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This is a guest post by Jeff Frank, author of Teaching in the Now: John Dewey on the Educational Present.

This commentary offers insights from John Dewey about how to approach the start of the school year so that students are prepared to do the type of work we hope they will do in the future. The meaning of preparation is central to Dewey’s philosophy of education, and this commentary aims to make his thinking available to teaching and teachers.


 

John Dewey hoped anyone concerned with education would regularly ask what appears to be a simple question. What is the meaning of preparation?

The question appears simple, because we are often told, as students, that we are doing something in order to be prepared for something in the future. Why do we learn addition? So we can do multiplication in the future. Why do we learn multiplication? So we are prepared for upper-level math.

At almost every stage of education, when a student asks why they are learning something, they are told that they are learning that thing so that they are prepared to do some other thing in the future.

In some ways, this way of justifying education makes sense. It is hard to do an advanced skill without the requisite background knowledge, understanding and skill. And yet, Dewey wants us to wonder if there are better ways to think about preparation. He wants us to think about the hidden costs of justifying a student’s present learning in terms of future gain.

One way of seeing Dewey’s point is to think about how teaching works when we are adults. To take a simple example, when we want a friend to like something that we care about, we generally don’t tell them they have to do a lot of preparation work to get there. If we want them to enjoy hiking—for example—we find the easiest hike with the biggest payoff. If we want them to enjoy cooking, we find a recipe they can cook and that will surprise them by its deliciousness.

Dewey wonders if school can approximate this way of teaching, at least some of the time.

As a college professor and former high school English teacher, I work hard to find readings that are immediately interesting to students and that are challenging enough to allow them to do more difficult reading in the future. Instead of seeing the beginning of the semester as merely preparatory for a later point in the semester or a course further along in their college study, I believe—with Dewey—that the best way to prepare a student to do good work in the future is to let them begin doing that work now, in whatever form they can.

This is most certainly not to say that everything a student does in class needs to be fun or easy. Rather, Dewey wants us to be honest, asking ourselves the hard question: Is my classroom, in this very moment, actually preparing my students for more effective and engaged work in the future?

Here is another way of looking at the problem. If a student is so disengaged by their experience learning a subject that they want nothing to do with it again in the future, can we actually claim that they were being prepared in that classroom? Even if a student was successful in terms of getting a good grade in the class, if they aren’t interested in learning more about the subject in the future, can we say that they’ve received a good preparation?

It is easy to dismiss Dewey’s vision of teaching as asking too much of schools and teachers, but before dismissing his thinking on the educational present out of hand, I just want us to think about small changes we can make to invite our students into our subject. If our students were adults who we didn’t have the power of grades and discipline over, how would we teach our subject? If we really want each of our students to keep engaged with our subject into the future, how would we teach?

These are the types of questions Dewey would have us ask, and these are questions that are worth asking again at the start of this school year.

Before the rush of the school year begins, we might take the time to think about the students we see leaving the classroom at the end of the year. What are they passionate about, and what are they empowered to do?

With this vision in mind, think about how to get them there. If Dewey is right, we don’t have engaged confident learners leaving our classrooms if they’ve never experienced engaging learning experiences that give them confidence. And he would encourage us to think about how we can create this type of present for students, from the first day.

Too often the first days of school feel like re-learning what it means to wait until something interesting may happen. We should work to break this habit of waiting and introduce something interesting early. Make the first days an invitation to do meaningful work in the present instead of sending the message that meaningful work must always wait.

“Make the first days an invitation to do meaningful work in the present instead of sending the message that meaningful work must always wait.”

We went into teaching to share our passionate interest in learning with students, and we shouldn’t wait to do this work. Give yourself permission to live in the fullness of the present with your students from the start of the school year, trusting Dewey’s insight that this is also an effective and engaging way to prepare students to live more fully in the future.

School leaders and policymakers are invited to do the same type of thinking. Much of the work that is justified in the name of preparation does not prepare students for a future of deeper engagement with the material they are learning in schools. At the start of the school year, we can do more to create an educational present that prepares students for good work in the future because they are doing good work now.


 

Jeff Frank is an Associate Professor at St. Lawrence University and author of the book Teaching in the Now: John Dewey on the Educational Present. His work has appeared in the Teachers College Record, Educational Researcher, and several philosophy of education journals.

You can get 30% off Teaching in the Now by entering the discount code PURDUE30 when you order from our website.

 

In preparation for his forthcoming title Teaching in the Now: John Dewey on the Educational Present, we briefly talked to author Jeff Frank about the book, what motivated him to write it, and the reason for advocating for John Dewey’s work in the modern educational landscape.

