Tag: learning (page 4 of 10)

You don’t ‘build’ better teachers.

Teachers are not robots. You can’t add new modules, reprogram them, or expect them to work regardless of context. These seem to be facts completely alien to Elizabeth Green, writing in an article for the New York Times which appeared in March 2010. It genuinely surprised me that she’d actually set foot in a classroom, never mind being a ‘fellow of education’ at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Whatever that means.

It’s far from a logically-structured article. But an article doesn’t have to be logical to be dangerous – the Daily Mail is proof of that. To summarise, Green seems to be advocating, through a clumsy juxtaposition of quotations and roundabout argumentation that:

  1. Teaching is a science that can be taught.
  2. We need ‘better’ teachers (and the only way to measure this is through student test scores)
  3. Doug Lemov is awesome because he published a book highlighting basic teaching techniques.
  4. Money is probably the most important factor in recruiting better teachers.
  5. Classroom management and specialist knowledge are key to teaching.

Number five is obvious and the other four are obviously wrong: teaching is more art than science, teaching and learning are about much more than examinations, Lemov is just another author, and no-one goes into (nor would go into) teaching for the money.

Simply writing a misguided article isn’t dangerous. It’s dangerous when the author confuses and conflates several different issues to create an ambiguity in the sixth way defined by William Empson:

An ambiguity of the sixth type occurs when a statement says nothing, by tautology, by contradiction, or by irrelevant statements; so that the reader is forced to invent statements of his own and they are liable to conflict with one another. (Seven Types of Ambiguity, p.176)

By neglecting to state explicitly what makes a ‘good’ teacher, Green fosters an ambiguity that, by the end of the article, she seemingly wants you to resolve by believing in the following howlers:

  • She criticises “proponents of No Child Left Behind” for seeing “standardised testing as the solution” but later quotes with approval findings that show “the top 5 percent of teachers” being able to “impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one year, as judged by standardised tests.” (my emphasis)
  • By constructing a narrative (through the juxtaposition of third-party quotations) the article seems to show that paying teachers more leads to an improved ‘calibre’ of teacher. Measured by? “Standardised test scores”. These quotations, it becomes evident by the end of the article, merely mask the author’s opinion.
  • Green snipes at constructivism, “a theory of learning that emphasises the importance of students’ taking ownership of their own work above all else”. No it doesn’t. Do your homework.
  • She assumes that there is one way to be a ‘good’ teacher, that this is unchanging, and that it is independent of context. Quoting with approval Lemov’s assertion that classroom management is as “learnable as playing a guitar”, Green turns on the hyperbole (in what quickly turns into a puff-piece for Lemov and his book) with phrases such as “he pointed to the screen, their eyes raced after his finger.”

Usually I would ignore this as just another article written by another just another American in just another country. However, it would seem that the even-more-dangerous Michael Gove, a man against whom I tactically voted, is determined to bring the education system in the UK to its knees by a slavish aping of the worst parts of the American education system.

I despair.

Things I Learned This Week – #46

Leaf

Offline this week I learned that Twitter is often a quicker and easier place to sell things than eBay, that eagerly pulling decals off a car will can also remove the paintwork, and more than I could ever summarize in one blog post (or indeed the introduction to one) at Interesting North… 🙂

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Things I Learned This Week – #45

Offline this week I learned that fireworks displays involve a lot of standing around for brief moments of semi-pleasure, that iPads really are ‘magical’, and not to jinx yourself by stating that you’re “the only one in the family who hasn’t been ill” 😮

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Things I Learned This Week – #44

SFW this week. Promise.

Offline this week I learned that exercise is a good preventer of illness, that charity workers and trick-or-treaters are glorified beggars, and that toddlers don’t get clocks going back to GMT. At all. :p

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Weeknote #24

This week I have been mostly..

In Malta
I spent Tuesday until midnight last night travelling to and from, and attending, mLearn 2010. One of the largest mobile-related conferences in the world, mLearn was not only held in a great location, but attracted some top names.

Of course, there was the usual conference idiosyncrasies, but overall both the quality of research and social aspect were solid. People really do need to learn how to present more engagingly, though and not rely on tiny sample sizes. I met some really interesting people and it was nice and Malta was sunny most of the time.

I’ll be writing about my experiences of mLearn over at my conference blog sometime this weekend. 😀

Putting the new version of my thesis structure online
I met with my thesis supervisor via Skype on Monday to discuss my progress over the last few months. I’m happy with how things are going and, perhaps more importantly, so is he! My thesis is much better structured now. Whilst I’ll not be submitting on 1st January 2011 (my earliest submission date) next Easter is looking good. More here.

