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The Situated Nature Of Best Practices
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Attention to these factors required me to reconsider the notion that any teaching approach can be considered a "best practice" regardless of who is doing the practicing, where it's being practiced, and how that practice is experienced by all involved. I had to reflect back, then, on the fact that under Hillocks's tutelage and in the company of his community of students, I had been socialized into viewing his approach as sensible and nearly natural. His program had become to me what I've called a conceptual home base (Smagorinsky, Teaching English through Principled): the social setting to which I returned to reconfirm what I understood to be pedagogically and theoretically sound, even when (and perhaps especially when) my assumptions were Tag Heuer Carrera Replica disputed at the schools in which I taught, in the professional readings I undertook, or at the educational conferences I attended.
And so I began to view environmental or structured process teaching to be, rather than an absolute "best practice," an approach that I'd learned from the master and had learned to believe in through successful applications and extensions. Meanwhile, many people with whom I taught had been socialized into accepting other sets of premises. One of the schools in which I taught was described by many as "traditional," with a number of my colleagues practicing form-oriented teaching according to a presentational process. My colleagues were skillful with this method, the students (from an array of social classes) performed well on standardized tests, and roughly 80% of graduates went on to some form of higher education, and so the faculty sensibly concluded that their teaching methods were effective. My department chair even told me that innovationsâ€”in the case that prompted this conversation, the possibility of developing a writing lab in the 1980sâ€”were for other districts that needed some sort of gimmick to stand out. But not for us: We were the aspirant institution toward which they strived. What's more, my colleagues were rewarded for their form- and content-oriented instruction in this setting with glowing annual evaluations of their teaching and with job security, including tenure and sabbaticals. If they had been taught through presentations of model essays during their student days and had been successful in high school and college, and now taught through presentations of model essays and were evaluated as successful teachers, who was I to tell them otherwise?
At another school I taught in, I was again somewhat of an oddball, this time against a different orthodoxy. The English department had been through a series of workshops conducted by a prominent exponent of a general writing process approach, one that stressed free writing, writing in journals, having students select their own topics and forms, and in general setting their own learning goals and pursuing them at their paceâ€”the individualized approach advocated by Atwell and others. The department chair himself had been a graduate student under the Tag Heuer Replica Watches mentorship of this workshop leader and valued greatly her opinion, perspective, and beliefs about writing, all of which she had published in prominent books and journals. The local culture of this department, then, supported this approach to teaching and rewarded it with positive annual evaluations. And the students, largely from affluent backgrounds, thrived, or at least produced more interesting writing and won more writing awards than they had before the consultant's intervention with the faculty.
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