Archive for the ‘Learning Theory’ category

Over Achievement: Beyond the Pale

August 15, 2011

Over Achievement: Beyond the Pale

Lawrence P. Creedon

In some quarters it is still in common practice to refer to some of those who have achieved or who can do what needs to be done as “Over Achievers”.  It is a misnomer to use the term in such a context.  Achievement and competence is the capacity to do what needs to be done. If I can do something academically, athletically or in any other endeavor in life I have not over achieved.  Rather, I have demonstrated my competence by my ability to do what needs to be done.

The use of the term Over Achiever harkens back to an earlier period in education when psychologists and psychometrists  taught that everything and anything of substance could be measured and once measured the issue was closed.  A prime example was the developed of the IQ test.  The French psychologist Alfred Binet  [1857-1911] is credited with the development of the first usable intelligence test. The ideas and concepts of Binet were misappropriated when his intelligence concept was embraced in the United States.  Binet believed that intelligence progressed developmentally at variable rates and was influenced b y environmental factors. Therefore, intelligence was not solely based on genetics, and was not fixed.  Intelligence is subject to variability.

Lewis Terman [1877-1957] is recognized as bringing Binet’s work to the United States. However is doing so he misrepresented what Binet had intended.  As a result of Terman’s effort as well as other prevailing societal factors in the United States  the standardized intelligence testing era took hold and remains to this day. Learners are still classified as over and under achievers rather than developmentally and environmentally influenced  learners and doers.

The shoe fits in athletes.  In some quarters it might be fashionable to say that an athlete or a team performed beyond its competence to do so. I reject that notion.  If the individual or the team performed beyond expectations it is not the individual or the team that is over achieving, rather it is a demonstration of individual and collective competence  – the capacity and ability to do what needs to be done. It is “Beyond the Pale “.  It is not only genetics that determines competence but rather the whole milieu. The entire environment, including coaching behavior are influencing factors.  In industry a better term that is employed for this is Impact Management.

PS:  “Beyond the Pale” is an expression frequently associated with Ireland. It refers to the territory beyond the defined and/or enclosed limits of a community. One might say it is outside of the box of predetermined thinking  and  practice that characterizes so much of what happens in school including athletics.   


Lawrence P. Creedon

For Coach Joe Amorasino

May 2010, Pompano Beach Florida


Four Questions as the Foundation of the Process of Education

August 15, 2011

Creedon Monographs Since 2000

Four Questions

 as the Foundation of the

Process of Education


Lawrence P. Creedon

June 2002

When it is all said and done a case can be made that the process of education can be stated in four questions. The four questions are:

  1. What do you as an educator know about how your learners come to know and to what extent do you apply what you know in your practice?

2. Of all the things that your learners can come to know what is it that they need to know now and why?

3.   Having insight into and informed opinion relative to questions one and two how do you organize the teaching learning experience so as to be responsive to what you know?

4.   Once organized, how do you move to implement what you have designed?

The four are questions for all time, places, environments, grade levels and curriculum areas. They are value free. They ask: What are you doing? Why are you doing what you are doing? And, how do you propose to get it done? Reasonable questions by any standard.

The four can serve as the basis for staff and personal professional development. They provide a structure for educators to come together collaboratively and in concert with transformational leadership for the study and application of the elusive quest of a quality education for all.

Question One:

What do you as an educator know about how your learners come to know and to what extent do you apply what you know in your practice?

It has been said that learning about how human beings come to know is among the most reoccurring and complex questions to confront humankind in the area of human behavior. Socrates in dialogue with Meno asserted: I am saying that there is no teaching, only recollection. [ Plato – Meno, GB VOL 7 pp 179 – 180]. Plato held that a condition for recollection to work was that the learner had to have a need to know – the learner had to be in doubt as to the adequacy of what he knew [Plato and his contemporaries were not gender sensitive, thus the reference is masculine].

Other Greek luminaries such as Plato’s pupil Aristotle while agreeing with Plato held that learning how to learn was enriched by experience. As noted by Ulich: Aristotle draws everything from experience…he has always been the model for all empirical philosophers. ... [Ulich, History of Educational Thought, 1950, p.25].

In the western world early Christian religious authorities thought that the ability to learn was intuitive – a gift from God. And, it was for the purpose of understanding God’s message to humankind as articulated through the magisterium of the Church. Learning was not for the purpose of individual or societal development. It was for the purpose of learning the Church directed pathway to salvation in the after-life.

During the pre-scientific era a concern for how learning took place was subliminal to indoctrination in a preferred body of  knowledge. I prefer to use the term information in that in a contemporary sense knowledge implies high order cognitive skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation [Bloom]. In the context of the pre-scientific era critical analysis was not tolerated. Rather, acceptance of the wisdom of those in authority was honored. Non-critical acceptance was politically correct and a life preserving approach.  The absence of a theoretical concern for how learning took place was the theory.

With the enlightenment beginning in 17th century Europe things began to change. The epiphany was characterized by belief in the power of reason and by innovation in political, religious, and educational doctrine. A plethora of original thinkers  emerged including several who had an impact on education. Among them were John Locke [1632 – 1704], Jean Jacques Rousseau  [1712 – 78],  Johann Pestalozzi [1746 – 1827],  and Frederick Froebel [1782- 1852]

Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel each had a  lasting impact of education. For example, many kindergartens remain modeled after a Froebelian approach.

Scholars and theoreticians, among others, moved the development of thought from a philosophical to the psychological focus. A concern for how human beings came to know began to emerge. Much of what is now seminal in the examination of the question of how learning takes place can be traced to contributions made by John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Benjamin Bloom, B.F. Skinner, and Lev Vygotsky

The collective thought of all of these authorities, except for Skinner, can be classified under the label of constructivim. Skinner, the exception, was a behaviorist. He believed that what needed to be known was determined by those in authority – those who were in a position to know. Plato referred to such authorities as philosopher kings and law wardens. Much of what goes on in school today is behaviorist; however, seldom does one identify self as being Skinnerian.

John Dewey taught that learning was an interactive process between the learner and the environment. Learning came about as the result of the simultaneous and mutual interaction of the learner and the environment[(Acronym – SMILE]. He defined environment in broad terms including cultural and sociological forces. Environment was gestalt. Dewey is identified with progressivist education and for decades has been the whipping boy of the critics of progressivism. He is charged with being responsible for many of the ills associated with contemporary education.  In reality little of what he advocated was ever universally applied in schools.

Jean Piaget offered in his genetic epistemology a four phase approach to human development. The phases from infancy to adolescence are sensory-motor stage, pre-operational, concrete operations, and formal operations. Every child follows this pattern but does so at differing rates. Learning to Piaget was an active, not sedentary or isolated process. In theory many of his views are honored among school people today. However, those who would be modern day philosopher kings continue to promote their views on what content needs to known regardless of the student’s readiness to learn or his/her learning needs.

Jerome Bruner contributed the notion of the spiral curriculum noting that learning took place simultaneously and both horizontally and vertically. Today horizontal learning is called weaving and vertical learning is laddering and scaffolding. Also Bruner promoted learning as recursive and thus the spiral curriculum – reaching back in the process of moving forward and upward. The learner proceeds from the known to the unknown in spiral fashion scaffolding, laddering and weaving as the process of coming to know develops.

The image of scaffolding is consistent with that of a scaffold at a building construction site. The scaffold is a temporary support system designed and built to facilitate the construction of the permanent structure – the self.  In both construction and learning scaffolding is vertical, horizontal and integrated. The scaffold is, in this context, three dimensional as is learning  – cognitive, affective and psycho-motor.

Laddering addresses the process of sequencing.  The relationship to education and the process of coming to know is self-evident. Weaving implies being integrated – connecting on to what came before.

Benjamin Bloom, David Krathwohl and their associates contributed to the knowledge base of the learning process through their development of taxonomical structures. Prior to their contribution taxonomies were well established in other areas such as biology. Bloom dealt with cognitive development while Krathwohl focused on affective behavior. Their taxonomies have currency today but are inadequately applied.

There are six categories in Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy: Knowledge [Information],  Comprehension,  Application,  Analysis, Synthesis, and  Evaluation. As indicated earlier I prefer the use of the term information in contrast to knowledge. Information and comprehension are considered low order cognitive skills. Schools frequently deal at this level and always have. While much is said about higher order cognitive skill development [critical thinking] and metacognition application is wanting.

The standardized testing movement has reinforced low order cognitive information acquisition. Yet supporters of the movement assert that students are being taught critical thinking skills. Many classroom teachers say otherwise.  Bloom’s remaining four levels are considered higher order cognitive skills and the last three are associated with critical thinking.

