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Patterned Rationality and the Art of Teaching

Data-driven rubrics divide teaching up into discrete tasks and categories, such as the Danielson and Marzano models summarized earlier. But this overly neat view of teaching objectives is the antithesis of how effective teaching works.

Sergiovanni and Starratt (2007) noted a phenomenon called "patterned rationality." Teachers do not think of their practice as working in a realm of goals and objectives but value patterns. Reading teachers want students

Teacher Evaluation Theory

I Measurement

1 Evaluation 1

Standard Criteria

Fluid Criteria

Fixed

Adaptable

Definite

Open-Ended

Attempts Objectivity

Admittedly Subjective

Assessed Against a Tool

Tools Used to Inform Judgements and Decisions

All Situations. All the Time

Considers Context

Figure 2.1 Teacher evaluation theory

to learn the letters and their sounds and sentence structure (reading fundamentals), while at the same time they want them to be able to synthesize information and make meaning of the text. The act of teaching reading requires a healthy balance of the two.

Sometimes these objectives are in competition with one another based on the developmental needs of the student; one objective may even be more emphasized one day and not the next in order to help the student grow academically. This is particularly true in early grades, when student academic growth patterns can fluctuate very quickly. It becomes very difficult for the teacher to think about reading growth in narrow terms. Good teachers find rational patterns and move about their days with the students like a masterful artist. In literature this is referred to as patterned rationality.

Since teachers are concerned with outcomes that produce a sensible pattern (common sense for a teacher), it is difficult to ask them to think specifically in terms of this outcome or that, or even several outcomes discretely. I think the same is true for the high-school algebra teacher. By creating narrow, standardized teacher evaluation documents we are hindering the teacher's ability to influence student learning and growth, because they view the education of the student in a holistic sense, as a process of making connections and growing along the way.

As Sergiovanni and Starratt explained, teaching is a profession in which teachers find rationalistic patterns. The teacher evaluation documents in use do not reflect the realities of the practice. The documents are rational and based on "research," but—given a different context or goal and considered outside of rationalistic patterns—they become a source of immense frustration and hindrance to teachers and principals. They reduce teaching to a set of predictable modes and methods in an unpredictable environment that requires sound judgement, nuance and adaptability.

These standardized documents provide checklists calling for uniform usage that may not be appropriate for the given lesson, unit, student or circumstance. The documents assume that teaching needs to be monitored and assessed to ensure that the instruction received by the students is reliable and predictable. In fact, teaching is an art that requires the practitioner to adapt, implement and change based on what is happening and has happened in the classroom.

 
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