What makes a good teacher?

One of a series of questions to be explored at Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere open summer course National College of Ireland 26-30th of June 2017 eqfee.org ‘What makes a good teacher’ seems a simple question and you might expect a straight forward answer. However, the more you think about it the more you will realise that it is not so simple after all. For many years now, I have worked with students and teachers in different sectors and contexts. Over time we have developed an exercise to interrogate this question. The exercise is worthwhile for learning professionals everywhere. You can try this yourself. Start by thinking about your own experiences as a student and ask yourself who was the best teach er you ever had. Go on think about who that might be now…. Have you identified someone? Good! Let’s presume you can picture that person in your mind. Write down, or make a mental list, of the top qualities you associate with them. Keep that list handy and read on… OK, I’m going to have to introduce some theory before we proceed. Let’s assume the basic task of a teacher is to bring about learning in another person. Read More …

Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere

‘Essential Questions for Educators Everywhere’ is a summer course over five days at National College of Ireland in association with Mercy College New York between the 26th – 30th  June 2017 . As the title suggests, the goal is to interrogate essential ideas that underpin our understanding and practice of what it means to teach and learn in the world of today. You can get further details at www.eqfee.org The programme is designed for qualified and aspiring learning professionals in areas such as early childhood education, schools, further education, college, university and adult learning settings. Through debate, discussion and critical dialogue, participants will explore issues such as the nature of learning, the purpose of schooling, the goals of lifelong learning, the qualities of teaching, and the relationship between democracy and education. These questions are relevant for teachers everywhere – regardless of country or context – all the more so for the changing times we live in. The history and evolution of Irish education, including the influence and involvement of religious institutions will also be explored. Participants will be encouraged to ask questions, compare systems and discuss alternatives throughout. As teachers everywhere, we have much in common and it is natural Read More …

We Need New Stories in Education

The Seven Basic Plots is an interesting book by Christopher Booker, the main argument is clear from the title; we have a limited number of story lines and regardless of context or medium, we like the familiar, predictable and comforting. Fairytale, folklore, epic novels and modern film scripts all use variations of basic narrative structures; resilience in the face of onslaught, heroic journeys, monsters and dragons and of course, the struggles of good and evil. The argument is not unique, many thinkers have pointed to a form of collective intellectual comfort blanket. We welcome stories that reinforce pre-existing assumptions and avoid those that challenge our biased views and require re-jigging our model of the world. The ‘basic plots’ phenomenon is much in evidence when we talk about education. Whether it is media reporting, policy discourse or public commentary, we return time and again to the familiar blandness of the comfort blanket. I’m tired of hearing about the epic journey of the Leaving Certificate, I’m done with the struggles of the science and engineering to attract and charm the young people of today, I no longer need the wisdom of employers, I’m fed up with tales of cash strapped colleges, disgruntled Read More …

Getting to Grips with Academic Writing

Yikes ! I can’t write this assignment! Some students find it difficult to get to grips with academic writing tasks. Whereas they often understand key concepts associated with an assignment or task they find it very difficult to express these in writing. The problem can lead to stress and frustration on all sides as written assessments may not be seen as a fair measure of student learning outcomes. Of course every person is unique and it is not always easy to provide good advice for all situations; that said, I have noticed similarities in the challenges students face and so I hope the advice I provide below can be of help. Technical versus Mindset There are two types of barriers to writing ability. The first is ‘technical’, by this I mean literally the skills of grammar, vocabulary and composition – the kind of stuff you should learn in school. For a various reasons, students often miss out on these skills and need to work on their basic literacy and writing technique. Thankfully, this is not a common problem in higher education but it is important to be mindful that people can get very far in the system by avoiding situations Read More …

Ten Tips for Writing Academic Papers

Completing academic writing assignments is one of the most important skills you will need to develop as a student.  This is true regardless of your subject or discipline. Based on my own experience writing and correcting papers and discussions with students I have compiled these ten tips to help you get going.  I have used these at the Academic Writing Club we set up in National College of Ireland to support students through the challenges of this process. 1 Read the task Spend time reading and analysing the task you have been assigned.  Look for action words such as ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘critique’ and so on.  Check if you need to provide examples or to analyse or deal with a particular context.   Write the task at the head of your essay and make sure you address every component of the assignment. 2 Get on with it! Start writing straight away – don’t keep putting it off.  Many students say they need to read first and write later.  It is better to read and write at the same time (see tip 4 below).   3 Use the opening paragraph as your plan Start with something like “In this assignment I will….” Read More …

