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Posts Tagged ‘teaching

I watched this two-part video report how mandarin is taught now. It featured a journalist who revisited a classroom and immersed herself in the student experience.


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The intended message seemed to be that the methods were more progressive now compared to, say, the time of the kids’ parents. Given the examples and strategies, you might agree.

But I wonder about how the narrative was crafted.

Was three days enough to gauge how the teaching of mandarin had changed? Pragmatically speaking, a journalist is not a researcher and it is tough to get permission and time to record the classroom. That said, three days was not representative compared to three months or three terms.

The class comprised a group of a Secondary 2 Higher Chinese students. These were the minority of students and they enjoyed a smaller class size. How was the class representative of the larger population of students?

That said, the teaching of mandarin, like most other content areas, has changed with the incorporation of various technologies and curricular interventions. Perhaps both were too difficult to show.

I am not referring to the journalist’s toting an iPad. It could have been her own and it did not feature prominently. White boards dominated and this could indicate more a change of medium (from blackboards) and of methods (peer instruction).

An example of a curricular change is the different levels of mandarin in Primary school — foundation, standard, and higher — for students with different abilities. Instead of one size curriculum fits all, it was three sizes fits all.

Perhaps even more insidious is how the type of teachers of mandarin has changed. They are younger, more open to different strategies, and effectively bilingual. If mindset and cultural circumstance have any influence, the way these teachers practice their craft is different from their teachers.

The changes on how content is taught is more nuanced than two videos can reveal. Perhaps a focus on the type of teacher might have been a better narrative.


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Hank Green described how one group of students were directed to make a “perfect pot” out of clay while another group was told to make as many as possible.

Spoiler: The perfect group could not find or make their pot while other group was messy but made many good pots.

If I were to show this video to a group of teachers and educators, I am certain to get many different responses. I have my own: The first process is one modelled on the expert teaching model, while the second reflects the messiness of learning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

This tweet claimed that some people over complicate teaching.

I think that it oversimplified teaching by eschewing nuance. The statement might be equivalent to saying that surgery was knocking someone out, cutting them open, and removing offending bits.

If teaching was that simple, we would not need to have teacher education and professional development programmes. If teaching was that straightforward, anyone could do it.

No. It takes special people, careful nurturing, and meaningful professional development to shape teachers and change what they do.

Trying to distill the complexity of teaching is not wrong if you are an experienced professional, but it also does a disservice when it misrepresents that work to outsiders.

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Processing the tweeted statement below at face value, my immediate response was: And, not or.

Pragmatic and theoretically-grounded educators should be doing all three, with an emphasis on the latter two. If you read the resource linked from the tweet, the author seems to agree with me.

I would add that there are more Ts: Titillating (activating with hooks, creating of dissonance, motivating), Tinkering (experimenting, learning from failure), Thinking (strategising, reflecting), Trailblazing (troubling Trouble before it troubles you).

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


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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.

As a teacher educator, I find this tweet terrifying.

It is terrifying:

  • that this still needs to be said.
  • that the point is still relevant.
  • even in Singapore’s context.
  • especially in Singapore’s context.

The tweet is a reminder that what is olds to me is news to someone else.

My initial reaction to the suggestion to use “discs or thumb drives” to somehow deliver expert instruction was: How quaintly 20th century.

After reading the whole article, I found false premise of the assumption — doing this would ensure “all students are taught through the same standards”.

A standard delivery — still old-fashioned despite the 20th century references — does not ensure standard reception and use. Learners are different.

Teaching is neat while learning is messy. You cannot use a standard approach for a non-standard issue.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.


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