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Posts Tagged ‘teacher

I try not to roll my eyes whenever I read this repeated claim:

Another hot topic raised at the forum was whether MOE would consider reducing class sizes from 40 to 25 students to allow teachers to give more attention to their charges.

However, Mr Ong pointed out that the 1:40 teacher-student ratio in a classroom is actually 1:15 for primary schools in terms of the overall numbers of teachers and students in a school, with the ratio reduced for secondary school (1:12 or 1:13) and junior colleges (1:11).

This latest iteration was reported in this news article.

One public response to this claim was Class size in schools: For teachers, the real work is not just a ratio.

Take a straw poll among mainstream school teachers with classes and very few will report they have classes of those sizes. (I am excluding special needs teachers, counsellors, teaching adjuncts, etc.)

Do the ratios account for every education officer, even the ones on extended leave or pursuing professional development? Do they include every possible teaching intervention, i.e., from individual coaching to mass lectures? If so, it is possible to get such ratios on a spreadsheet.

Personally, I have seen class size rise instead of fall. I teach at university level and this semester my classes swelled to between 32 and 36 per session when they were hovering around 20 previously.

University policies are not directly under the direct purview of the MOE. Each school or department within the university decides on class sizes using the resources it has. I know of one group that has tutorial classes that average about 50 students while others run studios with students you can count on one hand.

But that is my point — the adaptive variability is not obvious in a spreadsheet. When you take averages of such variability, you get simplified ratios that remove all nuance.

I concur with the tweet above.

Many cannot take critique and criticism. Teachers seem to have thinner skin perhaps because they equate being nurturing with always having something positive to say.

I am not against being positive. I am against providing feedback masked by so much fluff that critical messaging gets lost.

Like most things in life, we ought to strive for balance. Right now it is tipped too far on “plaudits and platitudes” and we need a critical shift. This is not a call to be nasty; it is a call to be honest with ourselves.

The tweet below reminded me of how I used to introduce myself after I stopped being a teacher and became an educator.

At most teacher and educator events, we are often asked to introduce ourselves by sharing what we call ourselves, where we work, and what we teach.

I often start normally with my name and then say that I work nowhere in particular. If that does not confuse people, I add that I do not teach any subject in particular; I say that I teach people.

I state that last point in all seriousness, but it often draws laughter, some of it nervous and some of it knowing. The few that chortle knowingly are educators whose mantra is the tweet.

When someone teaches with a passion, it is obvious. The passion expresses itself in different ways, some more exuberant than others.


Video source

The video above is not a recording of a lecture or tutorial of a university professor of inorganic chemistry. She was demonstrating reactions on a talk show.

Her reactions to her own experiments were obvious: She was excited and joyous. It was as if the experiences were new, like a learner’s first time. This puts her in good stead to connect with her learners because she empathises with them.

Her teaching is also infectious. If you are enthusiastic and excited about what you are teaching, that is half the battle won. After all, some things are not just taught, they are also caught.

If the results of this study are valid, then new teachers are not as prepared as they should be if they depend on teacher education textbooks.

This presupposes that the six research-based instructional strategies are themselves valid and rigorous. But since we have to start somewhere, those fundamental six are as good as any.

The chart seems to be a modification or revision of a 2016 report and presentation by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). The fundamental six (in the screen captures below) were from a guide in 2007.

So the fundamental and research-based instructional strategies are not new. However, the researchers found that in their sample of 48 teacher preparation textbooks:

  • none accurately described all six fundamentals
  • the fundamentals were inadequately addressed

What then do textbooks offer teachers about helping students learn?

According to the study, the emphasis seemed to be “posing probing questions” or “elaboration” (41%). However, there did not seem to be any emphasis on helping students retain what they heard or did.

The study then went on to illustrate how teacher preparation courses paralleled textbook content, and in doing so, were also inadequate.

Do stakeholders have reason to worry?

Yes, if teacher preparation is the only time when teachers learn the fundamentals.

No, not when there is learning on-the-job (OTJ) and continuous professional development (PD). In some places, there might also be teacher recertification.

Yes, if the OTJ and PD are not updated and relevant.

No, if the teachers participate in informal PD (I call it unPD) and get the latest and greatest from edu-Twitter, education blogs and newsletters, etc.

Yes, if that behaviour is not the norm or firmly entrenched as an expectation of professional practice.


Video source

Teachers in the USA get a whole week for appreciation. Maybe teachers there would appreciate Singapore teachers’ salaries.

It is just one Teacher’s Day here in Singapore (this year it is on August 31st). That same month, teachers here must pay for parking in their schools — horrors!

Sorry, teachers. See video.

I like watching videos where experts either explain difficult concepts to learners of different ages or just to kids. The video below is one of the latter.


Video source

Explaining to an adult how to create bioluminescent plants from firefly DNA is challenging, much less kids. The two content experts from MIT were not quite comfortable teaching kids and their attempts illuminate some concepts about how students learn and what an effective teacher looks like.

When one content expert tried simplifying the concept of transferring bioluminescence, she ran into some trouble.

Expert: “…we just ask them to give us some chemicals”.
One child: “Do you tell them?”

Expert: “We just borrow the light from the fireflies…”
Another child: “Do you mean like real borrow or do you just keep it?”

The expert was visibly stunned by the kids’ questions and their teacher intervened with timely and appropriate answers.

An effective teacher is not just knowledgeable in content, she should also be a child and learning expert. As information mushrooms and knowledge needs to be constantly negotiated and updated, being the latter type of expert is critical.

The other expert got the kids to participate in a hands-on activity where they simulated bioluminescence by mixing chemicals in small vials. Instead of hearing about bioluminescence, they tried and saw for themselves.

This is not about appealing to different “learning styles” — which is a myth anyway — but to teach and reinforce with multiple methods and modes. That said, kids generally learn best by what stems from natural curiosity, i.e., experiencing and asking.

The teacher as a child and learning expert asked a critical question at the end of the experiment: “What do you think this could help solve?” She did not provide answers to her learners, but got them to generate answers that required them to think actively about what they just experienced.


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