This week I want to encourage you to continue to build on the discussions you had about teaching and learning on Monday and Tuesday, alongside pushing yourself to notice, and celebrate, what you are good at, what you can do now that you couldn’t before and making sense of this.
‘More than ever before, we need to educate young people to think critically about knowledge and about values, to recognise differences in interpretation, to develop the skills needed to form their own judgements. And if that is true for our students, then it is also essential that all teachers develop similar aptitudes, skills and dispositions, constantly reflecting on their practice, systematically engaging with evidence, with critique and development.’
Furlong, 2013, p186
I think this quote is incredibly useful when thinking about why it is important for you to theorise, and form your own judgements about teaching and learning in your subject. In exactly the same way that you want pupils to form their judgements based on the key knowledge that you (as an expert in your subject) know, it is important that your theorising is informed by what is known by experts in the field of teaching and learning.
On Monday, the mathematicians amongst you were challenged to analyse some classroom situations using theories about teaching and learning and other internationally recognised research we have explored so far on the course. This wasn’t an easy task but the depth of thinking that gradually emerged, and the targets you were able to set yourselves coming out of the session, were impressive. I know other subjects did similar tasks and tutors were very impressed with the quality of thinking shown over the two University-based days.
The problem is you are now back in school and the hurly burly of day to day teaching – so, how do you make sure you keep this thinking going and actually make all the reflection and critique translate into changes in your classroom practice??
One way is to return to the idea of ‘noticing’ which we explored in January.
If you remember, we talked about the idea of ‘noticing’ as a way of forcing yourself to ask questions about something you do in the classroom or something that happens.
So, keeping with a focus on celebrating what you are now able to do well, my challenge is that you identify something you noticed worked this week. Keep it small and focused, e.g. a class being able to get on with a task straightaway without you having to instantly run around the room helping individuals; a pupil suddenly understanding a tricky concept; a moment related to behaviour where you suddenly got a desired behaviour from a pupil or class that you weren’t expecting.
Take a moment to simply describe what happened to yourself – what exactly happened before, during and after? Don’t try and justify or explain any part of it, just describe.
Now, can you make sense of that moment using theory? Take the example of having that golden moment where you can stand and watch a whole class get on independently with a challenging task without your help. Consider the following questions:
- Would the notion of scaffolding help explain how you introduced or modelled the task in a way that meant everyone was able to access it and get straight on with it?
‘[Scaffolding] refers to the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some task so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skill she is in the process of acquiring’ (Bruner, 1978, p. 19)
‘Effective learning environments scaffold students’ active construction 7 of knowledge in ways similar to the way that scaffolding supports the construction of a building. When construction workers need to reach higher, additional scaffolding is added, and when the building is complete, the scaffolding can be removed.’ (Sawyer, 2006, p7)
- Could the idea of contingency make sense of a series of questions and answers that took place that enabled the pupils to build up their understanding?
‘Contingent teaching, as defined here, involves pacing “the amount of help children are given on the basis of their moment-to-moment “understanding. If they do not understand an instruction given at one level, then more help is forthcoming. When they do understand, the teacher steps back and gives the child more room for initiative.’ (Wood, 1988, p81)
- Have you been focusing on the culture of your classroom and could a consideration of the principles of dialogic teaching help explain what is now happening?
‘dialogic teaching is collective (teachers and children address learning tasks together), reciprocal (teachers and children listen to each other, share ideas and consider alternative viewpoints) and supportive (children articulate ideas freely without fear of embarrassment over ‘wrong’ answers and help each other achieve common understandings)’ (Alexander, 2008b, pp112-113)
There are many more questions you could ask but this begins to give you an idea.
There is still the question of why this matters – why can I not just make up my own theories when I reflect on what happens? Well you can, and should, be theorising for yourself but that alone is not enough. They key is to engage with the expert knowledge that exists in the field of teaching and learning. That way you can learn from this expert knowledge; consider it in your own context; feel confident in the ideas you are developing and the judgements you are making; make sense of what you want to develop further or try next.