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Paideia is Pronounced Py-dee-a

June 5, 2010

For those of you in town who have ever wondered why CSAS and CSLA are considered different from our other magnet schools, here’s a small explanation.  Abby has been attending a Paideia Magnet school since Kindergarten and sometimes I forget the official wording of everything but never the concept.  Basically its that you learn by a) lecture – the teacher instructing you, followed by b) a project – something to bring the lecture to life, not worksheets and rote memorization and finally c) seminar – a teacher facilitated discussion where the students can debate their viewpoints on the subject matter.

Here’s a more official take on it:

“According to the National Paideia Institute, Paideia (py-dee-a) is from the Greek pais, paidos, which means the upbringing of a child. The Paideia philosophy “celebrates the fundamental notion that to be fully educated is a lifelong adventure that only begins with an individual’s formal schooling.”

History of Paideia

Building on the work of John Dewey (1916),2 Mortimer Adler focused on the role of education in a democratic society and proposed that more work had to be done in order to provide an equal amount and quality of education for all students. Adler founded the National Paideia Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1988 with the goals of developing school programs that focus on issues of pedagogy, educational leadership, and school reform.

Supporters of Paideia maintain that this type of instruction prepares students for higher education and facilitates the development of communication skills, critical thinking skills, collaboration, and problem-solving.3

Paideia in the Classroom

In Paideia classrooms, there are three instructional methods that guide activities. The “Three Columns of Instruction” include didactic instruction, coaching, and the seminar. The didactic mode represents the acquisition of organized knowledge and is the “delivery of factual information” where students acquire the most important foundations of information. According to the Paideia model, this type of instruction only takes 10-15% of instructional time, and students are generally passive during lecture, demonstration, reading, or other forms of didactic instruction.

Intellectual Coaching is the type of instruction that takes up 60-70% of time in the Paideia classroom. Teachers utilize strategies of modeling and questioning during this phase of instruction, and the goal for students is to “acquire expertise in skills of learning, such as reading, writing, calculating, and observing.” Through the Coached Projects, the teacher assesses and evaluates student learning by assigning performance-based tasks, projects, and rubrics.

The seminar component in a Paideia classroom encourages “collaborative, intellectual dialogue facilitated by open-ended questions about a text.” The seminar encourages students to develop their understanding of “ideas, concepts, and values about the curriculum,” while participating in whole-class discussions. The Paideia seminar comprises about 15-20% of instructional time.

The Paideia Group has created the following declaration of guiding principles:

  • that all children can learn;
  • that, therefore, they all deserve the same quality of schooling, not just the same quantity;
  • that the quality of schooling to which they are entitled is what the wisest parents would wish for their own children, the best education for the best being the best education for all;
  • that schooling at its best is preparation for becoming generally educated in the course of a whole lifetime, and that schools should be judged on how well they provide such preparation;
  • that the three callings for which schooling should prepare all Americans are, (a) to earn a decent livelihood, (b) to be a good citizen of the nation and the world, and (c) to make a good life for one’s self;
  • that the primary cause of genuine learning is the activity of the learner’s own mind, sometimes with the help of a teacher functioning as a secondary and cooperative cause;
  • that the three types of teaching that should occur in our schools are didactic teaching of subject matter, coaching that produces the skills of learning, and Socratic questioning in seminar discussion;
  • that the results of these three types of teaching should be (a) the acquisition of organized knowledge, (b) the formation of habits of skill in the use of language and mathematics, and (c) the growth of the mind’s understanding of basic ideas and issues;
  • that each student’s achievement of these results would be evaluated in terms of that student’s competencies and not solely related to the achievements of other students;
  • that the principal of the school should never be a mere administrator, but always a leading teacher who should be cooperatively engaged with the school’s teaching staff in planning, reforming, and reorganizing the school as an educational community;
  • that the principal and faculty of a school should themselves be actively engaged in learning;
  • that the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching.

Paideia in Practice

The first step in the Paideia program is frequently didactic instruction. This usually takes the form of a lecture or a video introduction to a topic. This mode of instruction is not intended to talk at students, but instead to demonstrate a concept or theory prior to engagement with the primary text. During this type of instruction, the teacher explains why the information is important to know or justifies why it should be memorized.

The next step in the Paideia classroom is usually the coached project. When teachers facilitate the coached project, they essentially compel students to answer hard questions about the material with which they are engaging. For example, in a math class, instead of conducting a lecture and giving students practice worksheets, the teacher might ask the student to solve the problem another way or write an explanation of how the problem was solved. Instead of taking control when a student does not understand a concept, the instructor encourages the student to discover their own mistakes and how to correct them.

The next step in the Paideia classroom is usually the Socratic seminar. Terry Roberts and Laura Billings (1999) describe the Paideia seminar as:

…formal discussion based on a text in which the leader asks only open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students are required to read and study the text carefully, listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate both their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others.5

This part of instruction takes place after students have engaged with classroom material. Usually, the teacher asks an initial question about a text, and students participate in an open conversation. Instead of controlling the conversation, the teacher acts as a facilitator, leading students to discovery about their perspectives and encouraging them to challenge what others might have to say. For example, if the class is reading a piece of literature in a language arts course, the teacher can use the seminar to challenge students to think of alternative perspectives on the piece or discuss how historical events may have impacted or influenced the work. Exposure to other points of view assists in the development of active listening and discussion skills.

When used in combination, these three elements comprise the Paideia philosophy of education.”

by Heather Coffey

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