Considering my future
Next year is crunch year. If I want to return to working in schools at senior management level it would have to be for 2011/12. Whilst that could be sensible given my 2-year contract with JISC infoNet, I’m not entirely sure whether that’s in my own or my family’s best interests. And, besides, I’m enjoying myself with in FE/HE. 🙂

Things I Learned This Week – #42

I’m just going to place a slightly NSFW warning at the top of these posts every week now. Makes life easier.

Offline this week I learned that it pays to have (certain aspects of) your mid-life crisis early, the power of actually writing rather than typing, and how to ‘take afternoon tea’ like a gentleman. Kind of. :-p

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Things I Learned This Week – #41

Warning for Americans/Puritans: Some NSFW language/links in this week’s post! :-p

Stormy Days

Offline this week I learned not to travel on CrossCountry trains if I want to be productive (no wifi and 3G blocked), that this gapingvoid cartoon is 99% true, and that my SAD begins in October. Gah.

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Things I Learned This Week – #40

Offline this week I learned to check I’m on the correct train before insisting someone’s in my seat, not to eat jam doughnuts when I’m in a rush, and that it’s still OK to buy paper books even though I’ve got a Kindle… 😉
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Things I Learned This Month – September 2010

Like this? Want it to become a regular monthly thing? Let me know in the comments below!

3 reasons teachers should smile

This is a response to an article in SecEd by Margaret Adams entitled Have You Smiled Yet? I was asked to write a response after expressing disbelief on Twitter that someone would still be advocating the ‘Don’t smile until Christmas’ mantra.

Seven years ago I entered my first teaching job in a deprived area of Nottinghamshire. Two schools, literally next door to one another, merged at the beginning of my NQT year. The department in which I was based was located in the roughest part of the school that was taken over. It would have otherwise been closed after failing to come out of Special Measures.

The pupils in front of me were a mixed bag. I had children who didn’t even register on the CAT scale for literacy with such horrendous homelives that it was a wonder that they owned a uniform and came to school. In a recent episode of SecEd Margaret Adams suggested that the traditional advice ‘not to smile before Christmas’ was defensible. I’d like to argue otherwise. Did I smile before Christmas in that first term as an NQT despite it being the hardest of my life? You bet. Here’s three reasons why whether new to the profession or vastly experienced you should ignore Margaret Adams’ exhortations and smile away.

First, as a teacher you are in loco parentis when with the young people in your classroom. At that moment, in the eyes of the law, you are standing in place of their parents. Can you imagine a parent who withheld smiles for a number of months from their offspring? How would that make them feel? Imagine being an apprehensive 11 year-old Year 7 pupil this term. How would you react to a teacher who refused to show any human warmth or positive emotion? Or one who blanked you when you called out a cheery ‘good morning’? If you’re not aware of the backgrounds of the children in front of you, ask them! You might be surprised at what you find out. Good teaching is all about relationships and bridges to learning.

Second, it’s important to smile for your own mental health. The best advice I ever received in terms of how to act in the classroom was to be an ‘enlarged version of yourself’. Trying to be two different people inside and outside the classroom is not a recipe for long-term stability, happiness or positive learning and teaching situations. Smiling is one of the most natural and spontaneous things we can do. So many unexpected things have made me smile over the past few years in the classroom that I’ve lost count. Teaching can be a long, hard slog – and especially during the Autumn term when Christmas seems a distant prospect. But ‘smile and the world smiles with you’ my dear old Grandma used to say, ‘frown and you frown alone’.

That’s not to say that new teachers should just ‘grin and bear it’, however. Smiling at everyone and everything can be as much an example of not being yourself as refusing to smile. Let your positive and negative emotions and reactions mean something to pupils. Let them know where they stand. If you haven’t read ‘The One Minute Manager’, buy or borrow it. Let other people be able to react to you as a human being, not as a machine implementing policies and spurious ‘wisdom’ from those more experienced in the profession.

Third, and finally, we have a responsibility to others in the workplace. An organisation – a school, a university, a business – is made up of the people it contains. Workplace cultures are not imposed, they are created and shaped by everyone – even those new to the profession. Not only will a well-placed smile cheer up colleagues who might be having a hard time, but they will hear from pupils how much they enjoy learning with you. That makes school a positive place to work and better for you in the long-run.

In conclusion, then, smile! Be positive. Let that be your default position and be an enlarged version of yourself. Find ways to make your classroom a positive, vibrant environment for learning. Use displays of emotion such as smiling to connect with those around you and forge meaningful relationships. Contrary to what Margaret Adams may think, it’s possible to be serious about learning and teaching whilst having fun – and smiling – along the way.

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