David Krathwohl’s affective taxonomy is patterned after Bloom’s cognitive structure. Bloom and Krathwohl were professional colleagues. They asserted that for every cognitive act there is a corresponding affective response. The two are integrated. Krathwoh’s five categories are:  Receiving, Responding, Valuing, Organization of a Value System, and Characterization by a Value or Value Complex.

Both domains are interrelated [weaving] and for every cognitive development there is an affective response. For example, when information is received and understood by a learner there is a behavioral [affective]  response. The response might be one of acceptance of what has been shared or its rejection. Understanding might be as intended by the sender or not. The receiver may value it, reject it or not adequately understand it. Through the zone of proximal development [Vygotsky] the information will find its place in the value system of the learner and be added to his/her apperceptive mass [Herbart].

Lev Vygotsky is unique in that he did his work under the restrictions of Soviet Communism. He had little contact with world authorities. For the most part he worked in isolation, yet his contribution is consistent with the thesis of others beyond the former Soviet Union..

Among the contributions Vygotsky is known for is his concept of the zone of proximal development [ZPD].  The zone is the mental area between the known and the unknown. It is where intellectual development occurs. He called the difference between what a child can do with help and what he/she can do without help the zone of proximal development.


The whole language approach to reading and writing draws from this notion. The ZPD provides a framework for explaining the five basic tenets of cooperative learning: 1. Positive interdependence, 2. Face-to-face interaction, 3. Individual accountability, 4. Small group and interpersonal interaction, and 5 Group self-evaluation.

Howard Gardner is noted for his theory of human intelligence. Gardner asserts that there are at least seven [and that number is increasing] ways that people have of perceiving and understanding the world. He labels each of these ways as an intelligence.  He defines intelligence as a set of skills allowing individuals to find and resolve real problems they face.

There is nothing revolutionary in Gardner’s list of seven intelligences. Traditionally they have been identified as individual traits, strengths, or Agifts@ from God. What is new is how Gardner has positioned each on an equal footing as alternatives ways of understanding and expressing reality. The seven are: Verbal-linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Visual-spatial, Body-kinesthetic,  Musical-rhythmic,  Intra- personal, and  Interpersonal.

In the past and continuing today, schooling heavily reflects verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. In times of fiscal belt tightening the five remaining intelligences are frequently sacrificed to preserve numbers one and two.

In the decade of the nineties school district professional development activities frequently featured programs on multiple intelligences. Also, the topic was promoted at conferences as cutting edge stuff. However, as is often the case, no systemic effort necessary for seriously considering multiple intelligences ensued and for the most part it has been business as usual and on to the next short term panacea.

Daniel Goleman believes that the true bell curve for a democracy  must measure emotional intelligence. Goleman  asserts that…in navigating our lives, it is our fears and envies, our rages and depressions, our worries and anxieties that steer us day to day. Even the most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly emotions.


The contemporary scene is redundant with examples that Goleman can point to as illustrative of his thesis. Fears, worries and anxieties surround school children and adults. Pre-school youngsters fret over going to school for the first time. Those moving from one grade or level worry.  Fears of violence at school provokes anxiety. And now, added to the list, is the fear, worry and anxiety associated with the threat of terrorist attacks. Goleman says that as much emphasis in school should be put on a concern for emotional intelligence as cognitive and academic matters.

Emotional intelligence encompasses five characteristics and abilities:  Self-awareness,. Mood management, Self-motivation,  Empathy, and  Managing relationships. As with Gardner’s thesis, Goleman’s categories are not revolutionary; however, and again as with Gardner, they have not been highly influential in school.

Skinner was the most prominent of the behaviorists. In the 1960s and 1970s it was fashionable to be Skinnerian. Main frame computer guided instruction was the innovation of the period. Learning programs were tied to a main frame.

Personal computers were still off in the future. Also, other electronic devices for keeping learning on a stimulus response or contingencies of reinforcement track were in vogue.

Skinner did not believe in free will. He believed that the philosopher kings [Plato’s law Wardens] determined what it was that needed to be taught and how it ought to be taught. There was limited concern for individual differences and learning styles other than an adjustment for learning rate or speed. Individual mental activity was minimized. The acquisition of a new behavior came about as the result of designing the learning experience to be consistent with universal laws of behavior. Classroom management techniques that feature reward and punishment are basically behaviorist.

In analyzing and synthesizing the contributions made by the authorities cited above it should be obvious that except for behaviorism they are highly compatible. They capture the best in current research based thinking relative to how children come to know. Unfortunately the reality is that what goes on behind the classroom door frequently does not reflect what the research and the scholars say it ought to be.

Each authority referred to here, except  Skinner, is in some  manner constructivist.  None that I am aware of called self a constructivist, and constructivism as an approach is not identified with any one individual as is Skinner with behaviorism. Rather, constructivism is a school of thought. It is the synthesis and application of the views of many scholars.

Constructivists hold in common the belief that learning begins in doubt[(William James]. The purpose of learning is the eradication of ignorance [Jacques Barzun]. Learners discover their own knowledge.  Knowledge is not transmitted to learners from the outside and teachers are outsiders. Learners collect information internally [Alvin Toffler, Power Shift, 1990, p. 158]  and then cooperatively and collaboratively with other learners analyze the information, synthesize it with what has come before and continues to be viable now, apply it in the real world, and assess its value authentically. Learning is a process of discovery and people learn by doing[(Dewey].

Learning is a search for meaning and it starts with the identification of issues of concern to learners. Learning is neither eclectic nor random. Individuals construct their own meaning rather than engage in memorizing right answers to externally imposed questions  and regurgitating low order cognitive responses.

Learning is assessed authentically and where possible by activities where the learner can apply what he/she has learned. Appraisal  by rubrics is one form of authentic assessment. The standardized testing movement is at odds with a constructivist approach.

There is but one credential that sets educators apart from all others who function on behalf of learners in school. It is not content mastery as many others outside the school know more about any content area than do teachers. It is not skills in organization development and management because once again experts in these functions abound elsewhere.

The one credential that ought to set educators apart from all others is that teachers as practitioners of their art and science ought to be experts in the process of discovering how learning takes place – how young people come to know. In a word association or term and definition matching exercise, the prompt teacher ought to elicit a response that says: a person who is expert in studying how human beings come to know and applies what he/she knows in every day practice.

Question Two:

Of all the things that your learners can come to know what is it that they need to know now and why? 

Knowledge is not synonymous with content, subject matter or information. Content can be outlined in a course syllabus and is often stated in the form of performance objectives and learning outcomes. The standardized testing movement is an example. It is often associated with the lowest levels of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy – Knowledge and Comprehension.

Bloom’s use of the term knowledge is, in my opinion, misleading. Information is a preferred term. The concept of knowledge is not limited to information and comprehension. It implies the whole of Bloom and Krathwoh’s taxonomical structures.

However, information is the signature product of schools. It is what schools deal in. It is what is tested in true-false, multiple choice, teacher made tests, as well as in most forms of standardized and government mandated test instruments. For the most part these instruments deal in recall and comprehension. Seldom called for are the higher order critical thinking cognitive skills of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

Admittedly, exposing learners to content and information is critically important and to imply otherwise would be ludicrous. The question is: What knowledge [beyond information], to whom and why?

The ancient Greeks laid the foundation for what continues to be honored as the liberal arts – the content and information/knowledge base of schooling. With the founding of the university during the medieval period  [700 – 1500 AD] the trivium [grammar. logic and rhetoric] and the quadrivium [geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, and music] came to be identified as the liberal arts. The seven constituted the reservoir of all that a learned person needed to know.

Vocational education followed its own path of development from apprentice learning, to industrial arts for boys and homemaking for girls; then, to trade schools for boys and to the present day co-educational vocational-technical schools.

Originally vocational education served the needs of an agrarian society. It was a place for the less academically inclined. Neither of these purposes prevail today.

If there is one factor that looms above all other considerations in curriculum it is tradition. A hallmark of curriculum is stability. Changes in curriculum come about slowly. And, frequently changes that are made are not primarily done so in response to what learners need to know. Curriculum changes are frequently other directe [Riesman, The Lonely Crowded] rather than student centered inner directed.

For example, in the April 1998 issue of  Educational Leadership reported on 12 of the most widely implemented education programs for at-risk students.  The researchers divided models of reform into two categories:  Comprehensive and  Curricular. The comprehensive reform projects focused on school governance and organization. The curricular reform programs emphasized content in one or more academic disciplines. In the curricular reform programs the report stated that the programs usually fit into conventional schools with minimal change. [This approach is consistent with the additive and integrative models of curricular development considered below].

