Golf, Procedural Knowledge, and Ed Reform
I’m learning to play golf. My goal is to be able to enjoy an afternoon on the course with my husband and occasionally par a hole or two.
As I proceed along my learning curve with this endeavor, I have thought a lot about the steps involved in learning a new process. I recall explaining it to students in three stages: (1)naming the process and being able to articulate a rudimentary approximation of it; (2)practicing, revising, and making it one’s own; (3)reaching the point of what Art Costa and Bena Kallick call “automaticity” where the procedural knowledge comes naturally and is more internalized. They describe a four step developmental continuum: novice, apprentice, practitioner, and expert.
I suspect many accomplished golfers would argue that golf is a process where one may linger at step two for years, and this may be true of many types of procedural knowledge. Certainly new techniques in medicine require this of surgeons, and emerging technologies in many fields make step two a place to revisit and spend time. I plan staff development being mindful that if I am asking a group of educators to try a new instructional strategy, it is helpful to recognize the stages along that learning continuum. I use the analogy of learning to drive a manual transmission, with the intermediary stage---jerking and stalling around a parking lot---being a normal part of the process. I ask adult learners to reflect upon the stages of procedural knowledge and to pay attention to the ways they tweak what they do during that middle phase and to articulate how long the middle phase may last for certain types of learning.
Think of all the procedural learning that occurs in a school environment. Students approach the combination of content and skills using various processes; teachers embrace new instructional strategies; administrators engage adults in the work of learning communities. I wonder…how much attention is paid to the stages of the procedures involved? Are students and adults given the tools and time to find a different grip, or stance, or swing? Do they have access to ideas for slightly different ways to approach the process and opportunities to practice and tweak along the way? Are the procedures involved in learning acknowledged as important and often time consuming?
Education reform impacts individuals, classrooms, schools, districts, and society. As a process, the variables among students, educators, parents, resources, and geography render it a complicated one where the apprentice and practitioner stages take time. Just like there is no one way to swing a golf club, there is no enlightened way to reform education. Clearly there are practices in common among effective schools and classrooms, but one school's "recipe for reform" may not work exactly the same way somewhere else; hence, the importance of recognizing the middle stage for what it is...and perhaps what it isn't.
I expect to be in the apprentice/practitioner stage on the golf course for a long time. But school reform is not a hobby, and the sense of urgency that surrounds the future of public education is a real and timely challenge. There may be times when the process feels smooth, and there may be times when it lurches and stalls, but that is inevitable, and I, for one, have confidence that the educators I know have the talent and dedication to identify steps likely to work for their schools, revisit and refine along the way, and recognize that the process is a continuous one. My hope is that School Boards, communities, and relevant organizations offer support for the practitioners engaged in school reform efforts, recognize the importance of refining the process along the way, and avoid demanding strict ways to attain agreed upon goals.