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Posts Tagged ‘teacher

I take my role of edtech watchdog seriously. I am not just a pedagogue; I am a peda-dog!

 
Sometimes I wonder if I am being too harsh with my critiques of the state of teaching and teachers in Singapore. After all, according to a 2013 study we had the most well-paid (see point 3) and one of the most well-respected teaching forces in the world. But these do not mean that all our teachers are educators.

My parents were teachers. I was a teacher. I am married to a teacher. Most of our friends and acquaintances are teachers. Should I bark at and even bite my own kind?

Every now and then I am reminded why I need to do this. Sometimes the reminders come from the seminars and workshops I conduct. Sometimes they are dialogues I have with teachers. Sometimes they are stories from sources I trust.

This is a story about my son who is sitting for his PSLE this year.

My son is bright and should not have problems with this high-stakes examination. However, we were not content to subject him to the mindless rat race, so we looked for a good fit via DSA. We concerned ourselves with getting him into a school that would bring back and nurture the joy of learning.

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.

We made a family decision to try the new literary arts programme at SOTA [information from SOTA] [news article]. It was taking in about 25 students for the academic year 2017.

We had to ask my son’s form teacher for help to get some school records for the DSA application in May. We were thankful for his teacher’s help. However, I was surprised to hear what happened in my son’s class shortly after we made the request.

The teacher declared that in all her years of teaching none of her students got into their Secondary schools via DSA. It seemed like a source of pride that she was able to prepare her students for PSLE so that they could rely on scores alone.

Now there is nothing wrong with that especially if you have the perspective of most parents here. But we are not “most parents” and I would have been fine if things were left at that remark.

Tomorrow's educational progress cannot be determined by yesterday's successful performance.

I was troubled by two additional comments from the teacher:

  • If you do not get the marks for PSLE, you can try for DSA.
  • What talents do you have that they want?

Those comments were sorely misplaced.

First, the DSA is not inferior to the PSLE. My son had to prepare an e-portfolio, sit for tests, participate in interviews (focus groups and individual), and take part in performance assessments over the span of a month. He also has to do well enough in the PSLE to keep his place in his next school.

Second, kids are more talented than we give them credit for. Their talents are often quieted and schooled out of them. If we watch, listen, and talk to kids, their passions and talents become clear. Such talents can grow and evolve to help them find their niche in life.

Creativity cannot be taught as a skill, but it can be killed -- Yong Zhao.

My son thinks that he was the only one in his class to apply for DSA. This made the comments even more cutting. Was there any need to throw shade at the DSA and kids with talents not accounted for by the PSLE?

This is like parents (still) saying that playing video games has absolutely no value. Those parents need to expand their scope of who they watch on YouTube, e.g., TheDiamondMinecart, Sky Does Minecraft, Stampy, Paul Soares Jr., PewDiePie, Markiplier, CaptainSparklez.

Values are more CAUGHT than they are TAUGHT.

When it emerged that my son had taken the DSA route, some of his classmates gave him unsolicited feedback like, “SOTA is a shit school!” They could not understand why he even considered that option.

Kids are honest and open portals to the values of adults. I have said before that values are more caught than they are taught [1] [2] [3]. The words and actions of parents and teachers shape the thoughts and behaviours of kids. It is frightening to see what prevails.

I started this reflection by wondering if I was in denial about how teachers mindsets have changed. I have shared one anecdote of a classroom teacher possibly in denial about alternative paths to learning and success.

Are you really thinking or are you merely rearranging your biases?

We are still thankful for the efforts of our son’s teachers because they invariably leave a mark. They might focus on delivering lessons in class, but sometimes they accidentally offer lessons in life.

DSA SOTA confirmation of offer.

This Teachers’ Day we will thank my son’s teachers — the ones that are still around because quite a few have left the school. We will also share some good news: We just found out that our son has been accepted into the literary arts programme in SOTA.

If my son’s teachers see themselves as learners first, they might also reflect on the lessons in this story.

 
Can just about anyone teach?

No. Not just anyone can teach, no matter what a vendor or consultant tells you. But just about everyone has an opinion on how and what to teach.

Experiencing what teaching was like from a student’s perspective or offering remedial tuition one-on-one does not qualify you to be a teacher.

That is like saying a first aider is a surgeon or someone who knows how to change a car’s oil is a mechanic. These people do not have deep knowledge, experience, and expertise.
 

 
Can everyone teach someone else a thing or two?

Yes. Everyone has something to offer, just not in the traditional understanding of what it means to teach or be a teacher.

Anyone with the right access can teach someone else anywhere in the world via a blog, a YouTube video, or a FaceTime call. A few are good at doing this and they get even better with failed attempts and persistence.

Just do not confuse that with teaching and educating as a profession. It is a job or a calling that combines psychology, parenting, management, instructional design, public speaking, coaching, counselling, evaluating, and so much more.

So, yes, everyone can teach. But, no, not everyone is an educator.

 
You had to be deaf, blind, or asleep to not hear about the solar eclipse yesterday or to see it.

Singapore’s Prime Minister even asked the public via social media to share their best photos of the eclipse. Some did not disappoint, to humorous effect.

Many took the trouble and the precautions to observe this astronomical phenomenon. I wonder how much they learnt.

By this I do not simply mean an appreciation for celestial bodies or basic astronomy. I am referring to the thinking behind our collective understanding of the phenomenon.

For example, did anyone in the position to educate get learners to ponder questions like:

  • What did we use to believe about such phenomena? Why?
  • How do we enable safe viewings and why do these methods work?
  • Why it is important to appreciate such opportunities?

