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On what do we center instruction?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
In the energy leaks thread, there's an underlying debate about whether the instructor who is student-centered or or the instructor who is subject-centered does his/her students the greatest service. What do you think?

The student-centered approach is familiar to PSIA-trained instructors. It follows Benjamin Bloom's Mastery Teaching equation:

Student Characteristics + Quality of Instruction = Learning Outcomes

Student Characteristics are his/her prerequsite learning and her/his motivation to learn. Quality of Instruction concerns the learning tasks chosen by the teacher. Learning Outcomes are the level and type of achievement and the rate of learning (how quickly the student learns).

The subject-centered approach is described by Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach (1998). An example of subject-centered learning would be the Technique & Instruction forum here at EpicSki, where skiing is the subject we gather around and all try to learn about, without having a resident teacher who knows all the answers and doles out learning tasks to us. Another example would be the development of the Linux operating system by a far-flung cohort of developers, all working on the Code and presenting their contributions for the group to adopt or reject for inclusion. Student-centered instruction requires that there be a resident expert to do the teaching and make the decisions about what to learn today. Subject-centered instruction is where "knowing and teaching and learning look less like General Motors and more like a town meeting, less like a bureaucracy and more like bedlam." (Palmer)

In student-centered instruction, students have a relationship with the teacher, and the teacher is the center of attention; in subject-centered instruction, students have a relationship with the subject, and the subject is the center of attention--"sharing observations and interpretations, correcting and complementing each other, torn by conflict in this moment and joined by consensus in the next."

Visually, student-centered instruction can be represented by a line that flows from the teacher to the students. The teacher is at the top of the hierarchy. Subject-centered instruction can be represented by a circle with the subject at the center, and the teacher sitting in the circle along with the students, where anyone with an insight or observation might play the role of teacher, and knowledge about the subject is advanced interactively, and through the conflict of different people's ideas about it. Truth about the subject is not static and objective, having been arrived at before the student came on the scene, but is "tested" dynamically and consensually in a community of learners who are there to stretch each other's understanding and make better sense of the subject.
post #2 of 22
Nolo.

I could imagine that the concept of applying a subject-centered approach to a ski lesson might carry with it a progressive, new age, touchy-feely, fuzzy warm image. But in practice I see it see it wasting a lot of the time reinventing the wheel. If the instructor is knowledgeable and the student is not, then discard the mutual discovery session, where only one party will make a significant number of discoveries, and get right to educating the student.
post #3 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks for your input, SnowDog. I tend to agree with you. Motor skills learning seems to require a resident expert to deliver and describe a model of performance for students to emulate. However, there's a group at Vail who are using the subject-centered approach and claiming they have achieved vast success over the PSIA approach. But they take learning as their subject, with skiing being merely the particular field of play. (As I understand it...)
post #4 of 22
Nolo, you're confusing me.

Are you saying that the learning that goes on here is superficial? That there are certain members here (Ott, Bob, YOU, et al) who are not resident experts? That we are wasting our time here?

I must consider this!
post #5 of 22

not superficial...

...just inherently limited by the form.
post #6 of 22
Nolo, I have a couple reactions to that.

*Interesting. I'd like to learn more details about what they're doing.

*A thought: Any learning/teaching model will only be as successful in application as the expertise of the teachers involved will allow.

*Which generates a question: On what scale is success being measured, and against what group are those measurements being compared.

Not necessarily soliciting answers from you Nolo. Just sharing the thoughts that immediately came to mind.
post #7 of 22
Nolo, I think most students come to us expecting that we will help them, thatwe will tell them what we see tell them what we think they need, and the proceed to skills and technique that wil help them improve. But I like to think that I can sometimes move from one to the other. sometimes it's good to let the students drive the lesson with me keeping it honest and honoring the fundamentals. Palmer discusses this at length in his book, which I read every fall before ski season. Does it always have to be one or the other? Can't we at times feed our students and at other times allow our students to feed themselves with a little oversite and direction? Can't we follow our students all around the circle so to speak. It seems you are saying that student centered is really just teacher centered, which confuses me somewhat.