The report gave no indication that a constructivist approach was featured in any one of the 12, or that any program was student centered. Seven of the 12 indicated that student-directed learning was included as an instructional strategy. However, governance, organization and content were the dominant concerns.

Four Approaches to Curriculum Development

Traditionally there have been four approaches to curriculum development:  Compliance,  Additive,  Integrative, and  Systemic. Of the four only systemic is designed to focus directly on the learner and what he/she needs to know now.

What follows is a brief summary of each of the four.


The prime example of other-directed in curriculum development is compliance. Since the 1970s the back-to-the-basics movement has gained momentum and now just about every state in the union has legislated standards. In several states learners are required to pass state mandated tests in order to be promoted to the next grade and increasingly to graduate from high school with a diploma.

Traditionally public education in the United States has been controlled at the local level. However the back to basics and standards movement is not being controlled at the local level but rather through state and federal legislation and mandates. It is one of compliance with the mandates of authorities external to the local level. It is controversial with many educators and professional education organizations registering opposition. The program has the support of conservative politicians and elected officials.

The states and the federal government have moved ahead aggressively in the area of mandates and compliance. To critics the involvement of government in such an approach is seen as government=s entry into the domain of curriculum determination (not development) through the back door. While government has not stipulated what will be taught, it has determined and mandated what will be tested and how it will be tested. What government thinks learners need to know is included on the test. Therefore the obvious conclusion is that many teachers are teaching-to-the-test.

While the up-front legal authority to determine curriculum has remained with local jurisdictions, in reality school districts have had their authority usurped by state and federal mandates and regulations.

The tail wagging the dog is state and federal mandates. Government has told local districts they are free to include in their curricula what they feel is important as long as students can meet (comply) the standards in the mandated tests.

For those districts where students fail to meet the standards severe penalties are threatened including loss of government accreditation, state take over of failing schools and/or school districts, and loss of financial aid.

The compliance approach is not limited to the United States. An extreme student reaction to compliance and high -risk testing came in Germany in April 2002. A student expelled for failing the high school graduation requirement reacted by going on a rampage killing 13 teachers, two fellow students and himself.

Compliance curriculum honors the past, resists the present, and evades the future. Initiatives that allegedly are future oriented are not necessarily characterized by open inquiry and a serious focus on what ought to be. Rather, the focus is on adding on to what already is. It is akin to driving a car forward while looking out the rear view mirror.


The most frequent form of curriculum development is additive. Here development begins by honoring what is and then adding to it.

Seldom does curriculum deletion or cleansing precede development. Seldom is a conscious effort made to delete from what is in favor of what ought to be.

A common way of curriculum cleaning is simply to stop doing something rather than a conscious effort as the result of unbiased, non-selective research findings to stop a particular strategy, method, or technique. The approach in use simply falls into disuse. Gradually what was once common instructional practice or, more frequently, promoted as an innovation, is no longer in vogue.

A good example of this is the current and continuing Reading Wars. The issue is: Should reading by taught using a traditional phonics approach, by whole language, or a combination of the two? At present phonics has the upper hand and is the approach being mandated by federal legislation. While local districts are free to choose alternative methods, federal aid will not be forthcoming to the district if phonics is not the approach.

Again, critics are voicing objections. The Phi Delta Kappan (June 2002) in an editorial reacted strongly to the position being taken by the federal government through  the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The editorial asserted that NICHD has Aplaced all their reading-development eggs in one basket – systematic phonics instruction.@

The editorial alleges that NICHD=s Aresearch agenda (was) narrowly constrained.@ It asserted that the research design was developed and programmed to suit pre-determined outcomes and to placate Congress, the agency’s source of funding. The editorial concluded that Athose who market their partisan preferences under the guise of informing public deliberation sully the research enterprise and violate the public trust.@

In this example the Bush Administration is pressing for its approach to the teaching of reading and is using the bully pulpit of the purse to have its way. While not requiring school districts to abandon whole language in favor of phonics it is asserting: NO phonics no money. Without the additional federal funding  approaches to the teaching of reading other than phonics will fall into disuse. The reason will not be the weight of non-biased, non-selective research, but rather the actions of  pocketbook sensitive education decision makers at the local level.

In the area of content the same scenario prevails. As new topics are added seldom is there a conscious effort to delete something from what is. To find time within the program to add on the new something falls into disuse.


An integrative approach to curriculum development is content and not learner centered. Integration can take two forms: parallel and interrelated. It can also be structured horizontally or vertically.

A parallel approach is when two separate courses are offered and while each might be considering the same topic or issue there is no cross connecting – no weaving. For example, in this actual scenario an honors history class was studying the French revolution. At the same time an honors music appreciation class involving the same students was studying the musical Les Miserables which is based on the French revolution.

While in history class the students became involved in role playing re-enacting certain events related to the revolution. In music class these same students dramatized a scene from the musical and sang some of the more memorable songs. Furthermore, they went to a performance of the musical, traveling 250 miles by bus to New York City for the event.

In parallel integration both classes operated independent of the other. The only integration was that in both courses the same topic was being considered at the same time. This actual example is a very limited interpretation of integration.

Interrelated integrated curriculum is where the program of studies for a cohort of students is thematic across disciplines.. Through joint planning the faculty agrees on a theme. A focus discipline is identified. Thematic outcomes are stipulated at the outset. Cross discipline planning and appraisal goes on. The several disciplines support and enrich each other.

The approach is content centered. It is not learner centered and students are seldom involved in determining what content ought to be studied and what instructional methods and techniques ought to be utilized.

Horizontal integration is essentially the same as interrelated integration. Weaving is an example.

Vertical integration is when the same, or related, topic is considered recursively over a period of time. It can continue  for a period of time when a common theme is being studied as well as last for one or more academic terms or school years. An effort is made to present content in a consciously sequential manner. Long term learning outcomes are projected.

A conceptually based mathematics program is a good example with its laddering of skills and concepts.


Systemic is the only one of the four approaches to curriculum development where by design the approach might be learner centered. Whether or not it is student centered depends upon the structure of the design. Here the components of a student centered systemic design will be briefly identified. The components are:

1.    Purpose

2.    Rationale for the topic and long term behavioral projections or outcomes

3.    Curriculum: Content and view as to what is knowledge

4.    Instruction: Strategies, methods and techniques

5.    Learning Theory: How individuals come to know

6.    Constructivist Approach: Discovery learning and student centered activities

7.    Authentic Assessment

8.    Total Quality Management

Purpose: Here the purpose, goals, and mission of the learning organization are stipulated. In a systemic approach a conscious and continuing effort is made to turn the words of purpose into action.

Rationale and Behavioral Projections: Addressed here are the issues of why and to what end is a particular content or issue being considered? Question two of the four questions being considered in this piece is the focal point of this component: Of all the things that learners can come to know what is it that they need to know now and why? Rationale relates to why? What it is that needs to be known relates to behavioral projections (long term outcomes). The focus is on the needs of the learner.

Curriculum: Again the query posed in question two comes to the fore. Required here is an understanding of what is knowledge?  Is it simply information? Is it conceptually, vocationally or experientially based? Does it have an essence? Is it inherited from the past? Is it existential? Is it determined by philosopher kings and those in authority? Is it discovered by each individual? Does it come about as the result of the simultaneous and mutual interaction of the learner and the environment?

My experience has led me to conclude that for the most part teachers are too busy teaching to raise serious questions about what is knowledge. Such an observation is by no means of recent vintage. The lament has been aired for decades such as in the once popular book  Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Postman and Weingartner, 1969).

Instruction: Curriculum has to do with content. Instruction relates to process. It is the process used by educators to work with learners on what it is that needs to be known. The most common approach to instruction is the teacher centered, whole class (all eyes and ears focus on the instructor), lecture approach. One type of presentation fits all. Less frequently are alternatives to the lecture method undertaken.

The process of instruction ought to focus on how individuals come to know. How is what needs to be known presented so that learners can grasp it, understand it, relate it to what is already known, apply it, and analyze, synthesize and assess it? How is  what needs to be known divided into usable segments? How are segments or units expressed? Once again the focus is on the learner and not on a teacher preferred instructional method or technique.

Learning Theory: This deals with question one: What do you as an educator know about how your learners come to know and to what extent do you apply what you know to your practice?

Contrary to two extremes of conventional wisdom learning is neither a random  or eclectic process where any efficient procedure will do. Nor is it so individualized as to make it ineffective. The contributions of learning theorists alluded to earlier in this piece apply here.

