madeline-hunters-bookThe whole purpose for this site is so that my teachers and I can share in our profession. So, I’ll get right down to it. Research continues to support Madeline Hunter’s theories and practices. In this section, I wish to review and discuss each chapter of the updated edition by Robin Hunter. Madeline Hunter’s Mastery Teaching: Increasing Instructional Effectiveness in Elementary and Secondary Schools.

The great thing about this professional book is that it is formatted for staff or campuses to have a book study. I highly recommend utilizing the study guide to use for either group or individual study. This blog is not meant to substitute the entire practice of a book study but to either pose questions or trigger interest, and to supply my teachers with an area for professional discussion. Therefore, I highly recommend reading the chapter first, process and then read the blog. Then recommend a discussion strand.

The first chapter Decisions in Teaching, eloquently identifies what we as teachers do on a daily basis and that is, to make decisions. How do our decisions impact a student’s learning when we as teachers decide what and how concepts, processes, and ideas are taught? There is no doubt that this is a critical part of our job as teachers.

Hunter categorizes all teaching decisions into three categories. In short, deciding on the content, the student behavior (and I’m not talking about the discipline kind) and the teacher behavior of what to do next as a result of the first two decisions made. (Hunter, 4).

One of the most critical decisions is deciding on what to teach. This is the first decision that teachers need to make. My a-ha moment came after reading this chapter. The route and decisions that the district decided to move towards. It’s nothing new, but the learning curve for our teachers, the unconscious decisions that our teachers were making has been a grueling ordeal for buy-in to change. Change management is a whole other topic. However, lets get back to the basics of our decisions. The first being the what and that is what we have been trying to do as a team at all the campuses I’ve been assigned for the first semester.

I’m hoping this will reiterate the importance of all our work in the first semester. To continue with the understanding is to realize that there are dependent and independent sequences. Some information or skills can be learned out of order, while other skills or content need a prerequisite to continue learning. After many, many, years of teaching we take things for granted. Could you imagine thinking about the simple fact whether something should be taught in order or not in order while planning? It could save so much time and we wouldn’t bore our students with unnecessary or time wasting activities! In all honesty, this is where understanding the state standards is critical in nature.

Teachers, think about this. Know your students and what skills and prior knowledge they come with. This way, when you plan, you can move students along further or bridge the gaps in an effective manner by maximizing the state standards.

The next part of completing this content decision is to think of the acquisition method. Hunter points out blankly “don’t waste time by introducing it.” When making decisions about the what to teach if a concept is loosely related or not dependent on acquiring the new skill or content then as she says “don’t waste time in introducing it.” I can go on and on about how teachers teach material because they have a great activity or because they believe the students need to learn it first from them before they can move on.

Another point is “bird walks” that may “distract attention” (Hunter, 6). If going on a tangent will assist in acquiring the new information then go for it. I was notorious for this. However, I’d decide during my lesson should I or should I not? And usually, the decision had to be made in a split second. I’ll admit it. I always went for it. At times I did it to keep the students engaged and created a moment for them to learn something about me as a person. I was able to easily bring our attention back , but it spoke volumes when done correctly and more importantly, if it was an analogy or a metaphor for the concept being taught. If not, get the learner or yourself back on track.  All in all, “be prepared, but be flexible and disciplining yourself imposes rigidity and it adds the professional rigor that leads to successful learning.”(Hunter, 6).

The second type of decision is in regards to the student’s learning behavior. The “student’s how of learning.” Hunter in this section discusses the input and output modalities. In simple terms, this is how a student will acquire the information and the end result that confirms the student has learned it in a “perceivable manner.”

The critical points I’d like to make about this section is that we are discussing the learning outcomes and conveying that message to our students. We are talking about the IF’s in our decisions.  If we want the student to learn…., If we want students to develop…, If a student needs….then…. we must think of the HOW. So, taking the first decision of the what, “What is it that we want the student to learn? Then the second decision is to identify the appropriate behavior, outcome that is appropriate to both content and learner.”(Hunter, 7).

What affects the behavior are learning styles or the modality of the input. Many students use a specific modality because they prefer it. The learned behavior is acquired more easily because of the modality being more auditory or tactile etc. You and I know that most of our students are now visual and tactile learners because of modern technology and gaming units. Think about our youth of today. They have mastered those forms of modality as a result of using them daily and nightly. Hunter emphasizes being aware of multiple forms because “there is not one best way to learn.” ( Hunter, 7).

The output is the proof of learning. There is  measurable data that proves the acquisition and this can also be the number of students that acquired the information. The best way to define the input and output of modalities is by understanding the importance of an Instructional Objective. The two critical parts of an Instructional Objective deal with the first two decisions we as teachers must make. The content and the student learning behavior. The objective identifies what the learner will learn clearly.

Hunter points out that “this type of teaching (objective-based) is much more reliable and predictable in terms of student achievement of those standards than an activity based curriculum. What a student learns the day before builds to more complex learning. The learning seems more dependent on sequence while an activity-based curriculum doesn’t need a sequence. The assessment and or the connections are not measurable and students are left with possibly learning and making the connections. Wouldn’t you want to absolutely know whether your students have learned the intended content or skill for that day?

As a small reminder this is the route the district I’m working at has decided to move towards. It is very hard to convince high school teachers to think skill and process over material content. Think more along the lines of teaching skills to read Shakespeare then spending time on one favorite play. Can you imagine developing interest in reading all of Shakespeare’s plays instead of drill and killing one play. Once again, the difference of activity-based to an objective based curriculum. Therefore, understanding the state standards is critical to moving to assessing our students learning in the “reliable and predictable” route. This way they can read and write about anything that is set before them.

The third and final decision a teacher makes is their own behavior. What to do after the student learns and or doesn’t learn? What will you do next to increase the learning? What will you do next to become a more conscious teacher? When we become more conscious with our understanding, planning and decisions that we make daily we “will become increasingly effective as a teacher.” (Hunter, 10).  We will become a Master Teacher.

Hunter, Robin. Madeline Hunter’s Mastery Teaching: Increasing Instructional Effectiveness in Elementary and Secondary Schools. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, 2004. Print. Original edition 1982.

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