Later, Ric B.
post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
The key to which mode of instruction is happening at the time appears to be the relationship that is being developed: is it the student-teacher relationship or the student-subject relationship? As Core Concepts repeats again and again: ski teaching is about building relationships. Which do you think yields the greatest potential for individual advancement? Or, as Ric suggests, should we expect good instructors to move between the two?

SnowDog, As I understand it, the hypothesis of the experiment at Vail is that a person who knows how to learn (that is, how "I" learn) has a leg up on those who don't, whatever subject he chooses to learn. The students in this program learn about themselves as learners (in the context of skiing), and this they can transfer to all areas of their lives.
post #9 of 22
nolo, in the olden days, when we didn't have a teacher, we used to call it brain storming. Just a bunch of skiing friends roming around the Bavarian alps trying new things and the originator would show it to us and we'd all try it and either accept it or reject it.

I still remember when we had an inch of breakable crust over a foot of snow on the ground and either one or the other ski would break through and make turning impossible, one of the group came up with a double poled initiation and equally weighted skis that allowed us to ski that ice. What made the poles stay over the crust was that our baskets were about eight inches in diameter.

On the other hand though I think that group judgement on the merit of and idea put forth is not the best, a resident expert or someone with vast experience is more suited to lead a group in the right direction in a subject-centered learning environment, voting by the group is a decision by committee, and you know how lame those are.

On the other hand things like new school skiing, half pipe and other acrobatics were not learned by one expert developing it and teaching it to everyone but from experimenting by an individual or group.

....Ott
post #10 of 22
Thinking about this more it would seem that real learning requires a move to a subject centered relationship. Let me see if I can explain this and make sense.

First as you said Nolo we have a sport reqiring motor skills. This does require that we introduce new movement with guided practice directed by the teacher. Really at this point, because they in new terrority, the student looks to the teacher for judgment. Am I doing this right, what can I do better. At some point in this process, it would seem that the student needs to start judging for themselves more and develope more of a relationship with the subject. To take ownership seems to require this. The ability to give self feedback and bring movement to the unconsious level seems to require this.

The other scenario is transfering the skill developed through specific practice and tasks above and taking this into varying terrain and conditions. It seems to me here, that this is the process of developing the relationship with the subject itself, the process of skiing for yourself and by yourself. Not being able to make the moves for them, at some point we need to allow and encourage students to judge for themselves by encouraging the relationship to move from the teacher to the subject.

After all, isn't guided exploration/discovery subject centered? Where the teacher's judgment is witheld and the student is guided to to their own judgment and conclusions.

I seems to me that in everyone of us, for true lasting ownership and learning to happen, we need to have the relationship move from the teacher to the subject.

I think Palmer explains in detail that subject centered doesn't equate to a free for all or lesson anarchy, but that it does require deep understanding from teachers, patience and a level of selflessness that makes us uncomfortable some times. Later, Ric B.
post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 
Very nice analysis, Ric. Rare is the instructor who understands that it's not the endurance of the student-teacher relationship that counts in his/her favor, but the endurance of the student-subject relationship.

Ott, exactly: there are pros and cons, and the greatest pro of subject-centered learning is the environment for innovation that it fosters. Conversely (in my opinion) the greatest con of student-centered learning is the assumption that the teacher knows it all (and the sport is fully innovated)...
post #12 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
...just inherently limited by the form.
Agreed, Ryan. There's only so much information about motor skills that can be conveyed by the written word (cognitively). We all need visual and kinesthetic information and--most of all--experiences too, to learn to ski.
post #13 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo
...in subject-centered instruction, students have a relationship with the subject, and the subject is the center of attention--"sharing observations and interpretations, correcting and complementing each other, torn by conflict in this moment and joined by consensus in the next."
Sounds like the type of interaction you get in a ski club. 10 ski club members, all intermediate or advanced intermediates find themselves on the black diamond mogul run. The subject is clear - how to survive these bumps and live to ski another day. Yes, this approach is very sucessful for them because they all know each other and can weigh the pros and cons of all advice filtered through their experiences with the subject and the past experiences with each other.