 


 

Q: Could you briefly explain your book, for those who are not familiar?

Jeff Frank: I wrote this book out of appreciation for John Dewey’s thinking on how to create a meaningful educational present for students. Too often, we treat the present as mere preparation to do something rewarding or interesting in the future. When we do this, we lose student interest and engagement. Dewey argues that the best preparation for a meaningful future is learning to live meaningfully in the present.

 

Q: What prompted you to write Teaching in the Now, and what do you hope to accomplish with the book?

Frank: I wrote this book for two main reasons. First, I worry that we don’t do enough to value the present moment. Schooling can be tremendously interesting, but it loses its interest when we defer meaningful work to the future. Second, I wrote this book for students new to Dewey’s work in the hopes of showing them why they should take him seriously. Though his work may initially appear difficult, I wrote this book in the hopes that it might make it easier to stick with Dewey.

Jeff Frank

 

Q: What is it that motivates you to advocate for Dewey’s work in such a purposeful way?

Frank: A major motivation for this project is a sense of hope. John Dewey believed that each one of us harbor deep potential, and he also believed that activating that potential was one way to ensure the future of a strong democracy in the United States. My belief, one I share with Dewey, is that we need to do everything we can to make each moment in the classroom as engaging and rewarding as possible for students. Doing this is not only good for students, it is also good for our democracy. By helping students realize their potential in the present moment, we are helping to bring about a better future. My book is meant to aid teachers as they create these types of experiences for their students.

 

Q: You mention some treating the present as “mere preparation to do something rewarding or interesting in the future”. How do you feel this mentality come about? How have you seen it manifest?

Frank: In many ways, this is the key point. Dewey believes in the importance of thinking about how we acquire habits and what these habits make possible or foreclose. When it comes to “mere preparation,” Dewey might think about the habit many of us get into where we think things like: Once I have X job I will be happy, or Once I have X amount of money I will be happy, or Once I have tenure, or my own classroom I will begin doing the things I truly want to do. For Dewey, we should begin living the life we aspire to, as much as possible, in the present moment. For a teacher, this means trying to create the most engaging environment for students we can, in the present moment, not deferring until ideal conditions are met.

This brings up a related point. Someone may wonder: But aren’t there just some things we just have to learn? To this, I have two responses. First, I coached three sports in addition to teaching high school English, and there are indeed things one must learn before doing more advanced work. For example, if you don’t know how to spin correctly in the discus circle, there is no way to throw as effectively as possible. But there are ways to make the learning how to spin more or less engaging. The same holds true in the classroom Robert Frost, an excellent teacher himself, noted that explaining a joke doesn’t make it funny. The same is true with a poem. Spending time explaining why a poem is interesting in preparation for helping a student enjoy a poem is often counterproductive. A teacher should look for poems that are appropriately challenging and that they think students will actually find interesting, thereby giving students the most meaningful experience of learning in the present.

My second point is this. When we are learning how to do things outside of a school setting, how do we learn best? How do we prepare to cook or ski or develop a passion for music or movies? While some people may spend hours reading about skiing or testing skis out off of the slopes, more often than not we try things out. This experimenting allows us to see what we need to learn in order to improve, and this leads us to develop a passion for figuring things out so that we can make progress.  Or to ask another question, when you want to share your passion with a friend, how do you do it? Do you make them do a lot of preparatory work, or do you try to use your pedagogical creativity so that the first experience your friend has with what you are passionate about makes them want to learn more and engage more deeply with that passion? Dewey would argue that we can approach teaching this way, seeing the goal of teaching as creating the type of present that makes students want to learn more. Far from leaving students unprepared, these are the experiences that instill habits of thinking and acting that make students more able to engage more deeply with their learning in the future.

 

Q: How would you explain the importance of your book, and your field as a whole, to a lay audience?

Frank: This book is important because it helps teachers and future teachers think about how to create an engaging and educative present for their students. It also makes Dewey’s work more accessible. Anyone who teaches Dewey’s Experience and Education or anyone reading Dewey’s educational philosophy for the first time will—I hope—find something of interest in my book.

 


 

Get 30% off your own copy of Teaching in the Now by ordering it from our website with the discount code PURDUE30.

Purdue Libraries Associate Professor Ilana Stonebraker was inducted into the Purdue University Teaching Academy in 2018.

Purdue Libraries Associate Professor Ilana Stonebraker was inducted into the Purdue University Teaching Academy in 2018. Photo courtesy of Donna Ferullo.

On Monday, the Purdue University Teaching Academy inducted Purdue University Libraries Associate Professor Ilana Stonebraker as a new Teaching Academy Fellow.

