Gutierrez: Focus more on learning instead of teaching

On Thursday, Kris Gutierrez, provost chair in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, kicked off Eastern Michigan University’s Porter Chair Lecture Series.

The series began in 1999 and is named after past president, John W. Porter.

Gutierrez is the first of three professors to come to EMU to give a lecture.

This year’s theme is focused on getting communities to come together through challenging times
Gutierrez’s presentation was entitled, “Steppin’ Up: Community Collaboration in Challenging Times.”
Gutierrez said her goal was to “re-think how to do work in schools.”

She discussed the implications of being a school that is not a part of the dominant community.
According to Gutierrez, the dominant community is the middle class and the gap between the middle and lower class is getting wider.

“The middle class tries to maintain the middle class ethic by putting their children into more enrichment activities than ever before,” Gutierrez said. “I spent seven years documenting families for thirty hours a day for a week. Their lives are full of stress.”

Gutierrez measured how much stress these families were under by having them spit and testing it.

“Spit contains Cortisol, a chemical that increases in the human body when it is under stress,” she said. “School reorganizes home life by making today’s family busier with more activities and homework. The middle class still remains positive despite the intense stress.”

She said a common mistake educators make is calling the non-dominant class the “underclass” without thinking of the possible implications of the word.

She believes it is important for educators to realize children learn in different ways.

“Also, not all kids from one community learn the same way,” Gutierrez said. “Learning is relational to the environment and is socially and culturally organized. How we organize space and speak affect how people learn. This is why educators need to be careful not to use restrictive scripts that end the conversation between the teacher and student. They should focus on learning instead of teaching.”

According to Gutierrez, another mistake educators make is teaching big ideas instead of small facts. She believes this can make students miss important relationships.

“They need to dichotomize everyday learning to get the robust science of learning and schools should stamp out remedial teaching,” Gutierrez said. “The kids become good remedial students. Instead of going over the same material over again in hopes that it will stick this time, the whole program should be reorganized. They should practice the skills they are trying to learn and apply them.”

While reading is important, Gutierrez thinks changes need to be made to help students become more proficient in mathematics.

According to Gutierrez, some students never took college algebra because they had to take four remedial classes.

“I got rid of the remedial classes and the percent of people that passes college algebra went from one to sixty-five percent,” said Gutierrez. “Then a year and a half later, 80 percent of the students passed the class. These are social design experiments.”

Gutierrez uses various methods to make her students at ease when learning.

“I work with communities and understand the local needs, then I change the learning environment,” she said. “I design the classrooms not to look like a classroom because then they are less likely to fail.”

Madhu Suri Prakash, a professor of Educational Theory and Policy at the Penn State College of Education, will present her research March 11.

Henry Giroux, a professor of English and Cultural Studies and Global TV Network Chair in Communications at McMaster University, will present his studies April 8.

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