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Madeline

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What do teachers and medicine men have in common? Madeline Hunter knows. A medicine man, according to Hunter, might concoct a brew for curing malaria by mixing a gnat's eyelash with water from a magic tree and performing certain carefully prescribed incantations. While the mixture might actually cure malaria, the medicine man wouldn't understand that it was the quinine from the tree that actually produced the healing. As Hunter sees it, many teachers-- like medicine men--flounder along on intuition, occasionally displaying flashes of quinine-like inspiration but lacking a sound scientific basis for their methods. "We've had wonderful teachers since the days of Christ and Plato, but they were intuitive teachers,'' she says. Coming from Hunter, intuition doesn't quite sound like an obscenity, but it does seem like something to avoid.

To some teachers, Hunter's insights make her an educational guru. Crusading against the intuitive, spontaneous, improvisational approach to teaching, Hunter has built a profitable enterprise by spreading her model of teaching as an "applied science.'' In Hunter's world, teachers aren't much different from surgeons: Education, like medicine, is based on proven research findings that link cause and effect.

"We are today where medicine was when [physicians] found that germs, not evil spirits, cause disease,'' Hunter tells a group of teachers and principals who have traveled from around the country to hear her message during a three-week summer workshop at the University of California at Los Angeles, her hometown. For $450 a week, Hunter will give them straightforward answers to many questions that have troubled teachers for decades. What's more, she assures the educators, these answers, when properly applied in the classroom, will help students learn more.

In her popular book Mastery Teaching, Hunter offers readers a guarantee of sorts: "From now on, you will know what you are doing when you teach, why you are doing what you do.''

With such a positive, uncomplicated message, it's not surprising that Hunter has amassed a large, loyal following among teachers and principals. The UCLA workshop participants offer rave reviews for the woman most simply call Madeline. "Madeline makes me feel good about being a teacher,'' says one. Adds another: "She's an amazing woman.''

Over the past two decades, Madeline Hunter has become a household word among educators. She's been called an institution, as well-known as Kleenex or Xerox. She's spoken to thousands of teachers in every state and in dozens of countries, and thousands more have been exposed to Hunter's ideas through a variety of forums. When school districts adopt a program of "effective instruction,'' it's probably an adaptation of her model.

But Hunter inspires as much criticism as praise. For a growing number of teachers, the idea of an externally imposed teaching model runs counter to their demands for professional autonomy. There seems to be an inherent contradiction between Hunter's model of effective teaching and education reformers' efforts to promote a more flexible, child-centered approach to learning. Teachers in many districts complain that some administrators have turned Hunter's teaching methodology into a rigid religion; non-believers in such schools often suffer the penalty of poor evaluations.

Other critics have condemned her work, calling it "pseudoscience'' and "mechanistic behaviorism''; one leading researcher says there's no solid evidence to back up Hunter's ambitious claims that her model is effective. And some fiscal-minded skeptics question the wisdom of spending millions of dollars to train teachers and administrators in Hunter-type programs when school budgets are already strained.

An aura of science and medicine pervades Hunter's UCLA workshop. The site--the health sciences building--is surrounded by the UCLA Medical Center, medical school, and dental school; clad in white lab coats, medical professionals with stethoscopes around their necks wander hallways lined with drawings and photos of human anatomy. Even the title of Hunter's workshop--"clinical supervision''--evokes a medical tone.

Hunter, still trim and energetic at 75, comes across as the archetypal teacher: authoritative, confident, witty, and eloquent. Her manner of speaking, with concise phrases and abundant hand gestures, is a bit reminiscent of George Bush's, except Hunter speaks in complete sentences. Her catchy slogans, on the other hand-- "more inspiration, less perspiration,'' "what is logical is not always psychological,'' and "thinking on your seat is easier than thinking on your feet''--bring to mind Jesse Jackson.

Hunter tells the audience she doesn't know the secret for producing virtuoso instructors, but she says her model can turn marginal teachers into effective ones. "Pedagogy is invariant just as nutrition theory is invariant,'' she says. "It looks very different, but a good music teacher is doing what a good calculus teacher is doing, just like it looks different if you're eating dried caribou or raw fish or peanut soup, but it's all protein.''

