A Little Less Action, A Little More Theory

Posted at John Scammell’s blog

I concur with my fellow fuddy-duddy consultants and researchers. (Though of course I would.)

My general complaint with the “My Favorite” genre of session is that the reason why a lesson is someone’s favorite is often left to the audience’s imagination. The same lesson can be beloved by ten different teachers for ten different reasons, not all of them good. (ie. “It kept them busy so I could read Reddit!”)

I’d like more theory also, but I don’t need someone to stand up and tell us that their lesson is an example of embodied cognition or to cite von Glasersfeld or whatever. What I need to know is where they’re coming from. What they look for in a good lesson. What makes a good lesson good for them. What would make their good lesson bad. That’s the kind of theory I need – a personal, theoretical framework.

Ed research is dry – fine. But that’s no excuse not to have a generalized opinion about what works for students. In a world without theory, every lesson works or doesn’t work independently of every other. There’s no connection between the ones that worked or didn’t. With a theory, we can see connections between the ones that worked. We can create new lessons faster. When a theory ceases to describe all the good stuff we’d like it to describe, we start to create a new theory.

Without theory, in the words of our colleague David Cox, we risk confusing “the accident of engagement with its essence.”

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