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Posts Tagged ‘teaching

Yesterday I spotted this sign near where I stay.

A warning sign & a cry for help #english #grammar

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

In proper English, the sign might read: “Danger – spoilt seat. Please don’t sit.”

Despite the broken English, most of us still get the message. Why?

We are probably mentally flexible enough to bend the rules to understand what the sign intended. Just as likely, the warning tape was a visual cue and physical barrier.

The bottom line is that you get the message in spite of the poor English. Something else helps send and enforce that message.

This reminds me of lecturers who insist that students can learn deeply from didactic teaching. The students learn not because of a lecture, but in spite of it.

In higher education, students learn more outside the lecture. They visit the library to research, read quietly, and edit their notes. They form study groups, meet with faculty or tutors, and might even pay for remedial tuition. They Google for information and search YouTube for videos.

I get anecdotal confirmation of this every semester when I conduct classes for university students.

You might think of this as the 80:20 “rule” of learning. The actual proportion is not important nor is it that precise. The point is that deeper and more meaningful learning is often a result of what students do, not what the lecturers do.

In the working or corporate world, there is the 70:20:10 rule. The learning opportunities are hands-on work, learning from others, and formal professional development. Again the ratios are not absolute or fixed, and the point is that learning socially and on the run are key.

The fact is that much more effort to learn is spent outside the classroom or training venue than inside of it. This is because the other contexts are more fitting, opportune, or otherwise meaningful for learning.

Our students do not necessarily learn because we teach. They learn in spite of what we do. This is a humbling thought and we need to focus on where, when, how, and why they learn, not just what they learn or who they learn it from.

 
Have you ever wondered why some of the meat that we eat is not called what it was when it was alive?

Fish is fish, chicken is chicken, and duck is duck. However, cow is beef, pig is pork, and sheep is lamb or mutton.

I wondered why but it was never important enough to find out. That is, until YouTube suggested I watch this video.


Video source

Now I want to know why everything is named what it is. The makers of this video series and YouTube are there to tell me why the Earth’s continents have their names and why kiwi is a fruit, bird, and nationality.

This approach might be called serendipitous or incidental learning. Better still, accidental learning. A teacher does not have any teaching objectives (old school) or even learning outcomes (newer school). There is no plan or test.

The information about meat names is not particularly useful, but it is not useless either. There are more important lessons for teachers and learners.

For teachers, it is designing lessons that are fun or intriguing. These leverage on emotion and curiosity.

For learners, the lesson is about learning for its own sake. It is not about memorising facts but about enjoying them as well as the process of learning. It is constant, low pressure, and on demand.

Thanks to my Twitter PLN, I chanced upon this tweet.

Both my immediate reaction and critical reflection was: Nope, this I don’t like.

I do not have anything against fidget spinners. I do not have anything against practice provided that it is designed based on sound principles, e.g., spaced repetition, interleaving. [1] [2] [3]

It is not enough for teachers to design with just good intent. Their decision-making and implementation must be informed by rigorous research and/or reflective practice.

One design issue discussed in Twitter was that the spinner was meant to be a timer. Spin it, then do as many sums as you can before it stops.

What if the variability of the spinning momentum (some more, some less) an issue?

Is the speed of completion the desired learning outcome?

How is the use of spinners justifiable?

What better alternatives in terms of strategies and tools are there?

I am all for starting with where the learner is at. But my caveat is that the starting point is not to pander. It is to build on prior knowledge or experience and to provide a meaningful challenge.

Teachers may feel the tug of their hearts because they love their students, but they must be led first by their heads. They must first be critically informed or they risk designing in a vacuum and establishing the wrong sort of expectations.

I read this article, Sesame Workshop and IBM team up to test a new A.I.-powered teaching method, with critical optimism.
 

 
After reading the article, I still wondered if the AI was actually adapting to how kids learn or if it was learning how to teach as an adult would. The former focuses on learning while the latter is about teaching.

Teaching and learning are not synonymous. Ideally and intentionally, effective teaching should lead to meaningful learning. However, teaching does not guarantee learning. Let me illustrate.

The article claimed that:

kindergarteners learned words like “arachnid,” “amplify,” “camouflage,” and “applause,” which are typically considered above their grade level.

Kids were taught these words, but did they really learn to use these words in contexts that were meaningful to them? Will they retain and use the words appropriately in future?

