Thursday, January 06, 2011

Beginning teaching - or starting a new year

Beginning the school year another blog to flick through

Beginning teachers face a dilemma.

It is obviously sensible to 'find out what is important around here' and to get on with doing it.

Good advice to start with but the danger is that it is all too easy to conform unthinkingly to bad habits as well.Compliance and conformity to school expectations ( for better or worse) is more the name of the game for new teachers.

For example there is a lot of talk about the importance of inquiry and creative learning - about integrating subject disciplines around relevant problems. However when school timetables are passed out it becomes pretty obvious schools are centred around two traditional areas - literacy and numeracy.

In fact it is hard to see where inquiry and creativity actually fit in.

The only solution, if you are a new teacher, is to do your best to develop literacy and numeracy skills that will be used to ensure deep and meaningful inquiry studies. Students should see inquiry learning as the most important thing.. They should see literacy and numeracy as a means to an end -as vital 'foundation skills'. They need to see the difference between 'real' maths and 'practice' maths.

This is easiest in literacy ( I prefer the heading 'language arts') by basing comprehension and information research skills on the current inquiry topic but most inquiry topics also need mathematical skills to be in place. And it is important for students to see the connections as well.

One task I would do is to get the class to complete an informal survey of attitudes, or feelings, towards all aspects of the school curriculum. Ask students to show their interest using a one to five scale or sad or smiley faces.

Developing a love of learning and developing a 'feeling for' each area is vital. If the results are less than wonderful then you will know where to place your effort as teacher.

It strikes me teachers spend hours each week on mathematics for little effect. At the end of schooling far too many students leave with a poor attitude ( and achievement level) in maths and this ought not to be the case. If you placed poetry on the list I bet not many students would say they liked it but I also bet that, with interesting teaching, all students would come to see poetry as a fun activity.

So what do your students think of various school subjects? The survey is a good first day activity. Better still if the list were drawn up by all teachers and used as an important assessment tool.

If you know about the mindset research of Carol Dweck add :

1 Do you think were are born as smart as you are ever going to be ( 'brains' or sports ability) and there are some things you just can't do ?


2 Do you think you can get better at anything if you try hard and practice?

The first is a 'fixed mindset'.Low ability students get their lack of ability affirmed at school ( through ability grouping, national testing or streaming) and high achievers ( often girls) do not risk their status by new areas of learning becoming risk averse. Those with a 'growth mindset' just have a go at anything believing in effort and focused practice and see not succeeding as a challenge.This 'growth mindset' underpins the New Zealand Curriculum; ' have a go kids'

Click on the links below for some good advice to read before starting the school year.

Some activities to begin the year

Developing a stance as a teacher with your class

What attitudes about learning do your students bring with them?

Discussing how we learn with your class

Finding out what talents your students bring with them

A basis for planning a unit of work

More on planning an interactive unit

Sharing stories - personal writing

More on personal writing

The importance of teaching your class to observe

What do your students know about the Treaty of Waitangi?
More about the Treaty

Developing design presentation skills

More on presentation of student's ideas

Developing a stimulating room environment

A lesson Cicadas

A lesson on the flax plant

Make this the year to break out of traditional patterns and assumption and to develop active literacy, mathematics and inquiry programmes - ones that value students' 'voice' , questions, ideas and creativity.

There is no rush but don't be trapped by yesterdays timetables and expectations.

Remember the revised New Zealand Curriculum has as its vision for all students to be 'confident life long learners' ( or inquirers) and for them to have the competencies, or 'habits of mind', or 'learning power', to be 'seekers, users,and creators of their own knowledge'.

Few schools have achieved such a vision - yet! Or if they have the vision they have a reality gap between what is said and done!


Anonymous said...

Good advice Bruce.You are right there is often a credibility gap between the rhetoric and the reality of most schools. They are essentualy conservative organisations.

For a first year teacher the vision and leadership of the principal is vital and of course the support of creative fellow teachers. Both are not that common.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I don't think it is a beginning teachers role to be too critical of the schools they gain a position in but just for them to keep in mind that most schools are trapped in a traditional structure that at some point needs to be challenged.

trainee teacher said...

Thanks for the links and for the advice. I have bookmarked for next year. I think that some of this would applicable for student teachers.