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Novice teaching mistakes (Part 1)

Posted on: October 18, 2016

I was a teacher educator for almost ten years before I left the NIE, Singapore, in 2014. I continue to provide professional development for teachers and educators as a consultant.

For the last three semesters, I have been involved in a programme that tries to prepare future faculty (FF) to teach differently. One broad goal is for FF to not just teach the way they were taught (i.e., lecture) and to adopt more learner-centred approaches like collaborative learning.

As FF try something new, they make mistakes. This is a good thing if they learn from those mistakes. This is bad thing if they think there is nothing wrong with perpetuating mistakes.

I share Part 1 of a small catalogue of strategies that some FF might not think are mistakes.

Playing background music because it seems cool or has words that mention the content. They might be thinking of how they study and listen to music at the same time or they might have heard about the so-called Mozart effect.

FF might not realise that the study music serves as white noise and does not necessarily strengthen cognition. In fact it can distract instead of enable learning. This is particularly true since the listeners do not have a choice whether to listen to the music, and if so, the choice of music.

These FF probably have not heard of the limited effect of the Mozart effect or how it was a commercial push instead of one borne of replicable research or critical practice.

Video source

The mistake here is relying on novelty. This strategy is neither professionally sustainable nor responsible.

Calling on students only randomly. I know of FF who like reaching into a “fishbowl” of numbers that correspond to students and calling on them randomly.

This disempowers students who wish to answer, creates fear in those who do not wish to answer, reinforces that the instructor is the only one in control and bears initiative, and turns active students into passive ones.

I tell FF I coach that this fishbowl method of classroom interaction should be a method of last resort instead of first reach. 

One alternative to prompt and wait for responses. This breaks the cycle of dependency on the instructor. Another alternative is to call on students strategically, e.g., those that have something to say or look certain; those that have doubts or look confused.

Assigning students to groups without consideration. FF do not always know when to create relatively homogenous groups (learners have similar abilities or backgrounds) or heterogenous groups (very different abilities or backgrounds).

Homogenous groups might be useful for differentiating instruction. (Note: The students are not identical; homogenous is not meant to be taken literally.) After learning more about one’s students, FF might divide students into groups that need to be challenged and others that need close tutoring or coaching. The FF might design different challenges and activities for students assigned to these groups.

Heterogenous groups might be useful for peer teaching or project-based work. Learners in each group might possess different academic abilities and character traits so that they complement one another in the learning of new content or in the tackling of complex tasks.

I will share more typical novice mistakes in future entries.

2 Responses to "Novice teaching mistakes (Part 1)"

Thank you very much for the article. It’s really useful t read that.


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