A Constructivist Approach – Student Centered Learning Activities: Here the learner is viewed as being active and interactive, rather than passive and an isolate. Learning activities ought to be developed as much as possible consistent with a constructivist approach.

Authentic Assessment: Effort is made to move assessment beyond low order cognitive test exercises in information and comprehension to higher order cognitive skill development. A wide array of authentic assessment procedures ought to be utilized. They ought to include those procedures that address multiple intelligences as promoted by Gardner. Rubrics are applicable.

Total Quality Management: TQM is a systemic approach to organization and management. It has many of the same characteristics as a systemic approach to curriculum development. In fact it is a broader concept. In reality a systemic approach to curriculum development is a component within TQM. In the 1990s TQM was the innovation of the moment and while it continues to have merit it has followed the path of many innovations in education and its star has faded. Gurus associated with TQM include W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran and Philip Crosby.

In conclusion,  a systemic approach to curriculum development is holistic. It recognizes that all components of the system are interrelated (integrated). A modification  in one component effects the whole. As a result tinkering with what is by adding to it or by attempts at integration will not suffix. Frequently such approaches set the stage for more compliance mandates. Systemic goes beyond compliance, additive and integrative approaches. It characterizes what ought to be.

Question Three:

Having insight into and informed opinion relative to questions one and two how do you organize the teaching learning experience so as to be responsive to what you know? 

A basic assumption about organizing and organizations is that to get anything done worth doing the doers must be organized.

In teacher talk organization means classroom management and classroom management goes well beyond student behavior and discipline. In fact classroom management or organization is a major factor in directing student behavior in a positive direction and thus minimizing discipline concerns.

Also, classroom teachers can move only so far in organizational development before running into organizational requirements and limitations of the school. In some schools certain approaches to school or classroom organization simply are not practiced or the facility itself is so designed as to make alternative approaches to what is difficult. Some teachers may have an aversion to working with other associates preferring to do their thing alone in their classroom.

An organization is a social unit with a purpose. Clearly, classrooms and schools are social units. What is not so obvious is what is the purpose in practice? What is the reality beyond the words citing well known platitudes about the concern for individual differences, etc?

Instinctively since the beginning of recorded time human beings have formed organizations to get done what needs to be done. Human beings share this instinct with animal and plant life.

In defining the purpose of organizations Abraham Maslow=s Hierarchy of Needs theory offers insight. Maslow=s theory includes five categories beginning with the satisfaction of biological and psychological needs, then to security needs, followed by social needs, ego needs, and culminating with self-actualization fulfillment. In organizations the individual needs of members reflect Maslow=s hierarchy.

Our increasingly complex and interrelated world is redundant with the need for organization. Many of the examples of this are so complex that they defy human understanding from many among us. The motivation for many can be related to  Maslow. In just the most recent century consider these – each a quest for national security.

1.            United States preparation for and implementation of its World War Two organization for the purpose of winning the war.

2.           United States creation of an organization for the purpose of allowing it to develop and use atomic weapons and thus usher the world into the need for new organizations.

3. United States involvement in the formation of a new international organization for the purpose of bringing about international understanding and peace – the United Nations.

4. United States involvement in the formation and implementation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for the purpose of forming an organization dedicated to stemming the tide of Soviet communism.

5.            United States leadership in the development of scientific organizations for the purpose of space exploration that led to landing human beings on the moon.

6.            Current United States initiatives to organize an international coalition for the purpose of ridding the world of terrorist attacks and to protect our homeland.

During the same time period other institutions  have examined their purposes and have recreated themselves in response to developments in their respective fields, current trends and needs, and future expectations.  Two examples at near opposite ends of the continuum are health care and commerce. How we care for our health and how we shop.

Through it all schools organized in a pre industrial revolution time period remain essentially the way they have been. People attending school in the nineteenth century could return today and identify with the way the school is organized.

Granted social mores, standards of behavior, dress, sanitation, technology and a host of other things have changed, but organizational structure is essentially the same.

Tinkering around the fringes of what is and short lived experimenting with alternative organizational patterns characterize initiatives in school based organizational development. Essentially there has been

little purpose directed organization development. Rather, what changes have taken place have been in response to a host of other reasons.  Included are these ten:

1.    Court mandates for racial and other forms of integration

2.    Alternating patterns of student population growth and retrenchment

3.    Cultural influences

4.    Security needs

5.    Legislative mandates as to what will be taught and how it will be taught

6.    School design by architects

7.    School plant age and condition

8.    Teacher availability and competence

9.    Employee unions and conditions of employment

10.  Financial woes

No where in the preceding ten is there reference to organizational structure.  No where is the focus on what is known about how learners learn. Seldom has the school been organized around questions one and two under consideration in this monograph. Where that has been the case the undertaking has been short lived.

Frequently alternatives have been dead on arrival as existing forces and influences organize to resist and reject change. Not infrequently the conditions under which the alternative is initiated are such that failure is built in from the outset. When that is the case it is not uncommon for critics to assert: AWe tried that before and it failed.@

Another frequent strategy for keeping things as they are is to ask the question: AWhere is the research that supports the validity of this alternative approach?@ Certainly such a question is appropriate. However, equally as appropriate is the question: AWhere is the research that supports continuing to do what is going on now?@

If what is was so successful what is the basis for the decades old lament over failing schools? If schools are failing maybe the way they are organized is part of the problem.

Learning Community as a Metaphor for School Organization

The way schools are organized today essentially is the way they have been organized for more than a century. The organizational structure is seldom that of a learning community (Senge 1990). It is seldom adequately responsive to the purpose and mission of public education. And to that extent it is more of an organization than a learning community. The emphases is on administering and managing  the enterprise with a focus on doing so effectively and efficiently.

Among other things, effective and efficient management translates into the school  being a grade based organization where grade is tied primarily to chronological age. It also means organizing around time with subjects being presented in units of time called periods. A third management concern is that of cost. In public education quality has always been sought and bought on the cheap.

When a school publishes a mission statement seldom is it proclaimed  that its purpose is to administer and manage the enterprise effectively and efficiently.  Rather it is stated that the purpose is something more akin to assisting learners in becoming self fulfilling individuals, good citizens in a democratic society, and competent workers in a world that is maximally effective for all.

All too frequently those ideals are compromised when they are filtered through the organizational structure of grades, the effective and efficient use of time, and tax dollars.

Schools are organized by levels and levels essentially are based on the chronological age of students. The well known levels are: pre-school and kindergarten, primary, intermediate, middle school, and high school.

It is at the pre-school and kindergarten level where the  most conscious effort is made to make the leaning environment responsive to the needs of learners. Among others such as Erik Erickson, the views of Froebel, Montessori and Piaget continue to be honored in this regard.

Frequently once the child moves on to grade one there is a dramatic shift. The  environment for learning shifts from one that was nurturing with learning being cooperative and interactive,  to one that is characterized by students working alone.  The content focus is skill development. Teachers function in isolation from one another, with each carrying on alone in his /her classroom.

Middle school is an organizational structure of recent vintage. It has replaced the junior high school that was first introduced in the 1930s. In turn,  the junior high was in response to a shift from the grade 1-8 grammar school and the four year high school to the K-6 elementary school, the 7-9 junior high school, and the 10-12 high school.

Among the purposes of the junior high school was to introduce students to the more demanding academic rigors of the high school.

As students move along in the system less and less attention is placed on how learning takes place. The emphases is on effectiveness and efficiency in the organization, cost and content. Concern for learning styles and multiple intelligences remains mostly rhetoric. There are many reasons for this and one is that in an organization controlled by specific units of time there is little opportunity to do more than watch the clock.

From the intermediate grade level on teacher directed whole class instruction is the   most common method of presentation.

Instruction is dispensed on a daily basis in short time segments usually of 45 to 50 minutes duration. The time period is so short that there is limited opportunity for instructional methods and techniques other than whole class teacher directed. The higher the grade level the more this is so.

While teacher directed whole class instruction prevails there are alternatives methods. Among them are teaching  groups and teams, thematic, student centered, and emersion.

Teaching Groups: Here two or more teachers from different disciplines join together cooperatively  and work with a common cohort of students. Cooperation means that while each teacher functions independently they share with colleagues what it is that they are doing, how each intends to proceed, and how achievement will be assessed.

Teaching Teams: Teams and groups are not the same. In a group teachers maintain independence while cooperating with others. In a team approach  they function collaboratively and  interactively on issues or tasks determined in common.

