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Posts Tagged ‘teaching

I am fond of taking photos of my workshops and classes, but I can only do so during the learner-centric phases.

I often take panoramic shots of my sessions to capture the overall context and strategy. I share a few photos in order to highlight a theme.

Using collaborative learning stations to learn about collaborative learning.

Jigsaw peer instruction with SPED teachers.

Peer teaching by groups of future faculty/teaching assistants.

Station-based learning of ICT-mediated pedagogies.

Station-based uncovering of game-based learning principles.

Switching between student and teacher “hats” during my flipped learning workshop.

Military personnel decoding the differences between (and overlaps of) the flipped classroom and flipped learning.

The obvious similarity is learners working in small groups. Read the captions underneath the photos and you will realise that the contexts, pedagogy, and content differ.

My point is this: The physical environment is an important factor in shaping what an educator does, but it does not dictate or determine what happens. The important ingredients are creative thinking, reliable wifi, mobile devices (preferably owned by the learners), furniture that can be arranged to create stations, and elbow grease.

The elbow grease is one thing you do not see in the photos. Organisers who work with me realise how much time and effort I spend during preparation. This often involves site visits prior to workshops, liaising with administrative and technical folk, and physically setting things up just right.

While the elbow grease ensures that the articulating points move smoothly, it is the creative thinking and planning that brings the parts together in the first place. This sort of creativity is balanced with critical thinking that is a result of deep knowledge and experience with technological instruments, content, and pedagogy. These three elements are overruled by contextual design.

It is not pedagogy first and technology second. It is context that comes first and everything else in a very close second.

It would be an understatement if I said my last week was a tiring one. I balanced classes in the evening and evaluations of novice facilitators in the day.

I was glad that I had the flexibility to arrange the evening classes early in the week and negotiate evaluations later the same week.

When I was a young faculty member, I was treated like a number on a schedule. I recall having to leave home at 6am to get from one end of the island to the other to set up for early morning classes. Sometimes this was on the back of a class the evening before or I had a string of tutorials throughout the day. It was not that much better with seniority because the timetable was king.

Now I get to choose what to be involved in as a consultant and only because I relate to the causes of those I collaborate with. But this does not mean that the work is any less strenuous.

My evening classes are typically from 6.30-9.30pm in a central location. I leave home at 4.30pm to take into account time for travel, an early dinner, and setting up the classroom. After clearing up and chatting with people who stay behind, I might leave the venue at around 10pm and am lucky if I am home at 11pm.

This is a sacrifice that no amount of renumeration compensates for: This takes away from family time. This week was exceptionally painful because it coincided with a week-long school vacation that I could not enjoy with my wife and son.

I make sure that the sacrifice is worth it. I keep the sessions as lively as possible and refrain from lecturing. The entire three hours of each class is driven by learner-centred activities, technology-mediated strategies, and individual reflection.

Jigsaw method of peer learning and instruction.

The photo above might look static, but it is actually a snapshot of groups hard at work during a jigsaw of peer instruction. It is a joy to see energy levels high and questioning minds active even at the end of the session. Sometimes I feel bad that we cannot do more or because I have to stop discussions in order to move on to other important activities and topics.

The evening classes are particularly draining because the body and mind want rest after a day of work. But my learners and I keep our energies up and I employ active learning strategies to help in this regard.

An equally draining activity is evaluating novice facilitators. I do this as part of a cumulative assignment that future faculty develop over approximately two months. They plan and implement a self-contained 10-minute lesson that showcases their ability to be learner-centred.

Evaluating microteaching at NTU.

I am always encouraged by those who make the effort to teach in ways that they were not taught when they were undergraduates.

The other facilitators and I have the unenviable task of changing or shifting mindsets over a very short period. The reception and abilities of our learners spans the spectrum of the militantly resistant to the devoutly willing. Yet we have to help all of them manage their expectations and coax performances that meet the high standards we set for them.

All this makes for taxing, but fulfilling work. Even though I am technically paid to be with these learners three hours at a time, I do my usual early start and late end. The latter is often a result of staying back to discuss ideas, overcome stumbling blocks, or debate philosophical differences.

A while ago, a contact of mine asked me what I did. I described my teaching and facilitating work in less detail than I did above. However, he was sharp enough to label what I did “unbundling”. I understood what he meant immediately.

I had dropped the unnecessary meetings and the regular interruptions. I was able to offer specific services to my clients and collaborators that I was well-versed in as a professor and was also able to focus on these tasks exclusively instead of being torn in different directions.

I have always made time to read and write (I started this blog when I had less bandwidth than I have now) and the unbundling now affords me more. In hindsight, I wish I knew then what I know now about unbundling. It would have given me something to look forward to.

 
… is another man’s poison.

That was the saying that came to mind when I read this student’s feedback on teaching.

A reporting officer or an administrator might view this feedback on teaching negatively.

A teacher who focuses on content as a means of nurturing thoughtful learners might view this positively.

I am not describing a false dichotomy. I am summarising reality.