The foundation of Hunter's pedagogy--and the thing most closely identified with her--is her "elements of successful instruction.'' She talks and writes about other subjects, but when districts, schools, and ultimately, teachers, implement a Hunter-type model, it usually centers on her elements of instruction.

Briefly, the model consists of:

  • The anticipatory set--getting students focused on the subject, possibly by having them think about some relevant example from their own lives.
  • The lesson's objective--letting students know what they are learning and why.
  • Input--offering more information and stimulus to involve students in the lesson.
  • Modeling--demonstrating the subject matter, sometimes with actual models, other times with relevant examples.
  • Checking for understanding--having students make various hand signals or asking for individual or group responses.
  • Guided practice--roaming the room to help students and correct their mistakes.
  • Independent practice--giving students exercises to reinforce the lesson, after the teacher is confident they have a good grasp of the subject matter.

Those seven elements, combined with positive re- inforcement, Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy of thinking, and other nuggets of educational psychology, form what Hunter calls her "decisionmaking model'' of teaching. "I don't tell teachers what to do,'' she says. "All I can tell teachers is what they better know and think about before they decide what to do.''

Although it looks a lot like the traditional lecturedominated style of teaching, Hunter maintains that her model of instruction applies equally well to any situation in which someone is trying to teach, whether it's a cooperative-learning classroom, computerassisted instruction, or a corporate training session. "I've simply taken the theory, much of which has been around for a hundred years, and translated it for classroom teachers,'' she says.

No one can accuse Hunter of not practicing what she preaches: Her lectures include all of her elements of successful instruction. She starts one segment by asking participants a question to get them thinking. Teachers and principals versed in Hunter lingo know she's given them an "anticipatory set.'' From there, Hunter states the thesis of the discussion; every minute or two, she illustrates her point with an example, sometimes from her beloved field of medicine, other times from her varied experiences in and out of schools. "Examples are the most powerful thing in education,'' she explains.

Hunter's examples also provide a glimpse into her background and the roots of her educational philosophy. She started her career more than four decades ago as a clinical psychologist with the Los Angeles Children's Hospital and later at juvenile hall. After finding those remedial ends of psychology unsatisfying, Hunter decided to try her hand at school psychology, which she thought offered better opportunities to prevent the problems she had seen in her earlier jobs. (Her initial impression of schools: "Every teacher had taken an educational psychology course, but none of it applied to teaching.'')

She has developed and refined her instructional model over the course of her long education-related career, which has included more than a dozen years as a psychologist and principal in Los Angeles-area public schools and 20 years as principal of University Elementary School, a lab school on the UCLA campus. Hunter left the lab school in 1982 but has stayed on at UCLA as an adjunct professor of education.

Of her many accomplishments, Hunter is perhaps proudest of the hand-signaling system she developed to help teachers, as she puts it, "check for understanding.'' A simple glance around the classroom lets a teacher employing this system know who has grasped the material and who has not. For example, a teacher might ask a series of true-or-false questions that each student must answer with a thumb up for true, a thumb down for false, or a thumb to the side if he or she is not sure. The teacher might also ask students to show with one or two fingers if sentence one or sentence two contains, say, a dependent clause. The possibilities are endless. It's all part of Hunter's admonition to "teach smarter not harder.'' If teachers practice "dip-sticking,'' she says, they won't have to wait until test time to see whether their students really understand the material.

Naturally, every Hunter presentation includes hand signals, the seminar at UCLA being no exception. As she displays sample work sheets on an overhead projector for almost an hour, she asks the audience to respond with signals: "Raise your hand if you think this work sheet is worth doing.''

Hunter acknowledges that some teachers and students think signaling is "baby stuff.'' But they become enthusiastic signalers, she adds, once they realize that the system offers everyone an unthreatening way to correct misconceptions.

On the surface, Hunter seems to offer teachers a helpful framework for instruction. For some of Hunter's critics, however, her model adds up to little more than an inventory of what most teachers already do. "A lot of [the model's] popularity is the fact that it's not very innovative,'' says Robert Slavin, an education researcher at Johns Hopkins University. "The reason it sounds sensible is because it's what teachers have been doing.'' Teachers who attend a Hunter presentation may leave feeling affirmed, he notes, but they return to their classrooms and practice business as usual because they think they're already teaching the right way.

