What do you want to know about…?

There’s often a difference of opinion about engaging children in science (or indeed, any topic) by asking them what they’d like to know. I have a view on this based upon reflection on explicit use of things like KWL grids and other “what do you want to find out about” approaches. This view is that the stimulus or experience that is used to engage learners should generate questions for them: something much more subtle than “what do you want to know about blast furnaces?”. for example. It is hard to ask meaningful questions about something you have little knowledge or experience of. A good teacher will give the learners enough enculturation into a new topic such that they can ask useful and meaningful questions. This means that the questions aren’t restricted to the start of a topic: explicit use of them is needed throughout the topic, to progress learning but also more closely follow the learners’ interests. I wonder what you think of that.

(from a comment on a student journal)

Teaching Perspectives

tpiI was directed to something called the teaching perspectives inventory, which I had not heard of before, by a PGDE student at Moray House. She had taken the survey before starting the course to give herself an insight into her own attitudes to teaching and as a benchmark: she intends taking the survey again at the end of the year to try and gauge how much her outlook has changed as a consequence of the year. If you’re not aware, the PGDE in Scotland is a one-year professional graduate diploma at Master’s level which delivers 18 weeks in university and 18 weeks in school placement. At the end of the year, successful students progress to (paid) probation and on to full registration as teachers.

Those of you that know me will not be surprised that I couldn’t resist taking the inventory test myself, to see where I sit in the five perspectives as a fairly new university teacher. The results are interesting (click the image for the full size).

My dominant perspective according to the analysis is Nurturing: “Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head”. I like this. It is characterised by phrases like, “learners […] are working on issues or problems without fear of failure”, “their achievement is a product of their own effort and ability”, “[teachers promote] a climate of caring and trust”, and “[t]heir assessments of learning consider individual growth as well as absolute achievement”.

I am recessive in Transmission: “Effective teaching requires a substantial commitment to the content or subject matter”. I think I like this too. My role as I see it is substantially about developing people and their attitudes, over content. In the survey, I am sure I was a little fuzzy with the responses, still being a recent secondary classroom teacher of physics. Although I have a responsibility to challenge student teachers to assess, challenge and develop their physics understanding (and to continue to do so), my more significant task is in areas like pedagogy, complexity, social justice and professional responsibility.

The other three perspectives (Apprenticeship, Development and Social Reform) sit around the mean. I’m not alarmed by this, although my conscience pricks itself when it comes to Development, “Effective teaching must be planned and conducted from the learner’s point of view.”, because it’s one of my mantras. Perhaps my response to the survey brings this out as below dominant because I put this principle into practice by proxy: in my mind as I do my job, above the needs of the students in front of me, are the needs of the young people they will teach. Controversially, my role has been defined by some as “gatekeeper”, the one who prevents ineffective teachers from making it to the classroom.

There’s more to reflect on here, I think. If you are an educator, you might give it a try yourself?

EDIT: There’s more information on teaching perspectives in Pratt, D. D. (2002). Good teaching: one size fits all?, which includes this:

Perspectives are neither good nor bad. They are simply philosophical orientations to knowledge, learning, and the role and responsibility of being a teacher. Therefore it is important to remember that each of these perspectives represents a legitimate view of teaching when enacted appropriately.

 

 

The Prestige

© Warner Brothers (mp4 (8MB))

Who needs a teacher when you’ve got Khan Academy?

maxAccording to the strapline at the head of this website, “Any teacher who can be replaced by a machine, should be”. The operative word here is can. The context and threat is the increasing use of video lectures and tutorials in delivering learning. The more paranoid teacher will wake up cold-sweating in the night from dreams of having been replaced by online video, screaming Kirk-like: “KHAN! KHAAAN!”. Worse, of having been assimilated within the technology.

The explosive interest in TED and the like reveals a world-wide hunger to know stuff: to learn new things and to keep up with the latest discoveries. The contemporaneous growth in the availability of broadband internet access has fed this demand and the relative inexpense of hand held and tablet video platforms has fuelled the explosion. The attraction is, of course, that users (I don’t like the term, “consumers” of data) can access a vast range of online material at their own convenience: in video bite-sized chunks in the train, the toilet, the traffic jam. As these slices of opportunity to access video get shorter, they fit in the spaces between all the other activities of the day and night like grains of sand in a jar of peas.

Get with it, man, MOOCs are the future

This proliferation of opportunity has led to the MOOC – the Massively Open Online Course – and the packaging of chunks of online reading and viewing into a complete short course has great appeal, judging by the uptake.

CharlesAtlas

Dear Charles Atlas, I have completed your excellent “he-man” course. I look forward to receiving my muscles.

The problem with moocs, however, is that they are massive and open. The course creators rely on large numbers of participants self-organising around social networks to create “vibrant communities” in a paradigm of students supporting and encouraging each other. The reality I have found in the mooc I am following is that the cacophony of the many drowns out the quality of the few. Thirty thousand voices shouting, “look at me!” over the lone quiet voice whispering, “look at this”. This has been of such concern to one mooc educator that they walked away. As a student, I have found that the contributions of the community do contain incisive, stimulating, funny, challenging and articulate contributions but you have to wade through the other 95% to find these. This has become so frustrating that I am now looking less at other contributions, in favour of concentrating the available time on the course materials alone.

Who needs teachers?

Bad ones? Nobody. Mediocre ones? No, thanks. Give me Khan. A book. Anything else. The ones that bring you to the penny dropping, the light coming on, the rush, the boom, the click, the whatever-happens-in-your-head-when-you-finally-get-it? Now you’re talking.

So what is it about the teacher that cannot be replaced by a machine? What makes them so magical? The clue is in the video clip at the top of this post. The magician knows how to manage expectations, create perceptions and deliver a satisfying climax to a sequence of events. Most importantly, he knows all about the observer’s perspective: the entire sequence is designed to achieve an effect in the audience.

The magical teacher plans, organises, details and delivers the learning with a full and detailed understanding of the student experience and perspective. He or she understands that the stages in the lesson have resonance with the stages of magic described by Michael Cain. The Pledge begins in prior learning and relevant context. The Turn is a hook, perhaps new knowledge or skills, something interesting or engaging, full of promise and misconception. The Prestige is the moment when understanding reveals itself – the flourish, the step from dark into light, the feeling that fills your heart, the satisfaction. It takes place in the Zone of Proximal Development.

We can get The Pledge and the Turn of learning by ourselves, given the resources. The irreplaceable teacher brings us The Prestige.