Monday, 25 May 2015

Six Myths about teaching and learning

On Friday I presented a mini-lecture at our #uowopenday and spoke about social media and modern learning. I’ve blogged previously about some of the social media content, so will turn attention in this post to the modern learning side of things. You see, the openday audience is largely comprised of school leavers searching for options for university study, and as such is a recruitment exercise and a chance to tell the students of 2016 a little about what they might be getting into when they choose their path of study and take the next steps toward a career.

In effect, I could have the initial teacher education students of 2016 in front of me, and the beginning teachers of 2019 potentially. It seems to me that one way to capture the imagination of candidates for teacher education is to raise and challenge some common myths about teaching and learning.

To that end, here is a summary of six myths about teaching and learning that I’d like to challenge…

1.     Learning only happens at school
I once read in a school newsletter a warning to parents that we needed to send our children to school every day because “any day your child is not at school is a day when they are not learning”.

Not only was I affronted by this bossy and patronising assertion, but I also have to disagree. Children (or actually people of any age) can and do learn outside of school. This seems completely self evident to me which is probably why I think nothing of taking my son out of school a week early at the end of this term to travel to the UK and Portugal. While his current school and teacher are entirely supportive, this hasn’t always been the case and I think schools and teachers are setting themselves up for a very big fall indeed if they promote themselves as the sole source of learning. Learning opportunities are all around and numerous commentators have written wisely on this matter. One of my favourites is George Couros. As for my 10-year old, he is already planning how to scrapbook his journey, contemplating exchange rates across three currencies and checking his globe.

The next myth is similarly limiting.

2. Turn off your cellphones
… because they are distracting and dangerous and you can’t learn anything with a cellphone.
Even though the cellphone is the computer in your pocket, connecting you to a world of knowledge, with built in calculator (including the scientific calculator), dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia and ready access to untold experts on every subject in the whole wide world. I don’t buy the recent reports that smartphones make students dumber, a most unfortunate headline and a ridiculous claim.
The economists behind the study are talking about test scores, a narrow view of student achievement. And the fact that higher achievers are less distracted by phone use indicates that they have learned to focus and prioritise tasks. All students can learn to focus and prioritise if they are engaged and guided, and if they experience some success. A smarter approach is to use the presence of cellphones as an opportunity to negotiate ground rules, establish expectations and set some parameters for acceptable use. I say “negotiate” because I don’t see this as yet another way for teachers to lay down the law in a controlling and unilateral manner. Hence the third myth.

3. Children should be seen and not heard.
If we don’t listen to kids how will we know what they think? How will we know what they need from us as teachers? How will we get to know them so that we can teach them? Teachers should listen to kids, actually everyone should listen to kids. If you don’t think children have anything worthwhile to say, please don’t become a teacher! Please don’t.
(It’s a good sign that no one left the lecture theatre when I said that at #uowopenday!)

4. Teaching is telling.
As I told the prospective students in the lecture theatre, I also told them that all this telling doesn’t sit well with me to be honest because I almost never stand in a lecture theatre and give this kind of presentation. I am a lecturer who doesn’t lecture (or hardly ever, and usually only to lend collegial support, by invitation, and to connect with students in blended courses).

All of my classes are online. We use Moodle as our Learning Management System, I create a website that is a classroom and a discussion forum that is a tutorial. Students learn by reading, by doing and reporting back online, by watching/listening and generating podcasts and video presentations, and by taking part in meetings in Adobe Connect and Tweetchats.

However, it is my observation that many student teachers in their first year believe that teaching is telling, and are very concerned that they get to know as much as possible so that when they become a teacher they can pass on what they know to their pupils.

5. Control those kids!
Another big concern first year students commonly have is that they are very afraid that the pupils won’t listen, that they’ll play up or misbehave and will be out of control!!
To challenge these myths – transmission and control - I have some expert partners who join in as guests in our online discussion for a couple of weeks. These experts teach the student teachers about: How to learn and teach through ICT – how using digital technologies to learn can be exciting, challenging and powerful learning practice.
The experts?
A group of 12 year olds from a local intermediate school.
We need to listen and learn from and with kids. Stop prioritising transmission and control, this belongs in the dark ages. Finally, I raised just one further myth for the student audience.

6. Good students make good teachers
To the student audience, I said: If you are worried that you might not make a good teacher because you haven’t always been the best student… If you think good teachers have to be top academics who do really well in exams and who love to study hard, who love school and who aim to please their teachers, it might surprise you that these students are not the best learners or the best teachers.

To be a good learner you need to be focused beyond what is in the test or exam, and be concerned about something bigger than a grade or earning credits. You need to be curious about finding out, be thirsty for discovery and knowledge, and want to make the world a better place starting with children.

If you have sometimes felt bored and cynical about school and wondered why you are doing this, what it is all for and whether there is a better way, teaching could be for you.
If you have struggled to learn something and have found a way to persevere and master something new and difficult, facing adversity and really knowing what it is like to find it tough, you may just be perfect for the job! It's people like you who can put yourselves in the shoes of the child who struggles, and work with them to help them to learn.

A great day at #uowopenday 

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