Tag: teaching (page 2 of 8)

10 things educators forget to do after teacher training.

proud of my profession

At the start of July I’ll be submitting my Ed.D. thesis. It’s an outgrowth of work I did towards an M.Ed. before transferring to my doctoral studies. That, in turn, was a continuation of the PGCE in Secondary History I completed at Durham University.

Such transition points leads one to reflect upon changes and continuities. Recently I’ve been prompted into thinking about underperforming teachers as a result of a findings in a widely reported survey. Instead of debating the ins-and-outs of whether employment law relating to teachers should be changed, I want to consider the things that cause complacency and rot to set in. I don’t think anyone sets out to be a poorly-performing teacher.

No, instead, it’s a slow process of decline. The ten points below are those I’ve witnessed colleagues struggle with, and a couple (especially number 6) is something I’ve found difficult to remember to do myself. If you’re not on top of your game it’s easy to do things to ‘just get by’. And that’s a difficult and dangerous situation in which to find yourself.

I’d be interested in your reflections on the following as 10 things educators tend to forget to do after their teacher training and NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year:

  1. Read academic journals.
  2. Greet students at the door.
  3. Write about their lessons – what went well/badly.
  4. Mess about with technology for the sake of it.
  5. Rearrange their classroom regularly.
  6. Phone parents/guardians for positive reasons.
  7. Active learning – role-play, etc.
  8. Observe good practice elsewhere.
  9. Maintain a professional development folder.
  10. Ask for help and mentoring

What have I missed? With which of these do you agree/disagree?

Image CC BY-NC-SA snacktime2007

Using Digital Media to Improve Teaching and Learning

I’m presenting with JISC Digital Media today as part of a session at the JISC Conference 2011 entitled Using Digital Media to Improve Teaching and Learning. My part of our presentation is below:

It’s my job to provide the introductory landscape and overview so I decided to get a little bit philosophical about what we mean by ‘attendance’. What I’m trying to get across is that following old ways of doing things when using new technologies such as digital media doesn’t change anything (think: lecture capture). We need to reconceptualise and refocus on what it is we’re trying to achieve. Hopefully, this should provide a platform for Zak Mensah to go on to talk about the importance of focusing on workflows rather than the shiny-shiny.

The perils of shiny shiny educational technology.

New, free and shiny technologies are like catnip to educators. An almost-tangible frisson of excitement cascades through Twitter, Facebook and subsequently staff rooms and TeachMeets in the hours, days and months following announcements of such products and services.

Puentadura' SAMR model

(click image for explanatory presentation)

But.

  1. Is there a business model behind the technology? (OSS counts!)
  2. Can it be used in a transformative way?

Style is not substance.

I’ve certainly been guilty of using things in the classroom mainly because they look good. And that’s fine, so long as you realise at which end of the hierarchy you’re working. Sometimes you need a bit of the shiny.

Johannes Ahrenfelt in Teaching: The Unthinking Profession nails it:

Teachers want ‘stuff’ they can take away and use tomorrow. While I always show how the theory works in practice, it never seems to have the same impact as CPD with titles like ’10 engaging starters’ or ’7 great discussion tools’… The ‘quick fix’ is just that and somewhere down the line a proper solution needs to be found.

If I had to go back and re-teach 2003-10 again, I’d do so taking into account the sage advice of “more haste, less speed”. It’s the considered and sustainable use of technologies that make a difference.

This post isn’t a dig at teachers; it’s a broadside at senior leaders. They, after all, create the parameters within which teachers operate. If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution it’s effectively akin to using a pen instead of a pencil. Something to merely mention in passing, not something to write home about.

Considered use and reflection upon the use of educational technology can be found. Start at edjournal.co.uk and start asking of each new edtech tool you come across: so what?

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.

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.

I am not a person who teaches.

I may not have a class in front of me these days, but I’m still a teacher:

A teacher sees the world in a particular way, and it is not only when he is in a school. I am a teacher all the time. This is differ­ent from a person who teaches. A person who teaches puches an inner clock, even if that clock counts time outside of the class room, all the while think ing what will I get for this time rather than what will my students get. I realize now that I can never help those who only teach, and I will con­tinue to be frustrated if I try. But I am going to do my best to find all of the teachers in my district. So which one are you? Are you a teacher or a person who teaches?

Solid gold from Christopher Rogers. Go and subscribe to his blog. 😀

One week until #GTAUK

This time next week the first-ever Google Teacher Academy in the UK (#GTAUK) will be drawing to a close. I’m honoured to be one of the UK-based Lead Learners (along with Tom Barrett and Zoe Ross).

I’ll be running the session on Google Earth, one of my favourite tools for learning and teaching. I’ve set up a wiki in an attempt to not only provide resources for delegates, but for the wider community. You can access and contribute to it at:

http://sites.google.com/site/gtaukge

(short URL: http://bit.ly/gtaukge)

Flying without wings

We’ve got some house martins underneath our eves. It’s that time of the year when eggs that have become chicks get that one chance to learn to fly.

My son, Ben, visited his school this week. He starts nursery there in September. He’s full of enthusiasm and could have started at Easter but we didn’t think he was ready.

I’ve scraped up five house martin chicks in two days. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

It’s easy to see when something physically dies. It’s less easy to see confidence shattered, an internal fire put out, inquisitiveness squashed.

It’s not easy being a parent or a teacher. Remember Icarus? It works both ways.

Are we doing young people a disservice?

Are we abdicating our responsibility when ‘student voice’ dictates what we do rather than how we do it?

Isn’t it unreasonable to expect the majority of those who are not yet adults to make significant contributions to the world’s knowledge?
Read more →

Twitter is not the best CPD you’ve ever received.

I see this a lot:

  1. Someone is demoing Twitter.
  2. They ask their network why they use Twitter.
  3. People respond “it’s the best CPD I’ve ever received”

No. It’s. Not.

It might be the best Continual Professional Stimulation (CPS) you’ve ever received but development is more than getting a bunch of ideas. Development is:

[The] act of improving by expanding or enlarging or refining.

or

[A] process in which something passes by degrees to a different stage (especially a more advanced or mature stage).

That’s why TeachMeets, for example, are better CPD for those who present at them than for those who attend. Those who merely read tweets or attend TeachMeets are being professionally stimulated but not (necessarily) developed.

Happily, many of those who experience CPS end up undergoing CPD as they put those ideas into practice, reflect on it (via their blog, TeachMeet, etc.) and then make it better.

That’s development.

That’s CPD.

That’s all. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC TarikB

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