Collaborative planning means establishing common instructional objectives so that the content presented in one discipline is reinforced and offered in parallel with that presented by teachers  of other disciplines from within the team. It means collaborating on instructional methods to be utilized so that those used by one teacher are consciously supported by other members  of the team. Also it allows for deliberately using  contrasting methods. Team members collaborate on authentic assessment procedures.

Other disciplines function in support of that discipline for the duration of that particular theme. Themes change as a result of team collaborative planning. For example, at one time the theme may come from mathematics, another time from the social sciences, etc. The collaborative approach includes the tactics of weaving, scaffolding and laddering. Collaboration extends to authentic assessment.

Student Centered: In a student centered approach all of the characteristics of collaboration are germane. However, in constructivist fashion students participate under teacher direction and monitoring in determining the content or themes that are considered. The chief characteristic of constructivism is the belief that each learner discovers knowledge for self. Knowledge is not something infused into the learner from the outside. It comes from a felt need of the learner to come to know. It is related to the Zone of Proximal Development as proposed by Vygotsky. In coming to know the steps of the scientific method are followed.

Emersion: An emersion approach requires a major paradigm shift in the way schools are organized. Emersion is not only thematic, but close to exclusive. Once the theme as been determined a block of time from a whole school day to several consecutive days is set aside and the entire focus is on the identified theme. The other disciplines would function in support of the designated emersion  theme.

Examples of emersion are when students participate in a specific purpose field trip for one or more days.  It is common for such trips to include nature camps of several days duration. Other examples are  trips to visit places of historical significance or where government is in action. A trip to Washington, DC would be an example.

Alternative Group Techniques

As the spiral climbs from teacher directed whole class instruction to emersion, the existing organizational structure of schools in increasingly challenged. Certainly the effective and efficient use of time as reflected in the cells-and-bells approach to school organization will not fit. And, in many instances, the school architecturally designed in box fashion without much in the way of instructional space of alternative sizes will not accommodate approaches other than what is. And even that is often woefully inadequate.

In addition to organizational alternatives, there is a plethora of techniques for involving students more actively and collaboratively in their own learning. Beyond the student being passive and inactive as in the teacher directed whole class method other techniques include:

1. Pair or peer group

2. Small groups/teams

3. Application learning

4. Role playing

Pair or Peer: Two students work together cooperatively and/or collaboratively on a task.

Small Group/Team: The characteristics cited earlier for groups and teams apply.

Application: Learn by doing

Role Playing: Given an issue, students role play as to how to address and resolve it.

In each of these techniques for active and interactive leaning the conditions are there for a constructivist approach. Also, the cognitive taxonomy of Bloom applies. Students are involved in making decisions about their own leaning. They gain experience in working together cooperatively and collaboratively. And, they hold themselves accountable. For all of this, structure is needed. A constructivist approach including Bloom=s cognitive taxonomy can provide the vehicle for the needed structure.

Question Four:

Once organized, how do you move to implement what you have designed?

AAction,@ AWhere=s the Beef?@ and ALet=s go@ are phrases associated with implementation. AAction@ conjures up images of the motion picture industry and film making. “Where’s the Beef?”  was a presidential campaign slogan when former Vice President Walter Mondale ran for president.  “Let’s go!” were the words General Dwight Eisenhower spoke in issuing the command to begin the Allied invasion of Nazi controlled Europe during World War Two. In each, the message is the same: Implement. Planning at the quality, strategic and tactical levels has been completed

Implementation is what goes on behind the classroom door. A criticism often leveled at teachers is that, regardless of proposed changes, whether they be research based or not, the bottom line is business as usual. Failure in implementation is the graveyard of many promising innovations and attempts at restructuring.

Questions 1 – 3 in this monograph address some of the root causes for failure while Question 4 calls for action. Its message of Question 4 is “Let’s go!” Appropriate response to Question 4 is predicated on the scholarly, academic, competent and comprehensive understanding of what is being asked in Questions 1- 3. Implementation is application.

Prerequisites for implementation include personal attitude, motivation and commitment. Combined the three result in behavior. Much has been said and written on these three traits. The contribution of David Krathwhol will be cited in this regard. The components of Krathwho’s affective taxonomy are cited earlier in this monograph.

When the taxonomies of Bloom and Krathwhol are juxtaposed, they look like this:

Bloom’s Cognitive Domain                                    Krathwhol’s Affective Domain

Knowledge             Receiving

Comprehension            Responding

Application            Valuing

Analysis                        Organization

Syntheses            Value Complex


For the purposes of this monograph, attitude and motivation will be considered together. The question can be asked: Does your attitude determine your motivation or is it the other way around? And, in practical application, does it make a difference?

If your attitude is positive, will you be motivated in a positive direction? If you lack motivation, will that inadequacy be visible in your attitude and be detrimental toward your students?

Neither attitude nor motivation stand alone, free of both internal and external influences. It is commonplace in schools for teachers to lament over the poor attitude or lack of motivation of students, colleagues and those in authority.  However, it is not the purpose of this monograph to consider them.

The point to be made here is more earthy. It assumes that people share common perceptions of what it means to have a good attitude and to be positively motivated.

A person’s attitude and degree of motivation begins with feelings and perceptions of self.  It is an existentialist-based reflective process and exercise. In the process of reflecting on who you are professionally and who you ought to be, the four questions raised in this monograph are appropriate for all environments and seasons. In addition , the questions listed below have currency:

1.         Professionally, who are you?

2.  How did you get to be who you are?

3.         How do you regard your profession?

4.         Is it a profession and why?

5.         What do you believe is your role and responsibility as an educator?

6.         What are your personal and professional goals?

7.         Can they be met under your present circumstances? How?

Your response to these questions will assist you in framing your attitudes toward your profession and your place in it. Your responses will lead to action, to locating the beef, and to declare for self: Let=s go. The restructuring of >what is= will assist you in finding your own pathway and implement in your practice >what out to be.=

Another factor that will influence your attitude and motivation toward your profession has to do with your views relative to school governance, leadership, and management.  Sergiovani and Starratt (1993) cite five sources of authority. They are: Bureaucratic, Personal,  Technical-Rational, Professional, and  Moral.

The extent to which the learning community where you practice is governed, led, and managed by one of these approaches to authority will influence your attitude and motivation.

Willingness to take risks will also be a factor in influencing your attitudes and motivation the professional climate where you practice an environment where risk taking is honored  when the results of research would warrant it?

Commitment: Commitment grows out of and reflects attitude and motivation.  It is based on your views relative to all the questions that have come before. It is framed by your personal assumptions, beliefs and axioms related to the purpose of education and your role in assisting your learners in coming to know.  It is reasonable to assume that every practitioner can articulate and support through a process of defensive partiality [Brameld] personal assumptions, beliefs and axioms concerning education.  To do otherwise is to be at play in little games.

Enough for Now: Martin Luther, the monk, who is associated with the restructuring of religion in the medieval ages was a risk taker. He challenged the existing source of authority. As a result he was summoned to Rome to answer charges of heresy. In closing his defense, he allegedly uttered a statement that has come down through history. Allegedly he stated: Here upon I stand I can do no other.

There are two troubling things with that statement. First, contemporary church historians say he never said it, that it is historical fiction. Second, if he did make such a statement he was closing the door to further inquiry, which he did not do. Educators should never hold a point of view that asserts: Here upon I stand I can do not other. Such a tenet is foreign to intellectual inquiry.

A far better attitude for educators is taken from a Piet Hein witticism:

The road to wisdom is plain and simple to express

To err and err and err again

But less and less and less.

Ipse dixit!

Lawrence P. Creedon


Foundations and Pathways

in the Pursuit of the “Best and Wisest Education.”

John Dewey observed: What the best and wisest parents want for their children that the community must want for all its children. Any other idea…destroys our democracy. By implication it seems reasonable to assume that Dewey would agree, as is being asserted here, that educational practice not based in theory was reckless. And, theory not influencing practice is worthless. What constitutes the best and the wisest education must rest on a clear, logical, consistent and defensible foundation. However, it is not enough to raise questions and espouse theories as to what constitutes and best and the wisest. Pathways are needed for indicating the route of pursuit. In what follows are several questions, assumptions, and axioms, as well as theoretical and practical procedures that have guided my pursuit of excellence in education.

