teacher- something much closer to an animal trainer or drill sergeant. It would have to be exhausting to keep up.
S: For the students or for the teachers to keep up?
B: Both, actually. Can you imagine the hungover slacker in the back of your standard gen-ed lecture class attempting to keep up with that? One word: vomit.
S: If you can get that kid to enjoy this kind of treatment, maybe he won’t go out drinking the night before a lecture.
B: I mean… there’s that. But I don’t know how much genuine enjoyment this method creates. The students look like automatons, not agents. What do they do/how do they learn when they don’t have someone orchestrating their every move?
S: YES! This was the other big concern I had- this is TERRIBLE for teaching kids the skill of “doing stuff on their own.” How are they going to live, or work, if they get taught to be treated like a dog- rolling over and sitting up on command for a Milkbone? What employer is going to clap their hands at the start of each work day or shift and boom “WORK!” with the expectation of a response of 2 claps and a solid “OK!”? Neither Orwell nor Huxley even thought to envision a society THAT messed up. Monty Python might have, though…
B: And now I’m youtubing Monty Python sketches…
S: That’s a black hole of time. Like Onion News Network videos.
B: Right then. Moving on. I think we’ve established the general creepiness of the teaching method. Do you think there’s anything valuable about what’s happening here? Have you read any reports or statistics about the method?
S: Science-wise, I knew at least a few things right off the bat. My school was toying with this whole “crossing the midline” thesis; the idea being that if you did physical tasks that involved crossing the lateral-middle of your body with your hand (bringing your right hand to the left side for your body to do something), it did all kinds of great stuff for your neural pathways. But all this was based on lots of research about the connection between the physical and the mental. I learned last semester about some amazingly mean things a guy named Merleau-Ponty did to cats: making them blind by not allowing them to use their legs. So, there’s a lot of literature on the body-mind connection. And it’s obvious that a kid who has to yell and move around every 30 seconds is less likely to fall asleep and tune out. As to how “successful” it is? Always depends on definition of success. The kids clearly stay awake. Do they do better on tests? I have no idea. I’m inclined to say it doesn’t matter. No amount of content mastery is going to compensate for the crippling of the individual in the previously discussed ways. Also, it’s a new enough method there might not be much research done on it yet.
To be fair, this guy’s website ALSO freaks me out. Some of his introductory remarks include these gems:
Are you so frazzled from battling your challenging kids that, horrors!, you’re thinking of going to law school?
Whole Brain Teaching videos have received over 1,000,000 views on YouTube … that puts us right up there with Beyonce!
Hmm… looks like this guy relies a lot on testimonials, of which he has many.
B: I feel like my education was seriously lacking in innovation, although as I think this video demonstrates, along with a certain Monty Python video about eduction (nsfw):
not all innovation is good. Also, wow! That rhetoric is unsettling. I don’t know why those would be good phrases to explain or promote the method. My elementary education was characterized by splitting into small groups based on track levels- which I had no awareness of at the time- and heavily word problem/ critical thinking driven math instruction, which, although fun did not make my life easy when I switched schools and was expected to know things like multiplication tables. I don’t know. I feel like my education was pretty standard. Pretty traditional. Just with some good teachers mixed in.
S: I switched schools when I was in 5th grade (and went into 4th grade, because my birthday missed a cutoff date for my new school district). I was invited to the G/T program but declined, fearing the “nerd” label for which I was harshly persecuted at my previous school. A year later I had made friends at the school and was more or less forced into G/T. It was a good thing for me. I think my education at Littleton Academy (a K-8 school where my mother taught) was really good in most respects. The teachers were phenomenal. I thrived in that school. High school… was enormously standard. I can’t think of my education experience without thinking of individual teachers, individual courses. There isn’t really a grand narrative here- it’s just a lot of little stories gathered together, but even in one semester I have very different experiences in very different courses. I can’t talk about my “education experience” because I don’t have one. I have… about 14 years of formal schooling, with roughly 10 courses for each year. I have 140 stories of things that happened, things that went well or poorly and why. And the stories have huge variety. If I’m to speak of my “overall education experience,” I would say it was positive because I developed the skill of tuning out from the bad experiences. I just ignored a bad course or a bad teacher. That has its cost, of course. I can’t stop tuning out, sometimes- even when I wish I could calm my brain. But maybe that’s not learned. That might just be a different issue altogether.
B: Speaking of education experiences- I’m neglecting mine at the moment. Homework is calling my name (far louder and more frequent than I would like) and I am obliged to respond. I would like to see what other educational models are being promoted (particularly through youtube) and hash out some thoughts again. Interested?
S: I rarely know/remember when I have homework. I think I have to study for a quiz I have tomorrow. We’ll have to look into it. I know there are a bunch of models. I know Littleton Academy had a really specific CURRICULUM (“Core Knowledge Program” or something) but I know less about teaching styles and approaches. I’d be interested, too, in the way those two are viewed as either intertwined or interchangeable.