Masters of Teaching Mind Dump #2

in Education2 months ago


You can find previous Brain Dumps here: Part 1

So, today was the formal end of the first week of my Master of Teaching course. The first week was more of an orientation to the online learning tools and a loose introduction to the wider ideas that each course will be based around.

From the actual set-up of each of the courses (I'm enrolled in 4 units), it's pretty interesting how each is quite different in presentation style and set-up. I think that there has been some rough guidelines and direction from the university, but it is quite clear that some of it is still a work in progress. Plus, some approaches are a bit more successful than others!

So, I'm in the Physics/Maths secondary Teaching stream, which means that I should be a properly trained teacher in about two years time, assuming full-time study. I have two mandatory general teaching units, one about classroom management and the other about lesson planning. Then there are the two subject specific units about teaching Maths and Science.

I've found that the two general teaching courses are really the best constructed and interesting. Theories and studies about learning and education, how children (and adults) learn... it doubles over into psychology as well as leadership/management ideas. The Science and Maths units have also started in a similar way, with readings and modules based around learning theories and how to apply them to a group. In coming modules, these specific subject units will diverge away to focus on the specific difficulties and challenges of teaching topics in those areas.

It's pretty weird, but the unit that has THE WORST organisation is the Maths one. It's sort of bad to the point where I think that they are trying to make a point of making us appreciate what good organisation and layout can affect learning. At least, I'm hoping that that is the ulterior motive... but I'm sort of resigned to the idea that it is just poorly laid out. It's funny, because they talk about extrinsic cognitive load hampering learning. Extrinsic load is all the stuff that gets in the way of learning, such as when information is presented poorly or in a difficult to parse manner... which means much of the learner's attention is spent trying to decode the presentation rather than focussing on absorbing the understanding of the material!

The Science focussed one has started to move towards the ideas of why student's have taken a turn away from STEM subjects over the last decade or two. Like many things, it does appear to be a mix of factors... and usually not really the easy to identify problems and solutions that you would find in social media and the tabloid press (or even more respected press articles...). Short answer... it is complex. For teachers, it partly lies in the problem of student engagement... some of the solutions seem to have only had a pass-mark or graduation percentage metric in mind, which is problematic. I remember my father complaining of similar solutions that were driven by funding and metrics when he was a lecturer of Mathematics at a University... where he was encouraged to NOT fail students, but just make the course easier.

The two general focus teaching units are interesting for me as they essentially codify idea that I had been thinking about when approaching team leadership and teaching.

Behaviourism is the old notion of teaching, the idea that students are passive vessels for knowledge, and that you teach them by getting them to perform tasks repetitively with rewards and punishment (marks generally) as incentives. It's the sort of thing that is more associated with gambling addiction and the training of animals. It's also sort of weird that this is quite often championed as a way of getting back to the good old ways of teaching, in reaction to the newer ideas of how learning is done.

It's a teaching philosophy that is often coupled with a classroom management style that relies heavily on teacher authority and student submission. It's strange that we know that this sort of leadership style is brittle in the adult world, yet there are still proponents of this style for education!

Anyway, the Constructivism philosophies of teaching place the emphasis on the active discovery and learning of the student. New knowledge is acquired and incorporated into existing schema which the holds the organisation of existing knowledge. To do this, the student needs to be an active participant in the learning... the role of the teacher is to create a little bit of chaos (new knowledge) and to create the supports for the student to assimilate the knowledge. It manifests itself in teaching by questioning and leading the student through reasoning, rather than by telling the student how things are.

So, the role of the teacher is to create the environment in which a student can explore and learn... rather than just expecting a student to be able to learn in ANY circumstance.

Constructivism has another sub-strand of thought that holds that learning can not be divorced from cultural and historical context. Those words have unfortunately achieved a political meaning by polemicists... so, I will clarify them. What they mean is, for a student to be in a position to be able to effectively learn, you need to be using tools and language and experiences with which they are familiar with. If you have no access to computers, it makes no sense to refer to them... If you have never been to a supermarket, it makes no sense to use that as a "realistic" setting. This does mean that a teacher needs to be flexible in lesson planning to accommodate whatever interesting mis-assumptions come their way. Some call it "diversity" (and the opposite political spectrum will howl their heads off...), I prefer to call it effective and flexible teaching. You adjust and teach to effectively convey meaning and understanding, not because you are follow a path that you can't deviate from. Again, simple concepts that have been high-jacked by keyboard warriors and polemicists.

This sort of teaching philosophy is coupled with a flexible classroom management style. One that doesn't rely on teacher authority but instead treats the teacher and a student as a single team. This means that you don't jump on every "misdeed" and you allow for some diversion from the intended lesson in order to engage and explore. As a result, it ends up being a little bit more "chaotic", but relies on the careful judgement of ebb and flow of energy by the teacher, who is just a group leader rather than THE LEADER.

Anyway, these ideas are still settling in my mind in their codified form. I'm not so great with these sort of academic words from the social sciences... I'm much more comfortable with normal words and symbolic ideas. However, the abstract ideas are incredibly appealing to me... just how to translate to practical methods... but that is what the units and training are for!

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Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! It's been really interesting to learn about the education theories... it does lead me to realise that I've had a pretty lucky education path that was mostly outside of school in the areas that I cared about.