"This is just a hunch,'' Slavin adds, "but I would guess that training in Madeline Hunter would make no difference for maybe 70 percent of teachers. Maybe 30 percent are struggling, and, for them, appropriate training and follow-up may be useful.''

A different criticism comes from Richard Gibboney, who challenges Hunter's central assertion that education is "just like'' medicine, nutrition, and other more traditional sciences. "She has the aura of science without the substance,'' argues Gibboney, a former commissioner of education in Vermont who is now an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "When science is applied to the human area, it comes out as pseudoscience. Teachers are told, 'research says,' and they're kind of browbeaten into believing it. They're going to think it's right; it's like arguing with the principles of physics.''

Moreover, Gibboney asserts, the psychology underlying Hunter's model is the behaviorism of B.F. Skinner and E.L. Thorndike, which, by its nature, is highly mechanistic. "It's really a technique to teach without the ideas, without worrying about what you teach or the context in which teaching is done,'' Gibboney says. "Her method lets a social studies teacher drone through a text and present inadequate, superficial information more effectively. It's perfect for facts, but it's ab- solutely ineffective for teaching ideas.''

Hunter disagrees and argues that her method, when used correctly, can help students understand both concrete facts and abstract concepts. It's up to teachers, she says, to take the lead in guiding students beyond the mere recitation of names and dates. Hunter offers a formula for teaching, but she cautions that teachers must apply her methods appropriately, according to the situation.

Whether a lesson involves ideas or facts, Hunter warns teachers against wandering too far from "safe'' subject matter; the emotions aroused by controversial issues, she says, can sidetrack students from the lesson's objective. And, unlike many teachers who want students to become more self-directed learners, Hunter is uneasy about allowing students too much freedom. "Students,'' she has written, "have an absolute gift for volunteering murky or confusing examples or those which present an exception to the rule.'' Hunter's message coincides with her suspicion of intuition and improvisation: Teachers should stick to their plan and maintain control of the discussion.

John Taylor Gatto, who gives his New York City students almost free reign to decide what they want to learn, considers Hunter's approach "massively illconceived.'' "You can create geniuses without all this phony theorizing,'' says Gatto, the 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year. "Formal teaching is a very small and inconsequential part of learning. In truth, people teach themselves.''

Probably the greatest concern from teachers about Hunter's model involves the rigid way it has been applied--and misapplied--in schools. It's a depressingly familiar story: Administrators seek set formulas that promise dramatic results. And Hunter's allusions to science and research can be seductive, especially with policymakers demanding greater "accountability'' from schools. Often as not, widespread implementation results in oversimplification of complex issues, inhibiting the flexibility crucial to effective practice. In short, many of the problems associated with Hunter's model are problems rooted in the educational system itself.

For example, Hunter says she developed her model not as a way to evaluate teachers but rather as a means for supervisors to coach teachers and "accelerate'' their teaching. But stories abound of teachers who received poor evaluations because they didn't "do Madeline Hunter'' properly in their classrooms.

Last January, Sylvia Amato retired from her job as a speech therapist in an urban New Jersey school district. But rather than leaving with fond memories from her 20year career, Amato left feeling bitter because of her experience with the Program for Effective Teaching and Supervision, the district's version of the Hunter-based model of instruction.

Amato, who worked with her students once a week, recalls rehearsing a fairy tale with one group for a performance before several other classes. Observing Amato and her students on rehearsal day, the department head strongly criticized the teacher for not employing all the PETS elements. "I certainly should not have been expected to do it then,'' Amato says. "The kids were all excited about the play, and I was written up for not doing PETS. I had always had wonderful evaluations, and then I started to get all sorts of lousy evaluations. Coming at the end of my career, it didn't make me feel good about all the energy and enthusiasm I had put into my teaching.''

