Interaction is key to good pedagogy

How much do you interact with your students?

It seems a bit of a redundant question when interaction is key to teaching. Perhaps though, it is worth reflecting on what that interaction actually looks like and whether it is interaction at all.

One thing I have found (and it may just be me although I doubt it) is that I often end up spending the wrong proportion of time instructing or talking rather than interacting. This happens particularly when I feel under pressure and is something I have actively been trying to address. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines interaction as:  “mutual or reciprocal action or influence”. This indicates a two way street rather than passive agreement or compliance. How could I increase the proportion of time spent interacting with students and decrease the time spent talking at them? Why does this even matter?

“One of the key components of good pedagogy, regardless of whether technology is involved, is interaction. Interaction is an essential ingredient of any learning environment (face-to-face classroom-based, synchronous/asynchronous online education, or blended models). Interaction in learning is a necessary and  fundamental process for knowledge acquisition and the development of both cognitive and physical skills (Barker, 1994 ),” (Woo & Reeves, 2007 p.15).

One could argue that the goal of instructions is not knowledge acquisition, that it is just not manageable to make instruction giving wildly interactive and that there are times it is appropriate to speak to learners and they actually just need to listen. To this I would say giving instructions is a degree of short term knowledge acquisition: the knowledge is what to do. I also thoroughly agree with the manageability issue however I would argue that it is the proportion of time spent on talking at or to that minimises interaction opportunities. And if interaction is so essential, shouldn’t this be what is maximised.

So how can this actually be achieved in the context of instructions?

  • Remember that you have a whole classroom of potential teachers: your students. Give your instruction briefly. Take a ‘think-pair-share’ moment (when one turns to a partner and talk with them) and get students to explain the instruction in their own words. They could also ask their partner any questions they have about the instruction. Be actively listening for questions and watching for pairs who are sitting there in silence. Address any major themes, grab hold of any students who are confused and send the others to get started.
  • Another way I do it (especially at pack up time when there is a long list of jobs for my young students) is to give the instruction then summarise it in four key words – one prompt for each instruction. Get students using fingers or tapping body parts to serve as reminders. I wouldn’t rate this one particularly high on the interaction scale but it does work.

What about content delivery?

  • Rather than just giving a talk, get students to take notes. If they are not fluent writers get them to draw a quick picture. Post it notes work really well for this – but you could use some other method.
  • Have an easel/whiteboard on hand which spellings of asked for words can be jotted down on.
  • Pause at times and get students to pair-share their learning.
  • If you are working digitally, have students contribute to an online set of notes – perhaps one between two or three could work. Each child in a group could have a different focus they are listening for.

To be fair I am sure there are many of you out there who have a much wider range of ideas than these. Feel free to share them!

A final point I would like to make is that teaching can be really hard work and I am sure that you are doing the best you can (and that includes maintaining your sanity as well as the students’ academic learning). So take heart and know that there are plenty of us out there who say you are amazing!

Perhaps the question to ask is not how much you interact, but how do you interact with your students?

References

Interaction. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interaction

Woo, Y., & Reeves, T. C. (2007). Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 15–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.10.005

Learning Centred Classroom

As a part of my lecture this week, I encountered the notion of a learning-centred classroom. This differs from current educational language which talks about shifting from a teacher -centred classroom to a student/learner-centred classroom. Well what about changing the language to a learning centred classroom?

It is a subtle shift in language, yet quite powerful.

A learning-centred classroom seems like a ‘well, isn’t that what the point of education is?’ kind of thought. Yet in a time of cramped curricula, ‘good’ educational opportunities and high accountability, it is all too easy for learning to take a back bench to curricula coverage, getting through the list, achieving results and ‘teaching’.

Well as we all know, teaching does not necessarily equal learning (nor does it necessarily preclude it). Results can be achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean learning has occurred. Students can look engaged but again, this doesn’t mean learning has happened.

So what prompted this thinking? I know you have been dying to ask. As usual, this does not come from me. I have included below an extract from a useful website which addresses this topic. The site can be accessed via this link: Link Alert!

“Many of the ways we have of talking about learning and education are based on the assumption that learning is something that individuals do. Furthermore, we often assume that learning ‘has a beginning and an end; that it is best separated from the rest of our activities; and that it is the result of teaching’ (Wenger 1998: 3). But how would things look if we took a different track? Supposing learning is social and comes largely from of our experience of participating in daily life? It was this thought that formed the basis of a significant rethinking of learning theory in the late 1980s and early 1990s by two researchers from very different disciplines – Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. Their model of situated learning proposed that learning involved a process of engagement in a ‘community of practice’.”

As I look back I can see myself as a practitioner who has had both a teacher-centred and then learner-centred classroom. I have certainly tried to promote learning (achieving both success and failure). But, can I definitively say I have had a ‘learning’ centred classroom? Can you?