As I age, I can feel curmudgeonly cells coat the fibre of my being. So I was not surprised when I did not think highly of some weather-related tweets of STonline.

Am I becoming an old fart? No. I am one. But I am old enough to think young and season it with some wisdom.

Someone at the news agency probably thought that it would be harmless to let an intern take the helm of weather-related tweets. After all, this was not a breaking headline, serious news, or an editorial opinion. Since weather here is so meh, why not spice things up?

In the grand scheme of things, there was no foul and no harm. There were probably no feelings hurt and no political, religious, or other sensitive lines crossed.

But the weather tweet reports were still part of a larger whole — a serious newspaper. If the paper wanted to take itself less seriously, it should remember that it has a comics section and a humour column. Or at least I am assuming so because I do not actually read a paper newspaper anymore.

Might the newspaper be so out of touch that it did not learn the painful lesson from the @MOEsg attempts at entertaining by asking infantile riddles in 2013? Here is a selection I Storified.

Being funny is not easy.

It is an art.

It is contextual.

It is subjective.

It is a serious business.

The same could be said about those who teach. It might look easy if you think that teaching is standing in front of a classroom and just talking. Some folks do not talk; they still read off scripts.

It is one thing to teach, it is another to educate (what are some differences?). Like humour, educating is also an art.

Educators work with contexts, not just content.

Educators leverage on subjectivity instead of pretending there is only objectivity.

Education is a serious business. Many may be called to teach, but few can educate. Anyone who thinks or tells you otherwise does not understand what it means to be an educator.

 
The visitations we do every Lunar New Year remind me of one thing I loved and another I hated when I was growing up.

Like most other kids, I loved getting hongbaos (red packets with money inside). Who wouldn’t?

I disliked being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I simply did not know, and when I said so, I was bugged into giving an answer that made an adult happy. And then I got a hongbao.

The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is still a conversation starter with well-meaning adults. Well-meaning, but disconnected.

I have questions for those adults:

  • Does “be” refer to one thing? Why just one thing?
  • Why wait till you grow up?
  • How grown up is “when you grow up”?

I am pushing 50 and I still cannot answer that question.

The child and learner of today might ask the same questions. They have even more options than their parents and will grow into contexts quite different from them.

The expectations and projections are different. For example:

We teach differently based on whether we still ask the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” versus this collection of questions:

  • What can I do now?
  • How is what I learn now relevant and powerful to me?
  • Why do I need to learn this?
  • Are you preparing me for your past or for my future?

The old question is easy to answer; the new questions are very difficult. It is easy to retreat into our shells and do what is easy. It is more important and our responsibility to tackle what is difficult.

Using Betteridge’s law of headlines, The Guardian published an article titled: Could online tutors and artificial intelligence be the future of teaching?

The short answer to any such headline is no.

The longer answer is that modern online efforts provide educators with lessons on how to teach so that learning happens more optimally and meaningfully.

For example, data from a company called Third Space Learning and University College London revealed this:

An early analysis found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that when tutors speak too quickly, the pupil is more likely to lose interest. Leaving sufficient time for the child to respond or pose their own questions was also found to be a factor in the lesson’s success…

The lesson about teaching that focuses on learning: Give learners opportunities to interrupt and intervene.

The longer answer also focuses on whether such efforts will make humans irrelevant:

Hooper agreed that the aim is not to replace teachers with robots. “There’s a slightly dubious conversation about how AI will make humans irrelevant, but it’s not at all about replacing humans,” he said. “Our whole belief is that for children disengaged with the subject, who are lacking in confidence, people is what matter. An algorithm can’t provide that.”

Even well-meaning teachers sometimes get in the way of learning. Whether you like or realise it or not, it is about focusing on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching. The latter are means to the former.

Ambar said that maths used to make her anxious, but since starting the weekly tutorials in Year 5, she has started enjoying it. “When they give you horrible sums, they help you,” she said. “I was scared to do it, but it was actually fun.”

If we focus on the who and how of learning, we will hear more stories that end like this.

 
I had dinner out with an elderly relative yesterday. He noticed my son was not as good as using chopsticks as the rest of us so he called a server over and asked for a fork. He did not ask my son or us if a fork was warranted, and he got an earful from my wife.

What was the issue? He thought my son was struggling and he sought to help.

The deeper issues were that 1) the help was not needed as my son, while not the best user of chopsticks, was feeding himself just fine, and 2) he was reinforcing old behaviour and an easier way out.

The latter is a lesson for all who see ourselves as educators. We care for our learners and wish to help. Before we do, we should consider if the help treats a symptom or deals with a deeper seated-problem.

We might also determine if our help addresses a short-term problem but creates unnecessary dependence or reinforces old habits, or if not helping immediately and instinctively is actually better help.

If students are to learn from mistakes and struggle, they must be able to make mistakes and struggle. If we step in and help too much, we are not helping at all.

These are judgement calls we might be called upon to make every day. I hope that we do a better job of helping by knowing when and how to not help our learners in 2017.


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