"Joe", the pushy loudmouth, that everybody knows must be the subject matter expert on everything from morning coffee to the best ski socks can easily be written off with good humor. "Mark", the reluctant public speaker, who's actually doing well in the bumps can be drawn out but someone more extoverted and those skill can be shared.

When you come to the resort to get a lesson, do you really want to plunk down your money to possibly learn more from other students than from the instructor? Why not approach someone on the hill who skis better than you do and offer to buy them a lift ticket? drinks? dinner? for a few pointers? The ski club members are motivated by the camraderie. They're not paying for the benefit of each other's company.

Can you be an expert ski instructor and also be an expert in group dynamics and facilitation? Do you want to? for crappy pay? How will you ensure that the "Marks" get their money's worth when the "Joes" are taking your class in the wrong direction?
post #14 of 22
Thread Starter 
I think Ott has hit on an important distinction:

[/quote]On the other hand things like new school skiing, half pipe and other acrobatics were not learned by one expert developing it and teaching it to everyone but from experimenting by an individual or group.[quote]

I wonder if PSIA has made the distinction too, and has developed a different teaching model for New School instruction?
post #15 of 22
But Nolo, in what Ott's describing the wheel had yet to be invented. Everyone was in the same boat. In alpine skiing the trail has already been blazed. One can follow a cleared route that goes directly to the destination, or they can wander aimlessly through the brush hoping to stumble on it. It just makes no sence to search for that which has already been discovered. Just buy a map.
post #16 of 22
Thread Starter 
Brklyntrayc,

I think an expert ski instructor is and wants to be an expert in group dynamics and facilitation, yes. Otherwise the person is not at expert at instruction.
post #17 of 22
I think the most potential for the subject centered approach to produce meaningful results would be found in the coming together of those who have already become highly accomplished in the sport. From that type of interaction new ideas couild emerge that could elevate the sport to new levels.
post #18 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo
Brklyntrayc,

I think an expert ski instructor is and wants to be an expert in group dynamics and facilitation, yes. Otherwise the person is not at expert at instruction.
Very much agree. But should that expertise in group dynamics be used to guide the group gently toward their own self discoveries, or to keep them closely herded up as you lead them directly to where they want to go? Self discoveries are very rewarding, but are they worth the sacrifice in time needed to facilitate their occurance? And if guided by the instructor are they really self discoveries?
post #19 of 22
Thread Starter 
I got that, SnowDog. At a skate park or BMX track or halfpipe, I suspect that traditional methods of instruction would not cut it with that crowd. I suspect that wearing the jacket would not command respect, as it does with the ski school crowd. I wonder if a different teaching model is required to conduct lessons in that environment and culture. That's all.
post #20 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by nolo
I got that, SnowDog. At a skate park or BMX track or halfpipe, I suspect that traditional methods of instruction would not cut it with that crowd. I suspect that wearing the jacket would not command respect, as it does with the ski school crowd. I wonder if a different teaching model is required to conduct lessons in that environment and culture. That's all.
My suspicion would be that what would command repect in the park would not be the jacket but the skill of the instructor. Bring in one of the gods of the sport and those kids would sit in awe and follow the guy in what ever direction he led.
post #21 of 22
Thread Starter 
SnowDog, I agree with your comments here.
post #22 of 22
That's the obvious answer SD, but what do you do when there are nowhere near enough Gods to go around? Don't we at some point have to address training and learning issues in a way that will give us tools to reach all our students and give direction at the same time allowing ownership?
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