Monday, 30 March 2015

Thinking about ITE secondary grad reading habits

A recent class raised some interesting questions for me. While I've been teaching other iterations of the same cohort online for some time, recently was the first time I spent any real face-to-face (f2f) time with the on-campus group. The online groups are reliant on reading to find their ways through the topics I'm teaching. The f2f group (taught in two separate sessions on the same day) is behaving really differently, perhaps because they are relying on being physically present.

What I'm wondering is whether or not this physical presence is inducing passivity and indolence, in the sense that turning up and being there is all these initial teacher education students think is required. Is the modus operandi to avoid thinking and reading all costs? Am I being unreasonable? I wonder.

Perhaps you can make up your mind as you read. Let me explain. I focused yesterday's lesson on provoking these people who want to be secondary school teachers to examine both their online search practices, and their critique skills in judging the 'truth' of specific websites. The goal was to help them see the gaps in their practices and to consider the implications for what they will need to teach their own learners.

One of the tasks grouped students in order to review a different website per group, and to contribute their views of it to a GoogleDoc available to each group. This was for them to practice online synchronous collaboration, and its potential for learning in schools. The task itself provided instructions. One of these said READ EVERYTHING FIRST. That is because in the half page of bullet points that followed (no more than 1-2 lines each), one included a hotlink to page of sites that specifically dealt with how to critique a website. NO-ONE checked it out and no-one read to the end of the instructions. This meant, that when they examined the sites in relation to the questions, they completely missed the point of the sites - 2 were extreme political views while the other 5 were hoax/satirical sites.

When I asked why the set of instructions weren't read, some complained that there was too much to read! This scares me. It scares me because if these people wanting to be teachers don't read, and don't read actively and critically, how will they teach students to interrogate information they come across? How will they help their learners develop a broad understanding of ideas, or to become wise?

In the discussion that followed once the hoax/extreme viewpoint sites were revealed (exposing the lack of critique the groups generally expressed), I talked about how important it is to help learners become critical thinkers about what they read online.  One student asked something like this, which is a great question, for it also links to what some subject teachers argue about subject-specific literacy: If I'm teaching a unit that is about a week long, won't I waste time teaching students these things? Why I can't I assume they will learned it in another class? It suggests a view that content is the only concern, not metacognitive processes or a focus on Key Competencies as expressed in both the New Zealand Curriculum and the OECD expectations in the development of curriculum documents across countries.

Each teacher is responsible for the learning needs of those in front of them. It doesn't take much to include search/critique practices into a task, but it also requires some proactive pedagogical design about things that really matter - the skills that are transferable across any kind of area of life.

We can put it this way: Should a wood chopper sharpen an axe before using it, or continue to chop away forever and getting nowhere? Learners need their learning axes honed on a regular basis so they can fully and courageously inherit the earth. This honing includes their ability to find, critique and judge what they come across online, especially if teachers expect them to find their own information.

So, should teachers be active readers? Active learners? Active interrogators of processes, information, and practices? How do we address this in initial teacher education?

Your thoughts and advice are very welcome.

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