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Posts Tagged ‘lesson


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The video above is the original music video, We Built This City, by Starship. The song was released in 1985.


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This is a parody, We Built This City …on Sausage Rolls. It was rerolled by LadBabay about a week ago. The actual song starts after some bickering.

If there is one thing about the process of change it is that something different is not always new. But what is new is somehow different. If that difference is not communicated, implemented, or celebrated, then there is not change.

Doing things differently does not always mean doing things better. But doing things better always means doing things differently. -- Hank McKinnell


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Kenya banned plastic bags. They are not the only country to do this; they are just the most recent.

How did they do this?

It is hard to answer this question because the video shows a result and not the mediating processes. One might guess that political will and courageous activism were high on the list of change processes. And yet the video only hints at such processes.

Therein lies a lesson for those who go on “learning journeys” or “site visits”. You see the obvious products like policy documents and classroom layouts. You might even see model classes in action.

But these products do not always reveal the culture and processes of change. Learning about those important but insidious elements requires immersion or constant sensing, not snapshots or quick visits.

I am not saying that the visits are not worthwhile. I am saying that they are incomplete. If we do not take the effort to learn more about a system and how it changes, we kid ourselves into thinking we can do the same.

My family and I watched The Last Jedi last Wednesday night. As enthralling as the movie was, I could not switch off the learner in me.

To share so early is to spoil the movie. So fair warning: Spoiler ahead!

Yoda appeared as a Force ghost to Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. One of the things the wise Jedi master said was: The greatest teacher, failure is.

The greatest teacher, failure is. -- Yoda

Another spoiler ahead.

The rebel forces made plans, but failed in practically every one. They were almost decimated, but they pushed on.

Lesson ahead.

While Star Wars is a work of science fiction, it is an opportunity to talk about the incidence, importance, and impact of failure.

We cannot really design for failure because it is going to happen anyway. It is fundamental to learning and avoided in teaching. (It might be unethical to intentionally design for ensured failure.)

What we can design for is how to deal with failure when it happens. Do we ignore it, fear it, or learn from it? If we are to learn from failure, how do we guide such learning? How does such an approach guide expectations and shape evaluation?

But I am getting ahead of myself. How prepared are teachers to do this?

Pink Fiat in front of Westerkerk.

An unexpected lesson from my family vacation was Uber-based.

Our Uber ride from home to Changi Airport went without a hitch. But I felt cheated once I arrived in Amsterdam.

My apartment host advised me to get a cab or private car from the Amsterdam Centraal Station (the train station at the city centre). I decided to take his advice since I did not have the lay of the land.

When we arrived at the train station, I used the Uber app and received a confirmation almost instantly. However, the Uber driver always seemed to be “one minute away”. I messaged the driver twice to confirm our pickup location, but did not receive a reply.

In the meantime, a host of cabs appeared in front of us as if to mock my attempt to hire a private car. I gave up waiting after 10 minutes and had to pay an 8 Euro penalty for the driver’s time.

I think that the driver wasted my time. I suspect that it was his strategy to make a quick buck — or euro in this case — by being just out of reach, but I cannot confirm it.

So we switched to a cab. I showed the driver the address of the apartment, and since he was not sure where it was, he used Google Maps. I double-checked with him by asking him the distance and time to the apartment, and also looked at his screen. He went the wrong way as he had a similar address, not the exact one.

We pulled over about a minute into the ride and got the address right. I recognised the route as I had seen it in Google Maps previously. I also saw the exact street when it matched what I saw in Street View.

The lesson: Being technology-savvy is not just about knowing how and when to use technology. It is also about working around it. What is often around it are changing circumstances and fickle people. Being savvy is a combination of leveraging on technology to be prepared, to react to circumstances, and to reflect on experiences.

Yesterday I shared some advice on how novice facilitators might put more thought into cooperative group work.

Today I focus on how they might write better lesson plans.

Lesson planning is not a chore, it is a discipline. With practice, it becomes a habit that gets internalised.

Even faculty members in institutes of higher education (IHLs) need to lesson plan. Especially faculty members need to lesson plan because they might not have had teacher preparation.

Novice facilitators should not simply walk into tutorial rooms or laboratories and try to repeat what they experienced as undergraduates and graduate students. The didactic pedagogy they perpetuate is based on the transmission of information.