Many of my beliefs cited here date back to my tenure as Superintendent of Schools, Quincy, MA, 1969-84. The first superintendent of schools in Quincy was Civil War veteran Colonel Francis W. Parker. In the last quarter of the 19th century under Colonel Parker’s leadership, the Quincy schools were noted nationally as the birthplace of progressive education in the United States. Parker’s contribution came to be referred to as The Quincy Method. He defined the method as: Nothing more than the more humane treatment of little folks. Colonel Parker was on target then and his definition continues to fit today. Certainly it is what the best and wisest parents want for their children.

I stand in the tradition of Colonel Parker, John Dewey and a host of others that are linked to the constructivist approach to learning. My views that are shared here are reflect  a onstructivist point of view.

Philosophical Questions at the Root of It All

Practice not based in theory is reckless. At the root of it all are philosophical concerns. Philosophy is not a matter of unsupported opinion, it deals in metaphysics, epistemology and axiology.

  1. The metaphysical questions deal with ontology and cosmology. They are: What is the basic nature of humanity and reality? Are children born inherently good, evil or neutral? Are they behaviorally aggressive, passive or neutral?
  2. The epistemological questions are: What constitutes knowledge and what is its source? Is it a gift from God? Is it conceptually based? Does it have structure? Is it eternal and always the same? Can it be created? Is it the result of discovery? Does it begin in doubt? Is it nothing more than the accumulation of information?

Of all that there is to know, what do human beings need to know now and why?

  1. The axiological questions are: What values should the school reflect: monotheistic, atheistic, Christian, humanist, secular, humanist, some other source? Should the school be mute in this area? Can values be taught? If so, and if they are taught, where, how and by whom should they be taught?

September 1974, March, 2003




Pedagogy and Management

A theory that does not influence practice is worthless. Pedagogy as well as school and classroom management influence what goes on Behind the Classroom Door (Goodlad and Kline, 1970).

Pedagogy considers how teachers teach and why they do what they do. Classroom management goes far beyond how to discipline “misbehaving” students.

1.            What do we as educators know about how our learners come to know and how

do we adapt what we do to how they learn?

2.            Of all the things that our learners can come to know what is it that they need to know now and why?

Who determines what needs to be known and how is that done? Do all people need to know the same things? If they do, why do they? If not, why not? What is the mission of the school in this regard? Can the school have a primary focus? If so what is it? Should it be on: 1.Basic, low order cognitive skills?  2. High order cognitive thinking skills? 3. Metacognitive skill development?  4. Content mastery? 5. Learning how to learn? 6. How to be a productive member and contributor to a democratic society?

3            Having gained insight into questions one and two how ought the school be organized so that educators can do what has been determined needs to be done?

4            Having developed an organization to do what needs to done, how ought educators implement that which has been organized?

Assumptions about Learning.

Whether articulated by each or not, all educators harbor basic assumptions about learning. Assumptions about learning are deeply influenced by individual views related to the philosophical and pedagogical questions raised elsewhere in this piece. Some of my basic assumptions are:

  1. Human beings are able to learn and are aware that they do learn and know.
  2. Learning is more than a random process.
  3. Human beings have harbored a variety and often conflicting ideas relative to mind and/or matter.
  4. The traditional dualistic position of substantive mind and substantive matter cannot be supported.
  5. The normal state of the mind is one of belief; however, all learning begins in doubt.
  6. Learning begins when doubt occurs and takes place through the simultaneous, mutual interaction of the learner and the environment (SMILE).

March, 1975; March, 2002, 2003








Axioms That Have Guided  My Practice.

These personal axioms are offered in two parts. First, is a belief statement. Second, a conclusion based on the belief statement.

  1. Among the purposes of the public school is the transmission to the young of the ideals upon which this nation was founded; therefore, the school ought to be a microcosm of a democratic society.
  2. Participation in the decision making process characterizes a democratic society; therefore, those who are to be affected by a decision ought to be involved in the process of making, implementing and being held accountable for decisions made.
  3. Learning is more than a random process; therefore, how human beings come to know ought to be the most basic question of inquiry challenging educators.
  4. Schools are for learners; therefore, the instructional program ought to be student centered and responsive.
  5. Educators have an obligation to assist all students in becoming self-fulfilling individuals, good citizens, and competent workers; therefore, within the limits of individual potential and capacity, opportunities must be provided for each person to realize these goals.
  6. Knowledge is conceptually based, has structure and is discovered by each individual; therefore, in the curriculum concepts ought to be identified and the instructional program ordered so as to provide for an interactive process through which each learner in orderly and developmental fashion can learn that which is needed to be known and can be learned.
  7. Educators serve the public interest and are not in private practice at public expense; therefore, a design for learning needs to be in place that provides for:
    1. A positive, non-threatening learning environment
    2. The development of professional competence through in-service education
    3. Curriculum, instructional and pedagogical relevance
    4. Effective and respectful school and classroom management
    5. Fiscal responsibility, business acumen, and property maintenance.

August 1979; March 2003
















A  Platform for Education.

A platform stipulates what you can expect. The term platform is used frequently in political circles. A platform identifies what an organization stands for. It stipulates what its program will be and how proponents can be held accountable for what is or is not done.

A platform for education has many planks. Each plank focuses on a particular aspect of the total platform. It expresses intent. It is not constructed to satisfy the requirements imposed by outside sources. It is best generated internally by those who must implement whatever the platform and its planks come to be.

The process of education needs to be rooted in a platform for learning. The platform suggested here contains nine planks:

1.  Building a moral community based on social virtues

2.  Four foundation questions upon which the entire platform rests

3.  A set of personal axioms (belief statements, or truth signs) about learning

4.  A comprehensive student centered design for learning

5.  An identifiable, defensible, consistent approach to school governance

6.  Involving those are affected by a decision in the decision making process

7.  Effective communication

8.  Recognizing and dealing with myth versus logic in the process of education

9.  A commitment to total quality management

Each plank is sub-divided into specific focus areas. They are:

Plank One: Building a Moral Community

1. The importance of trust, competence, collaboration and collegiality

2. The importance of culture

3. The importance of defensible learning theory

Plank Two: Four Questions Related to the Pursuit of Quality Education

When it is all said and done it is possible to state the purpose of education as four questions. These are cited below as well as elsewhere in this piece.

1. What do you know about how learners come to know and do you practice consistent with what you know?

2. Of all the things learners can come to know what do they need to know now and why?

3. Having insights into questions one and two how are you and your school organized to facilitate what ought to be done?

4. What methods and tactics do you and does your school utilize in order to implement what you have organized?

In this plank consideration is given to contributions made by past and present learning theorists such as Herbart, Piaget, Maslow, Tyler, Bloom and Krathwhol, Bigge, Skinner, Vygotsky, Gardner, Goleman, and Levine others.


Plank Three: Assumptions About Learning

Every teacher has basic assumptions about learning. And every educator ought to have a set of personal beliefs, axioms or truth signs that guide his or her practice. These indicate who you are as an educator, what you believe and thus why you behave professionally as you do. Those shared elsewhere in this piece are my personal set of beliefs.

Plank Four: A Design for learning

Every school system ought to function in response to a locally developed comprehensive Design for Learning. A ten component design is cited here. It is addressed in greater detail elsewhere in this piece.

1.   Purpose, goals and mission of the institution.

2.   Behavioral projections: Long term cognitive, affective and psychomotor expectations.

3.   Rationale for each discipline and program included in the curriculum.

4.   The concepts and the structure of knowledge underlying each discipline or program.

5.   Instructional and Performance Objectives.

6.   Diagnostic and evaluative tools and procedures.

7.   Constructivist compatible student learning activities: methods and tactics.

8.   Appropriate utilization of multi media and electronic aids to learning.

9.   A system for Total Quality Management.

10. A self learning, self actualizing learning environment.

1974; Modified 2002

Plank Five: School Governance

Governance is critically important. Among its characteristics are words (intent) and action (extension) as well as myth and reality.  School governors range from the all but totally autocratic to those who have a vision rooted in defensible partiality. The latter have developed and implemented in collaboration with colleagues strategies for shared decision making. Definitions of leadership abound, however, here school governors are classified into four categories:

1.  ABC: Autocratic, Bureaucratic, Command, Control and Comply

2.  Compliance Administrators

3.  Transactional Managers

4.  Transformational Leaders

Plank Six: A Procedure for Involvement in the Decision Making Process

The democratic hallmark implied here is that those who are to be affected by a decision are involved in the process of making, implementing and being held accountable for decisions made. This approach honors collaboration. It seeks consensus. Consensus is not synonymous with majority rule.

A reality in taking action on decisions made consistent with a process for involvement is that those decisions are more likely to be implemented by practitioners than those imposed by an outside authority. The process for involvement cannot be paternalistically determined by an authority external to those affected by the decision. Those affected must be involved not only in decision making but in the development of the decision making process.