My son learnt “chela” and “carapace” in kindergarten. I only learnt these as a Biology major in university. Today he cannot recall those terms or even learning them. However, those terms are etched in my memory even though I have not taught Biology in over 20 years.

I argue that my son was taught those terms, but only I learnt them. It is one thing to teach for short-term gain and retention. It is entirely another to design for long-term and meaningful learning.

If we teach AI the wrong way, then artificial intelligence will have another meaning. It will be about “learning” that is meaningless, superficial, and fleeting.
 

I was taught a lot as an undergraduate majoring in biology. Not all of it was true.
 

 
One thing that a lecturer taught me was this factoid: Human DNA is almost 99% identical to chimpanzee. That has stuck with me because it was so jarring.

The lesson then was that it took just 1% of evolutionary tweaking and protein-making difference to have a human. Back then I just took an expert’s word for it.

Today I have YouTube condensing the work and critique of several experts. The video below was built from five published references.


Video source

The main takeaway from the video is that the absolute number (99%) is misleading. The number was derived under conditions like ignoring portions of genomes and arbitrary rules so that the number is neither valid nor reliable. Change the rules and the number changes.

The larger issue is how students today might still be taught: From old textbooks, with outdated pedagogy, and without access to more than one source of information.

The biggest sin of any teacher is focusing just on content. This means the delivery of information and the testing by regurgitation of it.

Content is (or it should be) a means to an end. The end is not to reproduce that content in a test because information can be challenged and knowledge can change. Content should be a way to teach thinking.

The teaching of content today should not just be learning-about. It should focus on learning-to-be. In the chimpanzee and human DNA example, it is not just learning about the 99% factoid. It is about asking critical questions about it and knowing how to find valid and reliable answers to those questions.

Rising above, the teaching of a juicy factoid like human DNA is 99% chimpanzee stems from the pedagogy of answers and the attempt to engage students with interesting nuggets. The critique of such a factoid starts with the pedagogy of questions and continues with the empowerment of students to think and act critically.

About three years ago, I gave a speech in which I described how technology tools have changed but how some of our pedagogy has remained stagnant. I showed how we remain stuck at the show-and-tell method of teaching and schooling despite advancing technologically [slide].

When our ancestors learnt to draw on cave walls, they were using show-and-tell.

 
When we used blackboards, it was largely about show-and-tell. These days this is referred to derogatively as chalk-and-talk.

 
When the overhead projector invaded halls and rooms, most other strategies flew over our collective heads as we relied on show-and-tell again.

 
When whiteboards replaced blackboards, the strategy remained the same — show-and-tell.

 
Even when “interactive” whiteboards could do much more, teachers did much less and reduced them to smaller whiteboards and reverted to show-and-tell. (And some people had the audacity to call these white elephants “smart”.)

 
Despite the rise of personal mobile devices, vendors, instructional designers, and instructors took the safe bet: Content delivery by show-and-tell.

 by lukew, on Flickr
"" (CC BY 2.0) by lukew

 
Now we can add AR and VR devices to the mix. But the imaginations of some of the people who decide what AR and VR are good for is still stuck at show-and-tell.

 
Is show-and-tell that bad given how persistent it is? No, it is not. But it cannot be the main and only strategy in a teacher’s toolkit. After all, if all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.
 
Show-and-tell is not good because it has been persistent. It is still around because teachers are stubborn, fearful, or choose to remain ignorant.

Not only do teachers need a mix of strategies, they also need a balance. Right now, the balance is still tilted heavily on show-and-tell simply because that is how teachers were taught and it is what gives them a sense of control.

But teaching by telling does not necessarily lead to learning. We now have so many more tools and strategies that it is irresponsible to teach without skilfully incorporating some of them. We should do this not to pander to the times. We do this because it results in more effective learning.

What is your response to this tweet?

I have a few. One is that it is impossible to distill all that is teaching in a tweet.

Another is that the question presents a false dichotomy to seed discussion. The “telling” and the “letting” actually represent different ends of a large spectrum.

A more straightforward response, particularly from teachers who have learnt to go beyond telling, is that teaching is both.

I would point out that there is an imbalance. Teaching is still heavy on telling and light on letting. Telling is easier to do than letting, but easier does not mean better or more effective.

Just moving from monologue to dialogue is difficult. The talker must listen, analyse, clarify, and meet the learner where they are at. Reaching learners and empathising with them is fundamental to teaching. If we do not, we are just telling and yelling. Then no one is listening and learning.
 
If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

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