In his book Tales Out of School, Patrick Welsh, a high school English teacher in Alexandria, Va., describes how he reacted when an associate principal began using Hunter's elements of instruction as a basis for teacher evaluations. "I'd been teaching for 18 years and received enough feedback from parents and students to know I must be doing something right,'' Welsh writes. "Why should I be forced to go through a set of prescribed, mechanistic procedures to satisfy the school system's need to document before the public its seriousness about improving teaching?'' Welsh is even more blunt when directly asked about Hunter's model. "It's stuff for incompetent teachers teaching dumbbells,'' he says. "It's the antithesis of what good teaching is. Any idiot can play the Madeline Hunter game.''

In response to such reports, Hunter contends that her ideas have been misinterpreted. "I have come out loud and clear that anybody who uses a checklist in observing a lesson does not understand teaching,'' she says. "There is nothing you should expect to see in every lesson. If somebody told me I had to do all these things in every lesson, I'd say, 'I do not; I know better.' There is no such thing as a 'Madeline Hunter' lesson. There's an effective lesson or an ineffective lesson, but not a Madeline Hunter lesson.''

To their credit, many states and districts have tried to keep their Hunter programs from becoming too rigid. "I see her as non-prescriptive,'' says Joyce Murphy, former coordinator of the Teaching Effectiveness Network, a broad Maryland program based on Hunter's ideas. "People criticize Madeline because they take what she says and see it as one model. They don't really listen to what she's saying.'' Adds Bertha Stewart, an elementary instructional assistant in Maryland's Prince George's County: "It's only as rigid as the teacher makes it. You can make any program rigid and you can make any program lax. That's the teacher's choice, not Madeline Hunter's choice.''

Although Hunter has often condemned the use of evaluation checklists, her books readily promote a list mentality. In Mastery Teaching alone, she outlines three categories of decisions in teaching, six ways to increase students' motivation, three principles to improve lectures, four characteristics of an effective model, four factors that affect what students remember, and even four principles of chalkboard use.

The workshop at UCLA offers a different sort of insight into what happens when relative newcomers to the Hunter approach try to incorporate her model into their teaching. After four days of listening to Hunter talk, the participants spend the fifth day teaching short sample lessons and receiving feedback from their colleagues. The lessons cover the gamut--everything from Eskimos to mnemonic devices--but they're remarkably similar in structure. Most start with a "think of a time when ...'' statement, followed by a declaration of the objective, a few minutes of straightforward lecturing, and some questions requiring signal responses from the listeners. Some lessons are better than others, but none of them approaches Hunter proficiency. Nevertheless, the educators are excited as they try to emulate the master. "I've taught that lesson a million times,'' says one participant, "but I feel much better about it now that I've analyzed it.''

A nagging question keeps coming to mind: If these teachers and principals, working directly with Hunter, are inclined to distill her ideas to a few set components, how can the model remain flexible when implemented throughout an entire district? Hunter herself contends that teachers need two years of practice and regular coaching to put her theories into effective practice. But how many districts are willing to make that sort of commitment, especially if they don't see immediate results?

Hunter offers few details about her financial status, though she acknowledges that she makes a comfortable living. A 1990 article in the Los Angeles Times Magazine estimated that she earns $30,000 a month. That's probably not farfetched: Districts pay Hunter $2,000 to $3,000 a day for speaking and consulting, and her calendar is booked two years in advance. She also profits from the sales of her books and videos: TIP Publications--which only sells Madeline Hunter titles--offers 11 books; Special Purpose Films, another Hunter-only distributor, sells sets of her films and videotapes for as much as $3,750 for an 11-part series; and Instructional Dynamics offers videotapes that accompany Mastery Teaching. In addition, UCLA's Education Extension markets a wide array of reprinted Hunter articles.

Clearly, many districts have spent large sums of money to bring Hunter and her model to their schools. Some educators who have been trained in Hunter's ideas and methods aren't convinced it was worth the expense. Kenneth Kastle, principal of William Tennent High School in Warminster, Pa., says his district allocated about $100,000 to train every teacher and administrator in the "essential elements of instruction.'' In the end, Kastle says, it was a waste of money: The program--which is still in effect--has done nothing to improve teaching or learning. "The amazing thing,'' he says, "is that millions and millions of dollars have been spent across the country, so you would think that in some place you would find some positive results.''

