Good teachers are described as knowledgable, enthusiastic, expressive, and entertaining. They have the ability to transmit information as well as help students acquire information, skills, and attitudes on their own. It is done in such a way that the student enjoys the learning process. Carl Rubin (1985), in his book Artistry in Teaching, describes successful teachers as having developed their own "style" of teaching. It is this artistic style, or manner, that seems to separate the great teachers from the average ones. If these dramatic skills are such an important characteristic in great teachers, it stands to reason that schools of education would focus on these skills in their teacher education programs. Such is not the case. Education programs and professional journals continue to focus almost exclusively on teaching as content knowledge and as a science of pedagogy.
In Acting Lessons for Teachers: Using Performance Skills in the Classroom, Robert Tauber and Cathy Sargent Mester argue that teachers should not simply try to be enthusiastic. They should learn the skills of an actor to become enthusiastic.
More than once we have overheard a teacher, with a scowling face, proclaim in class with some vehemence: "I'm paid to educate you, not entertain you." The fact these instructors fail to realize is that if they expect to educate their students, they must, in some form or another, first attract and hold their attention-just as an actor must do. (p. 21)
Acting Lessons for Teachers does what teacher education programs and research do not do: it describes the specific techniques actors use to communicate enthusiastically and effectively with an audience. By implementing these techniques, teachers can become more enthusiastic and hopefully improve student achievement. They likely will enjoy their jobs more, for they will receive positive feedback from the students in their classroom.
It is important to note that Tauber and Mester do not suggest that artistry is more important than content knowledge or pedagogical knowledge. Content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and artistry are all tools of the teaching profession. Effective teachers draw upon all of these tools in an attempt to increase student achievement. By learning and incorporating a few of the tricks of the actor's trade, teachers can learn to be more enthusiastic, as they involve their students in the learning process.
Acting Lessons for Teachers describes the tools actors depend on to communicate with their audience. Each chapter addresses a specific tool of the actor. Continuous analogies are made between the teacher, on stage in the classroom for the student audience, and the actor. Included in these tools are: body animation, voice animation, staging, humor, role-playing, props, and suspense or surprise. Specific methodologies of the actor are described, as well as suggestions and cautions for classroom implementation. Suggestions are easily implemented in the classroom.
Two elements of Acting Lessons for Teachers are especially delightful and useful. In each chapter, students describe the methods of teachers they remember as enthusiastic. For example, a student describes a teacher who used voice animation to bring history to life:
When he was explaining a particular era in American History, he would use vocal expression that conveyed the sentiment most prevalent in that time-for instance, a happy carefree expression for the 1920s and a sad voice for the 1930s. (p. 50)
The authors also included short essays written by award-winning teachers describing their own uses of dramatic skills in the classroom. At the end of each chapter, the reader is directed to the essays and paragraphs that best demonstrate the skills described.
Acting Lessons for Teachers is a useful tool for teachers searching for ideas to make their teaching more enthusiastic. Beginning teachers will find this book especially useful as they struggle to develop a classroom presence. Experienced teachers will find ideas to reinvigorate their teaching. It should be required reading for all individuals aspiring to be great teachers.
University of Oklahoma
Engaging All Learners in
the Diverse Classroom
By the Teachers' Curriculum Institute:
Bert Bower, Jim Lobdell and Lee Swenson. Menlo Park, CA:Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1994. 180pp. $29.94.
"Experiential Exercises" to teach the civil rights movement, "Interactive Slide Lectures" on trench warfare and "Visual Metaphor Projects" as a form of assessment are mapped out in a step-by-step fashion. An emphasis on student writing in response to primary source documents is a frequently used strategy which reflects the authors' emphasis on critical thinking. Curricular examples are drawn equally from American history and world history.
This manual has been developed to complement the curriculum packages created by the authors using the theoretical framework provided by the work of Bloom, Cohen and Gardner. Currently, three complete packages with lesson plans, student handouts and audiovisual materials are available directly from the Teachers' Curriculum Institute: Middle School World History Program, Middle School U.S. History Program and HighSchool 20th Century U.S. HistoryProgram. These programs can be purchased as complete packages for $2000 each or as separate units for between $250 and $350 each. While the examples in History Alive! are drawn from those programs, the handbook works equally well on its own in stimulating teachers to adapt these methods to their own curricular materials. Now in its second printing, the book has proved equally popular with instructors in social studies methods courses at the college level and with teachers in the schools.
