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Posts Tagged ‘teaching


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This needs to be said: No one should assume that movies depict teachers and teaching accurately.

No one should learn from movie depictions of the same, except to critique said depictions. All that said, there are two truths about such representations:

  1. Movies often do not show how teachers decompress. This is mirrors life and is boring or ugly, so viewers seeking entertainment might reject it.
  2. The best teachers listen first, listen again, and listen some more, before offering anything of substance.

When I read this tweeted teaching tip, I sniggered and shuddered.

When I was a student teacher I learnt about black and whiteboard tips and strategies. I became a part-time teacher educator just one year into my full-time teaching and passed on the same tips. But I did not share anything about shaking hips.

Most student and beginning teachers seem to appreciate practical advice from those more experienced than themselves. But there are issues with when and how they learn these tips:

  • Tips like the board-erasing one are as much about professionalism as they are about image. Some teachers focus on the latter instead of the former.
  • Young teachers learn such tips and strategies at the beginning of their careers or jobs. The learning is not continuous because there is no continuous professional development.
  • The tips and strategies are contextual, but teachers are not always taught when and why. The tips and strategies might not be relevant in other contexts or they cease to be relevant over time.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2018 results of its Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

The Today article summarised some TALIS data.

Taken at face value, the sample of lower secondary school teachers in Singapore spent less time teaching but more time marking student work than their OECD counterparts.

So might the 2005 initiative to Teach Less, Learn More become Teach Less, Mark More now?

I jest. Here was another tweeted article on TALIS.

As I read both articles on survey findings, I wondered:

  1. How were “working hours” of the sample of lower secondary school teachers calculated?
  2. Did these hours include work done outside school, e.g., grading student work at home or at a Starbucks?

Why ask these questions? If the working hours were only based on official time tables and co-curricula commitments, then the figures did not capture the extent of work.

Even if we assume that there was a valid and reliable way of collecting outside school work across various OECD countries, how meaningful is an average for each country?

Consider how much more time a language teacher takes on grading and feedback than would a teacher who relies on online quizzes and scanned bubble sheets.

Consider how one teacher might be able to enjoy practically the whole of the June vacation while another has to chaperone students on an overseas trip, stay in touch with school leadership and parents, or prepare university admissions materials for graduating students during the same period.

I revisited my second question after reading both articles: Did these working hours include work done outside school?

The CNA article claimed that the working hours included “those spent working out of school” while the Today article did not. Both articles mentioned time spent marking and efforts to reduce administrative work. However, they did not stipulate whether this was marking and administration done in school or outside it.

Consider this anecdote from the Today article (I emphasised the key finding):

Four teachers teaching the lower secondary level, who spoke to TODAY on the condition of anonymity as they were not supposed to speak to the media, said that they did not feel their working hours have been reduced.

Most of their time is spent on administrative work, planning lessons as well as co-curricular activities and other school activities, they added.

Those interviewed said that they clock from 47 hours to more than 52 hours a week, taking into account the hours spent on some Saturdays due to co-curricular activities.

This did not clarify the hours of in-school work and outside school work. Both teachers and administrators probably did not see a need for such a distinction. But a data collector and analyser should. That is lesson number 1 on research.
 

 
Lesson 2 on research: When the quantitative and qualitative findings paint different pictures, we should give pause. Both might not wrong. Instead, both might be spotlights on a larger and more complex picture. We should embrace nuance instead of simplicity.

 
I have grabbed every opportunity to run courses or workshop series like studio sessions.

If you need to know what studio teaching and studio-based learning are, I recommend these resources:

My most recent ventures with this approach were a series of academic writing workshops for teachers and a postgraduate course on educational technology.

Both groups enjoyed a small number of participants: Six teachers and seven Masters/Ph.D. students. In terms of content, both were roughly even on theory (knowledge), practice (skills), and praxis (theory informed and authentic practice).

One way to imagine studio-based learning is to picture novice painters. Learners armed with prior knowledge and previous experiences bring those to the studio to learn from a master and their peers. They learn in. They learn information and skills just-in-time and level up by working in groups and individually.

While in groups, they share (peer teach) and provide feedback to one another (critique). Their processes and products are made as open and available to others as much as possible.

A studio also affords individual alone time to be with their thoughts. This allows students to practice or reflect on their own, or to consult the facilitator.

Like a painter, a student in a studio must have choice in a project for evaluation of learning. The project must meet standards established early on and agreed upon. Like a painter, such a student needs to showcase their thinking (processes) and work (products) during studio sessions.

I have found it easy to conduct studio sessions when the circumstances align — class size, course coordinators who are hands-off or trusting, nature of topic, etc. I can do these even in the most traditional of institutions. However, it is the assessment that is challenging. I will reflect on one or two pragmatic issues next.

It is the day before I facilitate a new Masters course on technology for teaching and learning. I have prepared the minimum of slides so that I will do the minimum of lecturing.

My goal is to facilitate learning and I need to set and maintain that expectation. Here are just two of the less than ten slides I have.

Cooperating and peer teaching.

Walled garden.

Enough said?

I am certain these approaches will generate cognitive dissonance and discussion. These are vital ingredients in the pot of learning. I hope that my co-learners embrace cooking instead of simply consuming.

One might take a simple observation (like the one tweeted below) and turn it into a teaching moment.

At first glance, you might see nothing wrong with the set up and leave it at that.

As the Twitter personality points out human foibles like laziness or oversight, you might look for something wrong. So a second look might reveal how the rolled up screen cannot be lowered past the projector.

Even so, anyone who has used a short-throw projector knows that 1) it is typically used with a wall-mounted whiteboard (like the one in the same photo), and 2) the projection on the board is often interactive. The second point means that the presenter can tap or write on the board — this requires a stationary surface, not a dangling one.

Still, someone whose job was to install the projector could have also removed the old screen. But even that is not nuanced enough. Why replace one type of projector with another?

Administrators and policymakers have bought into the sales pitches of vendors who say that such interactive projections are the next big thing. They are not. They leave the teacher squarely at the front of the classroom, with little involvement of the learners.

To teach is the learn twice.

If the adage that “To teach is to learn twice” is true, then we understand why teachers become content experts. They are constantly unpacking and repacking content for others.

How about the learners? Would they not benefit from teaching one another more often than not?

If teachers have just one critical job (for the record, they have many), it is to ensure that students learn effectively and meaningfully. Presentations on screen do not ensure learning; performance using the new knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes do.

Learning is not a spectator sport. --Chickering and Ehrmann

I process most things from an educator’s perspective. So when this talented artiste performed Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody 42 ways, I thought about teaching.


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Are we one-trick ponies? Or can we switch strategies and use different tools when the context and learning need dictate?

Teaching is not as glamorous or flashy as the video performance, but we can still learn from it. The video is a result of much practice, application of creativity, correcting mistakes, and persisting when there is resistance.

What are we doing to build up our teaching repertoires?


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