While information might be transferable, knowledge is not. Such meaning is negotiated cognitively and socially. Facilitating such negotiation first takes the knowledge and skills of writing learning outcomes, designing learner-centred activities, and providing feedback on performance. All these should be developed in a lesson plan.

Lesson planning is essentially a writing process. Like any writing process, there is drafting and revising. Novices should not expect to get a plan right on the first attempt. The process can be painful, but as the adage goes: No pain, no gain.

The programme I am involved in requires future faculty to write course descriptions, lesson plans, and personal teaching philosophies.

Chunk
No matter the academic subject, there are disciplines to hone when writing. One is chunking thoughts in paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one main idea. Ideally, one chunk should link to another in a logical series.

Write tight
Another discipline of writing is not to write the way you speak. A conversation between two people can meander and even get lost. It is informal and interaction is immediate. Elements of a lesson plan need to be written clearly and concisely.

I find that it helps to imagine that you are planning a lesson just in case someone else needs to take over your class in your absence. You need to write simply and directly so that another facilitator might read your plan and lead the class almost like you would.

Do not be lazy
When writing, use the autocorrect tools in word processing programs. They help you avoid spelling and grammatical errors. However, they cannot correct lazy or ill-disciplined writing.

The screen capture above shows how I highlighted and corrected a lesson plan element. The lesson plan was about bits and bytes, hence the tongue-in-cheek comment about ones and zeroes.

My comment might come across as mean. It is not. Being a disciplined writer means not taking the reader for granted. What you say is not necessarily what someone else will hear. It is about taking another’s perspective.

Disciplined writing is also about caring for the small things that matter. If you cannot get these details right, how can you be trusted with the larger picture?

Proofread
Autocorrect tools do not understand context or detect all errors. So another aspect of disciplined writing is proofreading. Such reading is not just for spotting and correcting spelling and grammatical errors, but also for addressing flaws in logic and bumps in flow.

I find that it helps to walk away from a piece of writing and return to it with a fresh perspective.

Practise and transfer
Like most skills that are developed over time, writing takes practice. Future faculty who wish to be good facilitators should invest time in writing good lesson plans because this is a skill that transfers. Disciplined writing can help with the composition of dissertations, grant proposals, conference submissions, research papers, etc.

But the most important purpose of disciplined writing by novice faculty is lesson planning. Such writing might seem burdensome initially, but when practiced iteratively and reflectively, it becomes a habit. This habit pays off when students benefit from learner-centred design that is held together by disciplined writing.

I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.

I dislike noise that prevents me from concentrating and thinking. Given that I do a fair amount of my work on the move in public transport or in cafes, I face a lot of noise.

Even libraries are not immune from interference because the quiet space makes even page flips, periodic sniffling, or inconsiderate talking seem loud.

So I invested in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 25, almost two years ago.


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This pair of headphones is expensive, but I did not realise that I would have to pay an additional SGD49 so far each year to maintain them. This is not some insurance or other fee. This is the cost of replacement Bose ear cups.

The ear cups do not seem to be made for Singapore’s humidity. The photo shows what one of my old pairs looks like. I have not made them look worse. The photo shows the literal wear and tear from just putting the headphones on and off repeatedly.

Wear and tear of a pair of Bose QC25 ear cups.

I suppose that the company assumed that someone who bought the headphones would only wear them in a plane or in an air-conditioned office.

I already have two pairs of ear cups that have similar damage and my current third pair has just started showing the typical signs of wear and tear.

My receipts remind me that in October 2015 and May 2016, I visited a brick-and-mortar store in town to get replacements. This year I wised up. I read an article about Alibaba’s 11/11 online specials and searched Lazada’s offerings (Alibaba bought Lazada earlier in 2016).

I found the same ear cups from Lazada for a lot less. At the time of my purchase, I paid SGD8.60 for a replacement pair. My wallet felt relief from the savings and I felt stupid for paying so much in the past.

As is my habit, I wondered if there was a lesson for those of us in schooling and education.

I learnt my lesson. But can the same be said of schools or universities that keep buying and maintaining hardware and software that they underutilise or not use at all? I am thinking about “special” rooms or labs, “interactive” white boards, LMS which are neither about learning nor managing, and more.

In my case, I found something I needed for less by responding to timely information. But schools and other educational institutions spend so much more on the unnecessary. They listen uncritically to vendors and companies that do not process educational research or speak with authority.

So they spend foolishly like I used to. I have learnt my lesson. Have they?

[Full disclosure: I have not been paid by Bose or Lazada to mention them.]


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