I’m signing off now to do some more reading. Enjoy!

“I’ve got nothing to write about!” Turning thoughts into text

Over the years I have repeated met the ‘I’ve got nothing to write about’ kid, the ‘stare at your page for the whole writing session’ and the ‘start crying because my page is still blank and it’s nearly playtime’ kid. It has been with some frustration that I have carefully scaffolded the child’s writing, provided a variety of prompts, guided the child through a plan and conversation only to leave their side and come back to find a page that has nothing more on it than when I left. I have also tried taking away part of their playtime where I thought it was mucking about (often with the same result) and even once having a student record their ideas using an iPad then transcribing it.

The children in this scenario are not necessarily mucking about, developmentally delayed in an way shape or form and sometimes are fluent writers of dictated text. They have ranged in age from five to 14 years of age. So I am seeking to understand why this is happening.

I am still working my way through a variety of articles for my assignment on this topic, and will provide more detail at a later point in time. So far I have found four common themes in my reading which impact on these; Continue reading

The rise of racism

“Can we learn something from the past that helps us see more in the present?” asks Timothy Snyder, right, onstage with historian Rick Perlstein, during TED Dialogues, February 23, 2017, at TED’s offices in New York. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED Timothy Snyder grew up in America, but as a historian of 20th-century Europe at…

via Step away from the internet, and other ways to fight tyranny: A conversation with Timothy Snyder and Rick Perlstein — TED Blog

Female educators to follow – a small way to take action for equality?

A few weeks ago, I helped to prepare a document for my school. The document had lots of photos of children. As part of the final proof, the principal went back and counted up the children appearing to check for gender diversity. It was a small action but something that communicated a bigger idea – equality […]

via #internationalwomensday – instead of platitudes take action — Teaching the Teacher

Fake news and the need for critical thinking

This is not a political article, but a look at critical thinking. I recently popped online and caught up on some American news, watched a couple of news based comedy shows then watched the original press conferences they had referred to. I looked up President Trump’s twitter feed and had a look just to check out the original source, not because I distrust my news sources, but because I am aware that an ideology sits behind everything impacts reporting. Later I opened up my Pinterest account and in my feed sat an article entitled ‘fake news’. It was an example of a contextual teaching unit on critical evaluation of sources.

Politics is what it is, and I absolutely believe that critical thinking is a must, as long it is critical thinking which includes consideration of the position you are based on.

What an opportunity though, for in the moment critical thinking. Is it fake news? Is it true? Is it somewhere on the spectrum in between? How does it represent, position, silence or give voice to people? The minute we stop questioning is the moment we have a problem.

But aside from taking lessons in critical thinking (please in context, not in isolation) what do we as educators or people in general teach about critical thinking? In a high stakes education system, are we privileging compliance at the expense of thinking and questioning? If all we do is provide minimal opportunities for deep questioning, or model questioning of surface knowledge in the name of time are we not teaching students to soak up the message given by authorities without question? Is this not being consistently reinforced through the hidden curriculum?

I do not advocate for there to be no order, compliance at the expense of order and management. There is a degree of this necessary for a functioning society and classroom. But is there room within this structure for kids to ask why or disagree with you? One way I manage this is by teaching kids when to come to me because they feel they have been dealt with unjustly. Never try it when I am speaking to a large group. Come up to me after and we will discuss it then, I will apologise if I was wrong or explain as appropriate. If a new rule must be instituted without consultation, explain why it is being instituted. Allow them to question it respectfully, and if they don’t know how too do that teach them. Model it in your interactions with them. Use think alouds give children opportunities to question why j they are doing a task and get them to offer alternate suggestions if they find it boring. Sometimes things are the way they are and that’s fine, but these small changes can be the start of critical thinking without changing your planned curriculum.this is something that cannot be learnt through a book, but needs practice and modelling.

How can we expect critical thinking when so many of our actions shut it down? Critical thinking and questioning can be disruptive but does not need to be disruptive in the way handing out energy drinks to children and expecting to sit still and quietly once they had been drunken. If we can’t expect children to learn to critically question society, should we be surprised when they take news commentaries and Facebook news as unquestioned truth?

Engaging with families

This week semester one at university began. I am doing a paper based around engaging with families. One reading I had to do was the BES (best evidence synthesis) on the complex nature of influences on achievement from community and families. It was a long read, but worthwhile. If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing (I just skim read most of it) it is worth looking at the summaries of influences right at the beginning (a couple of pages long) and the table 8.1: ‘Synopsis of conclusions from evidence about what major influences and their degree of impact on children’s achievement.’

The paper highlighted the challenges of separating out what factors caused what, Continue reading