To be held accountable does not imply a punitive response if something does not proceed or succeed as intended. Rather, it means that those who have been involved in the decision making process remain voluntarily involved until the issue is resolved. The procedure developed ought to be applicable for all grades, levels, and disciplines including specialized programs. It is an anchor of effective classroom management.

Involvement in decision making by practitioners ought to follow many paths. In absolute there is nothing goes on in school on behalf of children that should shut teachers out of the decision making process. The idea is not to have a continuing general assembly including everyone in a never ending town meeting type approach. However, different strategies for involvement can be developed depending on what dimension of educational enterprise is being considered.

There is reason to believe that practitioner initiated action research is a best hope for bringing about needed and meaningful change on behalf of learners. A ten component approach to action research I have developed and used in working with practitioners nationally and internationally I have identified as: A Constructivist Approach to Brainstorming, Shared Decision Making and Action Research. The components of the process are.

1.    Establish a Task Group

The group will eventually transform itself into a team.  A team is not synonymous with a group.

2.    Issue Identification.

The most important and time consuming part of the process

Depending on how the effort begins, steps one and two may be addressed in reverse order.

3.     Divergent Thinking

4.     A positive focus

5.     Clarify-Consolidate-Restate

6.     Prioritize

7.     Research related to the issue

8.     Refer out

9.     A Systems Approach to Planning Strategies, Methods, and Tactics.

10.   A Plan of Action including Assessment

11.   Open-System Closure

Plank Seven: Communication

Communication has been defined Aas the process of transmitting information and common understanding from one person to another.@ (Lunenburg, The Principalship – Concepts and Applications, 995). However, information is not synonymous with knowledge, and common understanding does not imply concurrence or agreement. Information is low order cognitive. It does not connote comprehension, application, valuing or internalization as understood by Bloom and Krathwohl. Effective communication is more than the process of transmitting information. The elements in the communication process determine the quality of communication.

Several questions proposed by Lunenburg are:

1.    What is communication?

2.    How does the communication process operate?

3.    How does communication flow in a school organization?

4.   What are communication networks and how do they operate?

5.   What are the barriers to effective communication in schools?

6.   How can principals (and others) overcome communication barriers?

7.   What role does feedback play?

8.   What role is played by nonverbal communication?

Plank Eight: Myth versus Logic

Myth and logic are frequently at odds with one another. Myth is a common phenomenon.  Myths about the past are held and believed by and about individuals, groups, institutions, societies and cultures. Frequently myth is culturally driven. Many times logic and scientific inquiry defy myth. However, myth will continue to drive and sustain the enterprise. A reliance on myth can deter growth and continuous improvement. Myths can hinder collaborative efforts for continuous improvement.

Educators, other stakeholders and the general public harbor myths about what education is and ought to be. Students deal in the reality of what education is. The concept of myth is considered effectively by Mel Levine, The Myth of Laziness, (2003).

Summer, 2000

Plank Nine: Total Quality Management

Total Quality Management (TQM) is a systemic approach to conceptualizing, understanding, developing, managing, and assessing an entire enterprise such as a school or a school system. TQM recognizes that if one component of the enterprise is affected, the impact will be felt within the whole. TQM is a management system.

School Based Management (SBM) and (SDM) are not the same, however, each can be used as a subset of TQM. The approach to TQM cited here is that developed by W. Edwards Deming. The fourteen points of Deming=s program are:

1.   Constancy of Purpose.

2.    A New Philosophy.

3.    The End to the Dependence on Inspection in Determining Quality.

4.    The end to the Procedure of Always Choosing the Lowest Bidder; Doing Things: AOn the Cheap.@

5.    Continuous Improvement as a Constant.

6.    In Service Development Through on the Job Training.

7.    Transformational Leadership.

8.    Drive Fear Out of the Workplace – The School.

9.    Breakdown Internal Barriers that Inhibit Continuous Progress.

10.  Put an End to the Use of Slogans, Exhortations and Targets.

11.  Put an End to Numerical Quotas and Management by Objectives (MBO).

12.  Remove Barriers to Pride in Work.

13.  Put an End to Annual Evaluations and Such things as the Merit System.

14.  Institute Education Programs to Assure Continuous Improvement.

Fall 1994

A Design for Learning

Common sense requires that the school with a mission that is so critical to the well being not only of individuals but also of society as a whole ought to operate consistent with a systemic design for learning. While TQM focuses on managing the enterprise, a Design for Learning considers the purpose and significance of education, as well as the approach to learning practiced by educators.

Ironically, most frequently this is not the case and the school is characterized by an amalgam of disjointed fiefdoms operating consistent with past practice as well as in response to external pressures and exigencies of the moment. Often what is promoted as exemplary practice at one level is scorned at another and all too frequently ultimately abandoned all together. As a result critics accuse educators of being faddists. A school without a design for learning is akin to a boat without a rudder, a chef without a recipe, or an architect without a plan. Add your own analogy.

I was part of a team of Quincy Public School colleagues who developed the ten component design for learning delineated here. The effort was an example of teacher action research implemented before the term entered the professional lexicon.  The Quincy Design for Learning begins with a consideration of goals, mission and purpose. It articulates a defensible position relative to a structure of the discipline based curriculum. It embraces a pedagogically sound approach to articulating instructional objectives. It is sensitive to individual learning needs and styles. It promotes a positive learning environment characterized by an inquiry and discovery approach to learning.

It affirms that for total quality the enterprise must be managed in a systemic manner.

The ten components are:

1. Goals

To assist all learners in becoming self fulfilling individuals, competent workers and good citizens of a democratic society in a world that is maximally effective for all.

2. Behavioral Projections

Provide a learning environment where all learners

.            Master fundamental processes

Acquire marketable skills

Respect individuality

Develop a life style of inquiry

Are self motivated learners

.Have opportunities for individual expression

Develop an ability to cope with and guide change

Build habits for the worthy use of leisure time

Maintain good physical and mental health

Strive for cultural, academic and scientific literacy

3. Rationale

Rationale has to do with why? Why this or that subject or content? Why are things taught as they are? Why a particular approach to learning? Why a particular teacher? Why these learning materials? Why this learning environment and classroom management system? Why this organizational structure?

4. Concepts and the Structure of the Discipline.

Concepts constitute the framework upon which the curriculum is built and are the foundation upon which the instructional program is built. Concepts address the source or sources of knowledge be it an eternal truth, a result of the natural order of things, or personal discovery through scientific inquiry. The structure of knowledge provides a pathway for learners to follow in discovering and understanding of relationships between and among content areas. Structure provides a skeletal framework for vertical and horizontal articulation within as well as across content areas.

5. Instructional and Performance Objectives.

The instructional program is identified here. Instructional and Performance objectives are not synonymous terms. Instructional objectives focus on the learning activity proposed by the teacher.  Performance objectives indicate what the learner ought to be able to do as a result of participating in the activity. Both flow from the concepts addressed in component four. There is a structure to the objectives ranging from general objectives associated with a learning domain to specific objectives directed to a specific task. Objectives are developed in all six of Benjamin Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. Bloom’s categories are identified elsewhere in this piece.

6. Diagnosing Learning Needs and Evaluating Outcomes

All instruction ought to proceed consistent with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). However, as yet that is not practical. Nevertheless every effort ought to be made diagnose the learning needs and style of all students. Schools have a long way to go in this area. In evaluating learning outcomes rubrics that address content and process ought to be used and alternative authentic assessment techniques utilized. Evaluative instruments ought to include those are criterion, norm, and domain referenced as well as teacher developed.

7 .Student Learning Activities

This component addresses what goes on behind the classroom door. In practical application it is frequently the only thing that is of interest to students. It is where the action is! All learning activities ought to be implemented within the structure of a classroom management system. It is here that lesson planning fits in. Appropriate planning is essential to competent instruction and effective learning. Factors to be considered in planning include:

The purpose, rationale, and overview of the learning activity

Reference to the concept(s) addressed and the objectives being pursued

Learning activities designed to stimulate doubt and create a need to know

Alternative learning materials to address individual learning needs/styles.

Involving students in decision making related to their own learning

Procedure for assessing the activity and  evaluating student performance.


8. Appropriate Multi-Media and Electronic Aids to learning

In response to what is known about how each individual learns bes,t the full range of multi-media, manipulative, and electronic aids to learning ought to be utilized.

9. Classroom Management System

Classroom management goes far beyond a concern for disciplining misbehaving students. It requires the development of a system for managing everything that goes on not only behind the classroom door but also in the school as a whole.