Last spring, the Purdue University Teaching Academy selected and announced 12 inductees for 2018.

Faculty members are selected in recognition of their outstanding and scholarly teaching in graduate, undergraduate, or engagement programs. Candidates were identified by their individual departments or colleges/schools based on evidence of excellence in teaching, innovation in teaching methodology, teaching-related service, and scholarship in teaching and learning.

The Teaching Academy’s mission is to enhance and strengthen the quality of teaching and learning at Purdue University.

More information about the 2018 inductees is available at www.purdue.edu/newsroom/purduetoday/releases/2018/Q2/purdue-university-teaching-academy-announces-2018-inductees.html.

In June 2018, Stonebraker was one of 10 individuals selected by the Tippy Connect Young Professionals (TCYP) in the organization’s 2018 TCYP Top 10 Young Professionals Under 40 Award program. This past summer she was also recognized by the ALA Library Instruction Roundtable as an author of one of the Top Twenty Library Instruction Articles of 2017.

In a society named for the ubiquity of information, it is essential that everyone knows how to use information to continually learn in order to be successful in their professional, personal, and civic lives.” — Clarence Maybee, Assistant Professor of Library Science, Information Literacy Specialist, Purdue University LibrariesClarence Maybee, Information Literacy Specialist at Purdue Libraries

Information literacy is Clarence Maybee’s “thing” at Purdue University Libraries. He is, after all, the Purdue Libraries’ information literacy specialist.

So, it was with much excitement that he recently accepted a faculty position with the Association of College and Research Library’s (ACRL) Information Literacy Immersion Program. The week-long teacher development program is designed for academic librarians who want to enhance their teaching or programming skills related to information literacy. Maybee, who applied for the position in the ACRL’s recent national search for Immersion Program faculty, interviewed for the job at the American Library Association‘s annual Midwinter Meeting in January. He readily accepted the offer last month.

“As a faculty member in the Immersion Program, I will help craft the Immersion curriculum, work with the other Immersion faculty to facilitate the program, and mentor participating librarians in their teaching and programming roles on their campuses,” he explained.

In the Immersion Program, Maybee joins nationally recognized faculty, from college and research libraries around the nation, who lead the program, which provides instruction librarians the opportunity to work intensively for several days on all aspects of information literacy.

Below, Clarence shared a bit more information about his new opportunity with the ACRL and how his work in the Immersion Program will help serve the students and faculty at Purdue University.

Q. Tell me a little bit about your background, e.g., your work in libraries, as a librarian, a faculty member, as well as specifically what interested you in information literacy.

Clarence: I became a librarian in 2005 after completing my MLIS at San Jose State University (SJSU). Under the mentorship of Dr. Mary Somerville, then assistant dean of the library at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), I completed a master’s thesis in which I studied undergraduates’ experiences of information literacy. The research made me aware of how essential it is to understand the experiences of the learners for whom we are designing instruction. I began my career in librarianship in the role of Information Literacy Librarian at Mills College, and I served in a similar role at Colgate University before coming to Purdue.

Based on my research, which reveals that learners use information in more sophisticated ways when learning about course content, I focus my work at Purdue on integrating information literacy into Purdue courses. With colleagues from the Center for Instructional Excellence (CIE) and Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), I manage the Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation program (IMPACT), which aims to make undergraduate courses more student-centered. In 2015, I received a PhD from Queensland University of Technology (QUT). My dissertation thesis, “Informed learning in the undergraduate classroom: The role of information experiences in shaping outcomes,” received QUT’s Outstanding Thesis Award for its contribution to the discipline and excellence demonstrated in doctoral research practice.

Q. How do you think taking part in the Immersion program will help you in your position as an information literacy specialist at Purdue Libraries? How do you think it will help students and faculty at Purdue?

Clarence: Great new ideas come from diverse minds sharing and discussing the possibilities. The Immersion Program Faculty is comprised of nationally known information literacy experts. A cornerstone of the Immersion Program is bringing together academic librarian participants from across the U.S. and beyond. No doubt, the learning experiences generated by this group will give me insights and new perspectives to bring back with me to my work at Purdue.

Q. Tell me something that people may be surprised to learn about you…

Clarence: I used to be a poet in San Francisco.

Q. What do you know about yourself and/or your work now that you wish you would have known when you first started your career?

Clarence: Understanding learning theory better has really advanced my own teaching, as well as helped me in my work with librarians and other instructors.


Read more about information literacy at Purdue University Libraries at www.lib.purdue.edu/infolit, and learn more about the ACRL Immersion Program at www.ala.org/acrl/immersion.