John Burk and Frank Noschese coined the phrase pseudo-teaching to describe teaching methods that look good from the outside (student engagement, hands-on activities, use of technology) but, in the end, result in little or no learning. I think I currently do a lot of this kind of teaching.
In fact, I think the proliferation of teacher blogs sharing quality teaching strategies and resources may actually contribute to the spread of pseudo-teaching. Call it pseudo-borrowing. Let me explain with two examples from my classroom this past year.
1. The Interactive Lecture Demonstration
I attended a professional development workshop on the use of Interactive Lecture Demonstrations as a means to engage physics students in inquiry and modeling. The research clearly shows the effectiveness of this teaching method and the presenter led us through a sample demonstration using the methods he would use in his classroom.
I was inspired! With my sample demonstration in hand I went back to my classroom and recreated a similar activity for my students. I was so excited about it, I asked my principal and vice-principal to observe the lesson.
It was a huge success! The administrators were suitably impressed and commented repeatedly on how great the activity was. Students were engaged, asking great questions, discussing physics concepts like never before. One student even took a picture of the motion graphs because she couldn't believe the result. It could not have been any better.
Except students did not show any gains in conceptual understanding. And major misconceptions persisted throughout the year.
2.The #anyqs Video
Dan Meyer started a Twitter feed requesting that teachers post interesting pictures or short videos and asking for the first question that pops to mind. Intrigued, I decided to create my own video. My physics students were studying reflection so I created this.
After watching the video, the class came up with some excellent questions that were worth investigating. I gave them some mirrors, lenses and prisms and asked them to answer their own questions. I was happy with the video and thrilled with the in-class activity. But once again, disappointed with the lack of actual learning.
So what happened? The activities looked great but students were NOT learning. I mean these ideas are pedagogically sound. People way smarter then me thought them up. Research says they should work. What went wrong?
The answer... pseudo-borrowing. Any activity I find online is rooted in a well-thought out pedagogical framework, created by people who have spent a lot of time thinking about how students learn and how teachers should teach. By pseudo-borrowing, I attempted a plug-and-play implementation. In my rush to find the latest and greatest method, I didn't bother to think about the underlying reasons that make them great in the first place. Effective borrowing requires that I understand the deeper foundation that supports the activity.
I found a silver lining in all this. I tried something new which is better than doing nothing at all. And I am moving in the right direction. Recognizing why these activities did not result in much learning is the first step towards teaching that produces real learning. And understanding the underlying pedagogical framework will help me create my own rich learning activities.