My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Some Teacher Benefits.

The Purpose of a "purpose" is that it will lead you some where, something must change, something must improve. So, if you don't set an agenda, how do you and more importantly, your students know what they trying to get better at. This is also true for teachers to develop their own skills and knowledge. So, part of the reason I want to establish pedagogical purposes in my lessons is entirely selfish. Geoff Petty in Evidence Based Learning summarises these teacher benefits succinctly as..

A. If you understand why a teaching strategy works well.
B. We can then adapt the strategy if we know why it works
C. If we understand the general principles we can use these to evaluate our own teaching methods and to design new ones.

My priorities for my students in the last three weeks of term have been:-

1. Appropraite use of IT in lessons, tail and dog stories
2. Increase independance and decision making
3. Increase the amount of higher order thinking.

4. Developing a specific Science thinking skills.

These are based pretty much on gut feeling and several formal reflections about my teaching, my students learning and the curriculum that I am teaching too. (Which can be seen above in an enquiry cycle.) Some of these ideas I have already blogged about. So what benefits will I get by challenging my students to these targets? I will scrutinise the first two to highlight how and why I am attempting to do this.

1. Appropriate use of IT.
This big irritant to me, I too often find that students will spend hours being totally distracted by the use of IT in my lessons. I am not talking misuse of the IT, like gaming, as this is less irritating, as it is a behaviour issue and I will deal with it as I would any behaviour issue. The two biggest worries I have are firstly, that most stuudents think that being on Google is actually researching, and that it is a thinking tool to help them research and learn. What a ridiculous proposition. Consider this all too real dialogue.

Mead: What are you doing?

Student: I'm researching about fair trade food.

Mead: and what thinking tool are you using?

Student: I'm googling, sir!

Mead: (In head. B*#lls another one!) Would you mind me having a look at your search criteria.

The student clicks back to reveal a not unreasonable input.

Mead; I agree with what you've typed in, but how does 69.5 million hits help you?

Students: ( Silence)

Mead: ( Good use of wait time, so, even more silence)

Student: So shall I use the webpages you have recommended?

Mead: What will that allow you to do?

Student: Find out what I want to know?

Mead: (raises eyebrows) Why were you on Google then?

Student: Errrrr.. I just was.

This is not what I imagined when I planned this lesson. Where are the conversations like this..

Mead: what are you upto?

Student: I'm researching about fair trade food.

Mead: how are you doing that?

Student: I'm using a PMI at the moment, I'm reading about a Ugandan Coffee farmer and what his daily life is like?

Mead: Learned anything new?

Students: I've decided that Fair trade is definately worth a few extra pence, and what Organic food is.

Mead: What helped you decide?......

The second problem is more insiduous, despite the instruction that "we are researching2 and a clear overview of the lesson plotted out on the board. Inevitably,I find half my class are on PowerPoint , while another quarter are choosing fonts for their wordart titles. Modern day colouring in. I'm not having this.

Strategies to help.
I have a few ideas that may help me out. Firstly, it is the relationship I have built with my students, so that I can give them honest feedback. I know that some students will actually follow my instructions, so I make a point of stopping the class to see "good practice". I also know that large numbers will head of into Google land and Font world, so I am planning a ten minute blitz at the beginning of the lesson. Again stopping everyone with yells of "Wow! everyone gather around to see what Giles has done!" Before then actually being more helpful but encouraging the class to give constructive feedback. After this ten minute spell I will return to the analogy of the tail wagging the dog. Other strategies include making clear the process of research with a over view of

Read/watch -------> Thinking Tool--------> Research.

and having explicit success criteria of "use a Thinking Tool of your choosing".

Finally and probably most important is to build in this problem and solution into the reflection. I will blog about this when I have compiled their responses.

So what are the benefits to me in overcoming these IT barriers to learning?

Well, I have spent an inordinate amount of time planning this lesson/ experience. I want to know if it works, have I structured it in a useful way? are the resources good enough? what tools do I need to reinforce in class? am I teaching the students the way I want them to do enquiries? is the content coming across? In a way I'm in the process of doing what Geoff Petty describes at the start of this blog.
Secondly, I much prefer to be useful during lessons, guiding prompting, questioning and providing mirrors for students to reflect about all of the above. I don't want to be solely responsible for keeping the students on task and not just busy. Ambitious I know but its a journey worth taking and its a lot more fun than being solely responsible for 25-30 peoples learning.

Which leads directly into the second item on my learning agenda.

2.Increase the students independence and decision making

I hope it is obvious that these things are connected and in fact entwined. So part of the problems I have been dealing with IT, are actually part of this. I can now ask the questions what decisions have you made today that has helped you learned, and seriously expect to get a considered answer. And decisively I can give praise for doing so. If a student has acted independently and avoided a distraction they will feel like the success is theirs, and that I have just caught them doing it. I feel they will be more likely to continue this positive learning behaviour than if I had of DEMANDED they do it my way. I also feel that these methods speed up and strengthen the trust between student and teacher. A worthwhile pursuit.

Although this is not my biggest tool in achieving the above, which is to teach my students how to enquire. I know this is not a quick thing, and have plotted two years worth of stepping stones to help them do so. But, the small things will add up over this time.Here's hoping!