From marks to Marx: Shifting your mindset for learning

We all like to achieve and when it comes to doing a course or gaining a qualification we want to achieve the best result possible. Naturally we want to get an A+ or a First Class Honour in whatever subject we study.  Striving to get a good mark – a Distinction, Merit or Commendation – is a useful approach to learning and for many people it is the driving force guiding their learning effort. We all like to achieve in learning but what should we really aim for? (My picture of Doo Lough, County Mayo) However, it is worthwhile to ask if it the ‘best’ approach?  Is there a better, more fruitful and, in the long-term more rewarding target to aim for? I argue that there is and want to make a case for moving beyond a simple focus on marks and assessment to the more expansive idea of growing your mind through ideological critique and praxis. If you are an active participant on a course you will likely have learning goals.  These are implicit and explicit statements of what you wish to achieve.  How you approach different topics and learning challenges, where you apply effort and how you measure Read More …

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

Writing a Literature Review Writing a dissertation is one of the great learning tasks of college education. However, many students find it a daunting process. One of the first challenges you face is writing a literature review and the purpose of this post is to help you get started with the process, to keep you on track as you proceed and to provide a means of self-reviewing your outputs when you (think you) have completed. Let’s start with a simple set of questions: What constitutes a literature review? What is it used for? and What distinguishes a good literature review from a poor one? As the name implies, a literature review is a review of other people’s work in a particular field of scholarship. Such a review is always directed and informed by the research question to be addressed. For example, if your research question is related to adult literacy then you will need to provide a review of other works, be they theoretical models, research reports or practice studies, that relate to adult literacy. Most importantly, a literature review cannot be of any value unless it is referenced to some form of research question or problem. It is a common mistake for students to misunderstand the purpose of a literature review – Read More …

The Disengaged Student

In the further and higher education sectors we often come across the phenomenon of the disengaged student. Typically a small number of students who register for a course seem to drift away – they are characterised by poor levels of engagement in class, infrequent attendance and lack of compliance with assignment deadlines. This is very frustrating for all concerned and inevitably it leads to trouble – failed assessments, repeats, appeals, reviews, etc.. All this seems to happen like a car crash in slow motion; we can see the inevitable outcome from a long way out and there seems nothing we can do about it. By treating students are adults we recognise that they need to take responsibility for their own learning. Higher education is not compulsory and parental influence on learning should be much less than in school. This presents a dilemma educators and parents; on the one hand we want students to succeed but we also need them to succeed ‘on their own’. Too much interference and students never learn to take control; on the other hand, too little support and they drift into dissengagement. I think part of solution could involve a new component called ‘Learning to Learn’ Read More …

Dissertation Writing

This is a busy time for many students who are working to complete their dissertations.  Having supervised and examined submissions over the years I appreciate the investment of effort that students make when completing their research dissertation. For many Master’s degree students this is their first truly self-directed learning project and the experience of carrying out primary research transforms their outlook on knowledge of the world. I would like to offer my top tips for Master’s dissertation writers, here they are: When you write a dissertation, even a scientific work you are telling a story – it’s important to unfold the plot in manner that will engage the reader. The research question is the crux of the narrative – you need to articulate this question clearly, concisely and frequently throughout the thesis and use it to connect all the parts together. A good research question has three characteristics (i) it arouses curiosity in both writer and reader (ii) it contributes significant and useful insights and (iii) it is suitable for investigation by means of an established research method. The purpose of a literature review is to establish a conceptual framework for the research question and to discuss other relevant or Read More …

Reflection and Practice

What is reflection? Adult educators like to use the term “reflection”. In class you are likely to be invited to “reflect on your own experiences” or, when tasked with an assignment, you are just as likely to be invited to reflect as discuss, debate, argue or critique. I admit that I also like the term and find myself encouraging others and often myself, to reflect on a particular issue or problem. What does it mean to reflect? And how does reflection differ from “thinking about”, “recalling” or just simply “lulling over” a situation? Useful insight comes from the work of Donald Schön (best known for his book The Reflective Practitioner) who discusses the distinction between “reflection-in-action” and reflection-on-action”. My picture from New Year’s Day 2010 Reflection in ActionThis is reflection on-the-run so to speak.  It is a form of self-awareness that is brought into play as we engage expert activities.  For example, a teacher may use reflection-in-action during a class to try out, monitor, evaluate and moderate various instructional strategies.  As Schön puts it: “The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, Read More …