Teachers might focus on the facts (learning about). Educators will also emphasise the thinking of a scientist or astronomer (learning-to-be).

Teachers might focus on such teachable moments. Educators will work on making such moments more common and how to turn them into learning ones.

This blog entry by David Geurin reminded me why I shudder when I hear these two words put together: Teacher and training.

My stance has not changed, when I was a professor and teacher educator then, and as a provider of professional development now for teachers, lecturers, instructors, and yes, trainers.
 

 
You can potty-train a child. You can train a dog to do tricks. You can train people in first aid, handling weapons, evacuation procedures, and other standard operating procedures. You do this to create what some like to call muscle memory. This is suitable for situations where compliance applies.

This is the opposite of what is required of the teacher today. Gone are the days of simply opening a textbook and reading from it. A robot can do that, which is why this projection predicts that teachers are less unlikely to be replaced by them.

That is, teachers who do not behave like robots and are not trained like them.

The problem with the word “training” is the need to standardise, and in the process, favour efficiency over effectiveness. Who knows what works best from one classroom to the next? If we want teachers to move away from the one-size-fits-all way of thinking, we should not be training them.

I prefer to use “professional development” and not as a mere substitute for “training”. I think of my workshop participants as professionals the same way different types of doctors and lawyers are professionals. Just like in those fields, the contexts, methods, and content areas are in a state of flux. This requires a constant state of development on how teachers need to think for themselves.

By comparison, training is relatively simple. Professional development is more complex because it is about shaping mindsets before attempting to change behaviours. If training can be thought of as “don’t think, just do”, professional development is more like “don’t just do, think”.

I get the sentiment and thinking behind such a statement. It is about getting educators who have the passion to teach and are able to leverage on technology to help their students learn meaningfully and effectively.

These are the sorts of educators we need, but what are types we get and grow?

We can certainly find several individuals who have the passion and a few with the innate talent to teach. But integrating technology is a learnt and transferred behaviour that takes time and trials, neither of which most teacher preparation programmes and full time jobs in schools provide.

So what is wrong with embracing “tech geeks” who can teach? Who is to say that their focus and ability only lies in the tech and not, say, the ability to use social learning strategies?

Which is harder: To learn pedagogy or to learn how to integrate technology?

That is a trick question. It is the premise on which the original statement might have been built on. It is also a false dichotomy because you cannot separate the two.

What we need is passionate do-ers who are willing to learn by failing forward. They can be “tech geeks” or “teaching geeks”, but they will go on similar journeys with their learners.

Later today I will conduct a presentation on educational crowdsourcing.

The praxis of educational crowdsourcing: Learner as content creator and learner as teacher

I was invited by a university to contribute to a seminar where one of the themes was to push the practice of collaboration.

I have opted to focus on how faculty might do this by positioning students as content creators and teachers. It is one of my teaching philosophies that students learn best when they take these roles.

During my presentation, I back up this stance by citing the theory and/or research behind such practice. I also share my own experiences doing these when I was a university academic.

Update: My Google Slides are at http://bit.ly/iits-praxis.

Last week I volunteered for a school’s career guidance event for students. The students chose who they wanted to interview in half-hour intervals and we shared our hearts out.

A teacher inserted himself into my group’s discussion. As we meandered from one topic to another, that teacher declared this about his students: “They prefer pen and paper.”

No, they do not. Students have been conditioned to accepting them. The Principal of Change articulated this in a recent blog entry:

many of our students are so used to “school” that something outside the lines of what they know terrifies them just as much as any adult. If school has become a “checklist” for our students (through doing rubrics, graduation requirements, etc.), learning that focuses on creation and powerful connections to learning, not only take more effort, but more time, which sometimes frustrates many students.

 

The problem with... by horrigans, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  horrigans 

 
There is an immediacy to paper which needs to be examined in more ways than one. If you have a notebook or scrap ready, there is quickness of use and illustration that is hard to beat. Some might also value the feel of paper as a form of immediate recognition.

But paper is also immediate in that what happens there immediately stops there. There is no hyperlinking or ease of editing, copying, and sharing. The affordances of paper, as wonderful as they are, also have limited pedagogy: Go where I say, stay where you are, write neatly, do not copy, do not share, etc.

Paper is comforting because it does not push pedagogy to new ground, so schools use a lot of it. Other than the newspaper industry, I do not know any other organization that relies on so much paper. OK, maybe the toilet paper industry.

Ultimately, schools justify the pen and paper mode of instruction because of the pen and paper exams. This is despite the increasingly non-pen and paper life and work that awaits learners when they move on.


Video source

Saying kids prefer pen and paper is like saying they would rather use encyclopedias instead of Google or Wikipedia. (BTW, they know the limitations of those tools better than teachers might expect).

Just ask enough of our kids the same questions the teens were asked in the video above. Their responses might not be as colourful as the ones in the video, but you are likely to get similar responses.

Like the video, you will get a few responses about paper-form books based on nostalgia and tactility. But these come from a place of honesty and passion, not from conditioning by a schooling system that refuses to change. These come from students who learn how to think by themselves instead of providing conditioned responses.

Do we assume nostalgia to be important enough not to change? Do teachers have a right to recreate their own world instead of preparing kids for theirs? I borrow another quote from The Principal of Change in the same blog entry:

if we do not challenge our students in the learning they do in school, what are we preparing them for? What mindset will we actually create in our students? It is important, if not crucial, to really listen and act upon student voice…

How much longer are we going to maintain conditions for “pen and paper” conditioned responses?


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