Given Hunter's impressive claims, it seems reasonable to expect, as Kastle does, that there is evidence documenting the effectiveness of her methods. But that's not the case.

Hunter, of course, says there are many success stories. She likes to tell one about a failing inner-city elementary school in Los Angeles that she and some colleagues overhauled in the early 1970s. Just by changing the way teachers at the school taught, Hunter says, student learning doubled and, in some instances, quadrupled, and discipline problems virtually disappeared.

Rodney Skager, a colleague of Hunter's at UCLA who studied the project, tells a different story, an ambiguous one at best. "There was improvement in achievement by kids who were in the project for a whole year,'' Skager acknowledges. "But those results are qualified by the fact that the poorer, more mobile kids dropped out.'' Skager never published his study because of this flaw; he says there was no scientific way to say if scores improved because the worst kids moved away or because Hunter's model worked. "It isn't as convincing as Madeline would like it to be,'' he notes.

Other, more recent, research offers similar mixed results. One of the more detailed studies was conducted over four years in Napa County, Calif., where Hunter had consulted with district educators. That study found some positive effects on student achievement during the first two years, but those gains stopped the third year, and achievement actually dropped the fourth year. A study of a statewide Hunter-type program in South Carolina reached a similar conclusion: Teachers were enthusiastic about the training, but student achievement was basically unaffected.

"It never did anything to improve student achievement,'' says Slavin of Johns Hopkins, who is familiar with the various studies. "But that didn't make the slightest difference to anyone'' respon- sible for implementing similar programs in other places.

Hunter blames the lessthan-convincing results in those districts on poor implementation, not the model. "In the Napa study, they did not use the model completely,'' she argues. "They did not teach for transfer, which is essential in my model. And some of the consultants were working with the control school. It was a very messy piece of research.'' And in South Carolina? "They acknowledged that they were not doing the coaching that I said was essential to translate knowledge into practice,'' she says. "You find they actually do not know what I'm saying.''

Furthermore, Hunter maintains that it's almost impossible to conduct a valid study in schools because it's too difficult to control the variables. She argues that her own success is proof enough that her model is effective. "Why did the model start in the 1970s, go like a dreadnought through the '80s and a hurricane in the '90s?'' she asks. "You either have to say educators are so stupid that for 20 years they've continued to use something that obviously doesn't work, or else you have to say it works.''

Hunter's fans seem equally unconcerned by the lack of more concrete evidence. "I'm sure it works,'' says Bertha Stewart, the elementary instructional assistant in Maryland. "I don't have any written research, but I really believe it helps. Not every activity inside the brick walls of schools has to have written research to support it.''

It's tough to be neutral about Madeline Hunter. People love her or hate her, and no amount of evidence will change their minds. Hunter says every component of her model is based on proven psychological studies or other scientific research; her opponents cite studies showing that her model makes no difference in student performance. As Richard Gibboney points out, "Research findings never changed anybody's mind about anything.''

Hunter is well-aware of the criticisms of her work, and she seems to relish the controversy. "They say the strength of an impact is measured by the strength of the opposition to it,'' she says. "If you want no criticism, you do nothing, you say nothing, you be nothing. I have learned that the criticism is inevi- table.''

Hunter refuses to let her critics slow her pace. Although she is well past retirement age, she has no plans to close up shop. Without a doubt, additional teachers and administrators will be captivated by her engaging style and become, to use a phrase that now has many different meanings, "Hunterized.'' Even if Hunter were to stop speaking and writing tomorrow, her message would continue to spread for many years to come. Hunter's faithful adherents would certainly see to that.

Still, resistance to Hunter's methods is growing. Districtwide implementation of her model may become rarer as teachers gain more control over their professional lives--including their inservice training, which is how Hunter usually reaches educators.

One thing is certain: Many teachers will resist Hunter's ideas if school administrators present them as the one correct way to teach, without acknowledging the infinite variables that make every classroom unique. Teacher Sylvia Amato captures the feelings of many teachers: "You have to measure the love and the rapport and all the other things that happen between a teacher and a student, not just the objectives of the lesson.''

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