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 …

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 …

TPACK: Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge

What makes a great teacher?   This is a difficult but important question for education at all levels.  One way to get to the answer is to think about individual teachers that you have encountered in your life.   Somehow we all know great teachers when we meet them and of course, we certainly know poor teaching when we come across it. I am not one of those who believes that teaching is a natural gift and some people are born to be teachers and others not.   Most great teachers that I know work constantly on their own development as educators.  A capacity for great teaching can be gained through experience and reflection and I believe that anybody who wants to be a great teacher can become a great teacher. What then are the ingredients for successful teaching?  Well, thinking about the teachers in my life, I know that teachers need to have a very good knowledge of a content area.  I did science in college and I have some strong views on how we should teach science based on my own experiences as a student.  Previously I commented on the lecture by Carl Wieman, the Nobel laureate in Physics. Wieman Read More …

SITE Conference

I recently attended the SITE Conference in San Diego, California.  SITE stands for the Society for the Information Technology and Teacher Education and it is one of the biggest conferences in this field.  Chip Bruce and I had submitted a paper based on the Digital Literacy in Primary Schools (DLIPS) project.I attended many other sessions and it was very useful to catch up with developments across the field.  One thing that struck me is the use (perhaps overuse) of short abbreviations to describe areas of interest.  Thus a session might be described as dealing with TPAC for SET in K-12 – decoded this means Mhisra and Koehler’s (2006) Technological, Pedagogical And Content Knowledge (TPACK – worth a future blog!) for Science Engineering and Technology (SET) subjects in primary and secondary schools (K-12).The presentation associated with our paper is posted below.  The basic idea is an exploration of the connection between learning as inquiry and new digital media.  Essentially we argue for a new approach to pedagogy based on the Inquiry Cycle and making the most of digital media capabilities to initiate,  sustain and enhance that cycle. It’s not so much that the vision of learning as inquiry is new – it Read More …

“Grade Inflation” Getting Everything Wrong

This is a really important issue for Ireland and for everyone in the education sector.  It is vital that get a clear understanding of what the problem is and what we need to do to rectify it. First of all, the problem we need to solve is not “Grade Inflation” and it would be a huge mistake if we were all to get in a muddle comparing the numbers of first class honours’ degrees or 600 point Leaving Certs in the past few years. Just like all measures based on our social circumstances, such as the spending power of the average weekly wage or the average life-expectancy, over time we should expect to see a gradual improvement in similar measures of quality and achievement in our education system. Today, we are educating more people to a higher standard than ever before and I will be surprised if the emperical evidence from the soon-to-be released study will not show this to be the case. But I do not believe we should be congratulating ourselves – there is a problem and a new challenge and we need to get to the heart of it. Let me use one source Dr Craig Barrett, Read More …

The School

The recent 3-part RTE series “The School” broke new ground in terms of education and television.What takes place in schools is both familiar and mysterious to most adult viewers. Our school experiences resonate throughout the entire span of our lives and, for many, learning identity forged during teenage, years remains fixed and unchallenged long after our initial schooling is complete. Every society looks to young people to reproduce and reinvent itself for the future.  Put simply, organised societies that are good at education will survive and outlast societies that fail to do so.  Schools and education are our biggest investment apart from health systems. Strangely, unless you are currently an active participant in the school system, there is little visibility of what’s going on.  We seldom get an opportunity to compare schools today with the schools of our childhood.  This issue is more important that a simple need to satisfy our curiosity: we need to know about how much has changed, the improvements, new ways of teaching, a new understanding of learning, and new thinking on what should take place in schools. Since we left school we have grown and developed into who we are today – few of use Read More …

Really Useful Websites on Learning and Teaching

As a follow-up to my previous blog on the Top Ten Insights on Learning I would like to provide a list of web sources and resources that may act as good places to start with insights on learning and teaching. I’ll try to give a brief description of each and why it makes the cut for me.Starting Points: Aggregation SitesTheory into Practice (TIP)Greg Kearsley has put together an excellent resource that deals with a wide variety of learning theories.  This is an excellent starting point and it will give the beginner a good appreciation of the breath of theories and their practical applications. Emtech’s  Learning TheoriesThis is another excellent starting point with a comprehensive list of learning theory orientations.  What I like about this list is that each section is authored by a different person and you can cite each as an individual resource. Martyn Ryder’s Instructional Design ModelsMartyn Ryder’s very comprehensive listing of instructional design and learning theory resources -this site is well maintained, comprehensive and deals with an wide expanse of theoretical orientations. Learning and Teaching Teaching Tips Index This is another great starting point for lot’s of interesting exploration.  The index is compiled by the faculty development Read More …

Top Ten Insights on Learning

It’s the time of year for reviews.  I call it the season of the “top tens”: we have the top ten songs of 2009, the top ten sporting moments, the top ten films and so on. I have decided to step on the band wagon and am now pleased to present my Top Ten Insights on Learning. Here we go: Learning is constructed People are curious We learn best in social settings Much adult learning is child’s play We have a Learning Identity Meet the Digital World Adults learn what they want to learn Learning can be additive or transformative We learn throughout life We strive to be all that we can be  1 Learning is constructed  The best analogy is that of a tree with many branches. We learn through the integration of present and past experiences.  As we experience the world we connect new experiences with our past – in other words we construct knowledge. Learning has nothing to do with transmission of knowledge – it about personal construction. Educators who recognise this focus on process rather than output and encourage students to make their own meaning rather than reproduce the work of others.  2 People are curiousWe Read More …

Problem Based Learning: The Apprentice?

Those that know me will know that I am a fan of Problem-Based Learning, usually referred to as PBL.Ireland’s version of “The Apprentice” is being aired on TV3 and watched by many including our household. The idea is that contestants are fighting it out to get a big job as apprentice to Bill Cullen (Ireland’s best known, self-made entrepreneur). For each episode the contestants are asked to complete authentic tasks usually with a sales or design element.We get to see them work in groups, select a project manager, set goals, solve problems and think and act creatively. As television it’s quite absorbing and informative and there is plenty of learning taking place, for the contestants and vicariously, for the the viewers. When I first watched these sequences I was impressed to see a good instructional approach transferred to television. However, all this is let down by the final sequences of each programme. These scenes take place in the boardroom where groups are asked to report on the process.Bill is naturally a good teacher and in fairness, he tries to balance his negative criticism with supportive comments. But the show’s structure calls for an inevitable reduction by one contestant (you’re fired!) Read More …

Knowledge Surveys

I came across an interesting piece on Knowledge Surveys from Edward Knuhfer and Dolores Knipp (linked above). They advocate the use of Knowledge Surveys as a tool in support of learning and instruction.These surveys consist of a series of questions – similar to a set of exam questions – but the difference is that the learner is asked not to answer the question but to rate their own ability to respond. For example – consider the following questions: Q1 Describe three characteristics of an constructivist theory of learning? Q2 Compare constructivism with social constructivism? Q3 Outline practical applications of a behaviorist approach to learning? Now, in a traditional assessment the student would be asked to write short essays on the above. With a knowledge survey the student is asked to rate their level of knowledge as: A – I feel confident that I could answer this question B – I know about 50% of what may be involved and perhaps if I went away for twenty minutes I could find the missing information C – I am not confident that I would be able to answer this question at all Do you get the gist? The knowledge survey gauges a Read More …