10. Climate for Learning

Second to none is a consideration of a positive, enabling climate for learning.

Ipse dixit

Lawrence P. Creedon

Pompano Beach, FL

March, 2003; November, 2003  



Theory Precedes Practice Foundations App 3-09, 5-09

October 2, 2009

Theory Precedes Practice

A Foundation Approach to Professional Development

Lawrence P. Creedon

For the most part in professional development activities the focus is on “How To Do” something. A case can be made that many new “How To” efforts are in reality reruns of earlier “How To’s” that have fallen out of favor. Others are tactics that have proven useful to individuals in their practice. While both can have merit, the quip “Old wine in new bottles” often fits.

Seldom is time or effort spent on examining the basic belief system that ought to under gird whatever the learning community is attempting to do. What is postulated here is that  Belief precedes Practice.  Or as Hirsch and Killion assert in the March 2009 issue of Phi Delta Kappan: “ Without a change in beliefs, change in practice will not be sustained.”.

What follows is a listing of several questions alluded to in three categories:

1. Belief statements [Axioms],

2. Four questions in the pursuit of excellence

3. A student centered design for learning.

Taken together the three categories can serve as a platform for examining the belief system upon which a learning community ought to be built. When leaders say to others “Come Follow Me” [See Creedon: “Come Follow Me” at] and practitioners send the same message to their learners the rationale for doing so ought to be embedded in a belief system rooted in theories and assumptions such as those cited here.

Fundamental or First Questions in the Pursuit of Excellence in Education

Of continuing concern to educators and of on-going consideration by them in  professional development activities ought to be fundamental or first questions such as those cited immediately below.

  1. What is the purpose and significance of education?
  2. How to our learners come to know?
  3. Of all the things our learners can come to know what do they need to know now and why?
  4. How ought the learning community be organized and man aged so as to affect questions 1-3 above?
  5. What is the plan for implementing, assessing, evaluating and modifying as necessary that which has been organized?

Axioms or Belief Statements

A platform for education ought to be based on an operational set of beliefs that goes beyond the common issuance of a school mission statement which all often is an amalgam of lofty ideals seldom seriously considered or implemented. The agreed upon axioms or belief statements ought to be constantly revisited by those associated with the learning community in order to assess and evaluate their appropriateness and efforts at implementation.

Those that have guided my personal practice for decades are as follows:

  1. Among the purposes of the public school is the transmission to the young of the ideals upon which this nation was founded;


school ought to be a microcosm of a democratic society.

  1. Participation in the decision making process characterizes a democratic society;


those who are to be affected by a decision ought to be involved in the process of making, implementing and being held accountable for decisions made.

  1. Learning is more than a random process;


how human beings come to know ought to be the most basic question of inquiry challenging educators.

  1. Schools are for learners;


the instructional program ought to be student centered and responsive.

5.   Educators have an obligation to assist all learners in becoming self-fulfilling individuals, good citizens and competent workers;


consistent with individual potential and capacity, opportunities must be provided for each person to realize these goals.

6.   Knowledge is conceptually based and has structure;


in the curriculum the concepts ought to be identified and the instructional program so ordered as to provide for an interactive process through which each individual in orderly and developmental fashion can  inquire into, discover, construct, learn, evaluate, and apply that which needs to be known and can be learned.

7.   Educators serve the public interest and are not in private practice at public      expense;


a management system needs to be developed and implemented that provides for such areas as professional competence and development, curriculum and pedagogical relevance, information systems, business acumen, fiscal responsibility, facility maintenance and development, and institutional transparency.

A Student Centered Design for Learning

As stated above learning is more than a random process. Learning ought to be learner centered and characterized by a systemic process in coming to know. That systemic approach has been characterized by Jerome Bruner as one of laddering and scaffolding. Laddering is building in sequential fashion on what has come before and scaffolding is expanding learning in all directions. Consistent with that view a systemic approach to learning can be identified as a ten step student centered design for learning.  The ten steps are:

  1. Goals of the Learning Experience

The extent to which the learning experience contributes to assisting each individual in becoming a self-fulfilling individual, a contributing citizen and a competent worker in a world that is maximally effective for all.

2Behavioral Projections

Behavioral projections represent an attempt to predict the life styles that will be needed by learners in a constantly changing society. All programs must be assessed in light of their contributions to these behaviors. Identifiable behaviors include:

    1. a. Command of fundamental processes
    2. Marketable skills
    3. An understanding of individuality
    4. An  involvement in aesthetic experience
    5. A life style of inquiry
    6. A self-motivated learning style
    7. Individual expression
    8. An ability to cope with and guide change
    9. Worthy use of leisure time
    10. Good physical and mental health
    11. Scientific literacy
  1. Rationale for the Discipline

Rationale has to do with “Why?” Why this or that subject? What that particular subject? Why are those instructional strategies or tactics used? Why those resources and learning materials? Why that learning environment? Why that organizational and management structure? Why that procedure for assessment and evaluation of learning?

  1. Comprehensive Concepts

The curriculum is the composite of all the comprehensive concepts to be considered in the total learning experience. Taken together the comprehensive concepts compromise the curriculum. A comprehensive concept acts as an organizing element in curriculum development and instructional strategies and tactics. A concept is the big idea. It transcends the narrow and the specific. A concept can serve as an organizing agent. It provides a vehicle for addressing relationships to order to build upon previous learning by way of laddering and scaffolding. Concepts provide a blueprint or a map by which learners can explore a subject more intelligently and in depth. Concepts provide a skeletal with which to address issues within as well as across disciplines or areas of knowledge.

5. Performance Objectives

Performance objectives flow logically from comprehensive concepts. Performance objectives fall into two categories: General and Specific. Each specific objective ties back to the general objective which in turn has grown out of the comprehensive concept. In sequential fashion the comprehensive concepts relate to the behavioral projections which are more explicit characterizations of the initial goals for learning.  Thus, the whole process is systemic. While the comprehensive concepts constitute the curriculum, the performance objectives identify the specific intent of the instructional program.

6. Diagnostic and Prescriptive Assessment and Evaluation Tools and Procedures

Before initiating any instructional program as much as possible ought to known about how each individual learner comes to know. Classes, including groups, do not come to know individuals do. To every extent possible the instructional program must be responsive to what is known about how the learner comes to know. A diagnostic approach to instruction followed by a learner appropriate prescription for learning is called for. Whole class, single approach, lock-step, textbook centered, teacher directed instruction seldom fulfills the requirement of being learner centered. Diagnostic and prescriptive Assessment and evaluative instruments and procedures are tools to be used in the diagnostic and prescriptive process. Educators must become students and practitioners of what neuro scientific brain research, including the impact of the emotional or affective domain,   is revealing about how learning takes place.

7. Student Learning Activities

Learning activities constitute the day-to-day proceedings and occurrences. Tactics will vary from teacher to teacher. The unifying element is to be that all are learner centered to the extent that tactics are utilized in a manner which advances what is known about how learners comes to know. To do otherwise is self defeating. Student learning activities ought to include:

    1. The purpose, rationale, and overview of what is to learned
    2. The performance objective
    3. A series of optional learning activities designed to stimulate doubt and to develop a desire to know.
    4. Learner appropriate resources and media for learning
    5. A process and procedure for helping learners to become involved in setting their own learning goals, objectives and outcomes. This includes competence based rubrics for assessment and evaluation as well as a reflective component where the learner considers what comes next in coming to know what needs to be known.

8. Appropriate Multi-Media and Electronic Aids to Learning

Increasingly research and discovery makes available new learning materials and technological approaches to assist learners in coming to know. Such resources need to be identified and applied in the best interests of learners. Caution needs to be exercised in application in that all available tools and procedures may not be conducive to best practice. Newly available does not automatically make something better and more appropriate than what is.

  1. Classroom Management

Effective classroom management has to do with establishing and maintaining the most effective learner centered environment for learning that is possible. Learners ought to be directly involved in developing, maintaining and assessing the environment for learning reflected through the classroom management process and procedure. Classroom management is a not a synonym or code word for controlling what has been determined to be deviant or in appropriate learner behavior in the classroom. Learner behavior is one component of classroom management.

  1. Learning Environment

The environment for learning must be responsive to the learning needs of learners. The learning environment is the fabric through which all of the components are woven and can be characterized as respectful, personalized, friendly, accepting, supporting, humane, and challenging both for the learner and all those associated with the learning community.

Ipse dixit

Lawrence P. Creedon

Updated: San Pedro Sula, Honduras 3-09, Kuwait, 5-09