Friday, 16 November 2012

The Spoon Feeding dilemma

A fair proportion of my teaching is based around students' recognising their learning strengths and then exploring that approach. This focus is underpinned through having them incorporate their preferred mode of learning into the basic research of the projects they undertake and development of a plan that focusses their approach. Planning and research takes many forms - interview, video/article collection, dot form writings etc. I then ask students to give a great detail of thought and detail to their reflective process and involve deeper questions about what took place and how their approach does/doesn't work for them. In all of my teaching, I seem to expect that each group of students' will have encountered this type of approach. I teach Music Technology (from yr 8 -12) and don't get an abundance of time through the 10 day timetable. Time and time again, I find myself challenging students to break the mould of expecting the answers. So many of them wait for the reassuring guidance of that safety net to emerge. Work samples seem to result in direct replication or copying and I'm OK with that as a starting point but unless it becomes vital to the process, I'm not giving you the answer.

As a teacher, withdrawal from the process of information transference seems like a treacherous path to take as we all want to demonstrate our expertise. Reassurance that my knowledge and approach are relevant and valuable can be very affirming (who doesn't like a captive audience). The dilemma is - is catering to the wants and needs of my students good for their learning or just good for my ego and their results? I like assessment when the results show success, and feel particularly proud of my ability to transfer my brilliance. The assessment of learning, risk taking, creative thinking, planning, execution and reflection of the project and the individual seems like a more relevant approach, for a 21st Century learner.

In the described model, I feel increasingly removed from assessment because the learning processes seem so much more in tact. In fact, when recently asked by a student when the exam was going to be, I was so absorbed in what was taking place in class that I couldn't foresee any benefit in an examination. I asked the boy if he'd rather interact with the projects or be tested? He hadn't really considered it would be any other way although the 'cool' subjects don't have exams. This is again a difficult area for teachers - does the inclusion of an exam legitimise the content, and subject for that matter, or does it really assess the learning? What if I don't include an exam, am I a lazy teacher? Will the school's curriculum leaders frown upon me and the subject? It can be difficult to stand up to this pressure.

Thirdly, what's with the lack of collaboration? I enjoy the process of students contributing to a collaborative aspect within everything we do. There is real strength in making connections within the classroom and to leave something for the next group. What's our legacy, and what's our footprint? A sample of how I do this is wallwisher. Tips, documents and videos on the techniques and approaches that students explore become foundations for planning, sharing with peers and for sending out to the wider community. There's nothing more surprising when someone from outside the class makes a contribution and nothing more shocking than the looks on faces when I suggest we should share our wall with another school. Such looks of shock from many when they realise that we're curating readily available resources and reposting them to others. Why would we do that? We can't help them, they're not at our school! Reflecting upon this, I became sympathetic to their position as I couldn't identify any models for collaboration from within my organisation, not inter faculty, and not from management (Maybe they're all too busy on Facebook).

The more I teach for individual differences, multiple intelligences, diversity, curiosity, passion and creativity (thanks Yong Zhao), the stronger I feel about reforming our model of education and in the least, the model within my classroom.


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