TITLE: Improving the Vocabulary of Educators through Patterns AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 20, 2004 10:47 AM DESC: Software patterns folks have in recent years been extending their use of patterns to how they teach software development and computer science. Now, a persion from the larger world of education is calling for a new way to talk about educational practice. ----- BODY: Education blogger Jenny D. calls for a language of the practice of educators:
We have to start naming the things we do, with real names that mean the same thing to all practitioners. ... My intent in what I do is to move the practice of teaching into an environment that resembles medicine. Where practices and procedures are shared, and the language to discuss them is also shared. Where all practices and procedures can and will be tailored to meet specific situations, even though practitioners work hard to maintain high standards and transparency in what they do. This sounds kind of silly, I know. But what we've got know is a hodgepodge of ideas and practices, teachers working in isolation in individual classrooms, and very little way to begin to straighten out and share the best practices and language to describe it.
This doesn't sound silly to me. When I first started as a university professor, I was surprised the extent to which educators tend to work solo. There's plenty of technical vocabulary for the content of my teaching but little or no vocabulary for the teaching itself. The education establishment seems quite content that educators, their classrooms, and their students are all so different that we cannot develop a standard way to describe or develop what we do in a classroom. I think that much of this reluctance stems from the history of teacher education, but I also suspect that now there is an element of political agenda involved. Part of what I've done in my years as a faculty member is to work with other to develop the vocabulary we need to talk about teaching computer science. On the technical side, I have long been interested in documenting the elementary patterns that novices must learn to become effective programmers. Elementary patterns give students a vocabulary for talking about the programs they are writing, and a process for attacking problems. But they also give instructors a vocabulary for talking about the content of their courses. On the teaching side, I have been involved in the Pedagogical Patterns community, which aims to draw on the patterns ideas of architect Christopher Alexander to document best practices in the practice of teaching and learning. Patterns such as Active Student, Spiral, and Differentiated Feedback capture those nuggets of practice that good teachers use all the time, the approaches that separate effective instruction from hit-or-miss time in the classroom. Relating these patterns in a pattern language builds a rich context around the patterns and gives instructors a way to think about designing their instruction and implementing their ideas. Pedagogical patterns are the sort of thing that Jenny D. is looking for in educational proctice more generally. In a follow-up post, she extends her analysis of how professionals in other disciplines practice by applying skills to implement protocols. You'll notice in these blog entries the good use of metaphor I blogged about last time. Jenny uses the practices in other professions to raise the question, "Why don't educators have a vocabulary for discussing what they do?" She hasn't suggested that the vocabulary of educators should be like medicine's vocabulary or any other, at least not yet. I wish her luck in convincing other educators of the critical value of her research program. Every teacher and every student can benefit from laying a more scientific foundation for the everyday practice of education. -----