Multiliteracies and why weak students become teachers

A tweet from @rgesthuizen pointed me to this article which argues that only weak students are ending up as teachers because education programs lack intellect. This is of interest to me for two reasons. First, I’m currently enrolled in an education program and I’m not sure my experiences match 100% what is claimed in the article (perhaps an interesting US/Australian difference). Second, because the fatal indicator of a lack of intellect within education programs seems to be in direct opposition to the positions I’ve seen in my first week of study.

The basic argument is that less intellectual able students are flocking to education programs because they are easy. The suggested solution to bring intellectually strong students back to education is

If we want to reverse that trend, we’ll have to make teacher-preparation programs challenging enough to lure these students back in.

Okay, so what’s the evidence, the indicator, that education programs are intellectually weak?

The author draws on the outcomes of the Academically Adrift book/project to report

just 45 percent of students in education and social work reported taking a course in the previous semester requiring more than 20 pages of writing, while 61 percent took a class with more than 40 pages of reading per week. By comparison, 68 percent of social science and humanities students took a class with 20 pages of writing, and 88 percent had a class with 40 pages of weekly reading.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that students in education and social work reported studying less, too: 10.6 hours per week, as opposed to 12.4 hours in the social sciences and the humanities. The hardest workers are science and math majors, who study 14.7 hours a week.

The first week of the Literacy and Numeracy course I’m taking has argued heavily for the concept multiliteracies. About how the changes in the world have increased the variety of literacies behind traditional writing/reading/rithmetic. I find it somewhat ironic that we have an education faculty member espousing the need for education students to return to more writing/reading as the solution. Not that it doesn’t surprise me that there is disagreement within the ranks of education academics.

But then there’s the really interesting argument

Nor should we be surprised that education students show significantly lower gains than these other groups during their undergraduate careers on the College Learning Assessment (CLA), an essay-only test measuring complex reasoning and written expression. As ed schools should be the first to acknowledge, the only way to cultivate these higher-order skills is to practice them. And our students appear to do that less than most other undergraduates.

Hang on, the measure of students complex reasoning is an essay? Isn’t there just a chance here that the measure is determining what is classed as intellectual. Yes, if you are assessing via essay, then writing more essays (especially if they take the same format as the test) will probably give better results. But I am not sure that better results on that test are indicative of better complex reasoning. I’m also pretty sure that it doesn’t say anything about students capabilities to engage in different literacies.

That said, my feel is that most of the four courses I’m studying have suggestions that I should have read at least 40 pages during the first week. The thing is that I haven’t really completed all the readings, though I’m guessing I’ve completed more than many of the students. Is this because I’m a poor student? Perhaps, but it’s also down to other reasons including:

  • Some of the readings are repetitive, poorly written and repeating material that I already am familiar with.
  • Some of the readings repeat discussions in class.
  • The design of the courses means that it is not always obvious what I should/shouldn’t read.
  • It’s just not the reading that has to be done, it’s the reflection and activities based on those readings and the combination is taking much longer than what is expected.
  • And to repeat, simply doing a lot of reading is not really developing my complex reasoning.

Perhaps education students are spending less time on their study, because the courses are better designed at keeping them on task? Perhaps the test is not measuring intellectual capability?

One thought on “Multiliteracies and why weak students become teachers

  1. What follows is a summary of the article I posted in another forum. I hope it shows my very limited acceptance of the article’s argument.

    Why are weak students doing education? Because education programs are easy.

    Why are they easy? Because they require students to read and write less than other programs.

    How do we know they are weak students and reading/writing less is bad? Because their performance on a essay only test is worse than other courses where they read and write more.

    How do we improve the rigor of education programs? Give them more reading and writing to do.

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