As Regards "Pseudoteaching"

Admittedly, I’m late to this discussion.  I was turned on to the idea of “pseudoteaching” by a tweet from Mr. Frank Noschese, which he defines as:

"…something you realize you’re doing after you’ve attempted a lesson which from the outset looks like it should result in student learning, but upon further reflection, you realize that the very lesson itself was flawed and involved minimal learning."

A lot of the examples pointed to are very input-centric modes of instruction.  This has gotten me thinking about what such a process looks like, particularly in the biology classroom.

Most (all?) of the folks who have written on this topic teach a physical science or mathematics.  A lot of the folks who are writing on this topic use “modeling instruction” in their classes. Without meaning to sound disrespectful, I do think that the folks who are talking about these things are probably, to some extent, biased by the subjects that they teach and the way that they teach them. Don’t get me wrong, I think modeling instruction is a fascinating mode of teaching, but I have a hard time seeing how it could be used in a biology classroom (particularly at the AP level).

To take one example, the inimitable Mr. Noschese has a really good post about the structure of physics education at MIT. I think he makes a lot of really good points, and I count myself among those who would not have done very well in the old system. But I just don’t see where in Biology we can move away from input to the same extent that folks can in physics or chemistry (the former being a subject that I never really loved as a student, the later being a subject that I spend most of my day teaching). There just seems to be something about the nature of biological inquiry that requires a good bit more directed content acquisition.

Clearly, I am not without my own biases on this subject. I know that I am the sort of student who does very well in directed input when the lecturer is interesting and I am interested in the topic. For me, it has been that way since time immemorial. Similarly, I have given a lot more consideration to the structure of my own input for my AP biology course over the last couple of years. My students are expected to interface with the content of a particular class discussion prior to that discussion, and I will never spend more than half of my class time in AP Biology having that discussion with my students. And I try my damnedest to have a discussion them, not a lecture at them. But in looking at all of the formats that biology folks are currently developing to “flip” their classrooms or “individualize” instruction for their students, there remains a good bit of teacher-directed input in every scheme that I see. That input may take place in or out of the classroom (Paul Anderson would be the obvious example of moving the input out of the classroom), but it still takes place. And here’s the thing, in a biology course, that doesn’t play as “pseudoteaching” to me. It plays as necessary.

Maybe I’m missing something? Maybe I’ve (inadvertently) misconstrued the position that I’ve described above? Or maybe there really is something a bit different about the appropriate instructional approach for Biology content, when we line it up against the other sciences (of which I’ll include mathematics)?