While the subtitle of History Alive!-Engaging All Learners in the Diverse Classroom-may suggest to some teachers that this instructional approach is intended primarily for the ethnically diverse school, the strategies outlined here are ones which will benefit all students. To consider this work only under the rubric of multiculturalism and diversity would be to shortchange its application. What has passed as teaching in the social studies classroom has too often been a monotonous reliance on the lecture and discussion method, with only shallow understanding of the variety of ways in which people learn and a concomitant ignorance of the range of effective strategies for promoting learning in all students. This book represents a welcome departure from that stale tradition.
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York, New York
Teaching and Learning in History
Gaea Leinhardt, Isabel L. Beck and Catherine Stainton, eds.
Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Publishing, 1994
$59.95 (list); $29.95 (individuals who prepay)
The editors of the volume under review claim that the field of teaching and learning history is "emerging as an exciting new field of inquiry" (p. ix). I believe they are right, at least in the North American context. But how can it be that teaching and learning in one of the core subjects of school curricula is only now attracting the serious and systematic attention of educators?
Until recently, much educational research has steered away from specific subject areas, addressing itself more globally to generic issues of teaching and learning. Moreover, the subject areas that were addressed in earlier examinations of subject-specific learning-math and physics in particular-were well-structured, as opposed to the interpretive, rhetorical and ill-structured domain of history. Finally, North American educators who have written on issues of history curriculum have, again until recently, looked at history largely as part of the school subject of social studies. Thus, while the British debated a curriculum movement called "the new history" in the early 1970s, the North American analogue was "the new social studies." In this setting, the discipline-specific characteristics of history remained relatively obscure.
For a variety of reasons the educational research agenda is now changing. Teaching and Learning inHistory represents a welcome sampling of some of the new work, an intersection of historiography, cognitive psychology, curriculum theory, and reading research. In most cases, the chapters are summaries of ongoing research programs which should continue to bear fruit in the next few years. The volume may thus serve to introduce a number of important lines of interdisciplinary research to new audiences.
Four of the seven chapters directly address problems of reading historical texts. As Leinhardt reasons, "History is a discipline based on reading, writing, and discussing texts" (p. 212). The historical texts under study range from elementary school textbooks to the primary source documents used by historians to construct their historical interpretations, to popular historical fiction. And a plethora of concerns arise when the authors ask what students understand, don't understand, and might be taught to understand from reading these texts. What makes all of this interesting, important and complicated is the notion that historical text is not so much a vehicle for the transmission of information, but an instrument for the reader's construction of cognitive representations.
Samuel Wineburg's chapter, drawn from his research with historians' reading of a variety of historical texts, provides the most lucid exploration of the various dimensions of this notion. Margaret McKeown and Isabel Beck offer a down-to-earth summary of their research on fifth-grade history textbooks and students' understanding of them, with important lessons for the writers of textbooks and the teachers who assign them. Similarly useful, albeit for teachers of older students, is Stuart Greene's analysis of college history writing assignments. Less successful as a summary of an extensive research program is the contribution of Britt, Rouet, Georgi and Perfetti. Those unfamiliar with psychologists' models of narrative analysis will find this chapter arcane. The difficulty may lie simply in how much of their work the authors tried to fit into one chapter.
Three other chapters round out the volume. Ola Hallden discusses the problems in the Swedish history curriculum in terms that will make many North American educators weep, as the level at which his secondary school students are working is so far beyond our own. Ronald Evans outlines the ideological implications of different approaches to teaching history, based on an idiosyncratic typology of historians. And in her concluding chapter, Gaea Leinhardt provides not only a summary of her own research program, but a glimpse into the conceptualization behind this important collection. While Teaching and Learning in History is not a teaching handbook, it provides an excellent introduction to this "exciting new field of inquiry."
University of British Columbia