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9 November; knowing, class management, etc.

10 November 2010

Thanks to Cathy for her introduction to Chinese calligraphy.

Several things came directly out of her micro-teaching session.

  • First, the way in which she demonstrated “scaffolding” in the way in which she took you through constructing the characters with the aid of guides and then moved on to doing without them.
  • Second, that she adopted the approach Hattie calls “direct instruction” (I introduced Hattie’s work earlier; see here). His account of its effectiveness can be found in Hattie (2009) particularly pp. 204-207.
  • We also discussed how she was continuously assessing and getting feedback from you about your progress.

Picking up on aspects of this after the break, we talked about alternative approaches, such as getting a student to try something and realise they can’t do it, as a way of preparing the ground. This is a risky strategy, because it may result in the humiliation and alienation of any student expected to try something out in public. But there is one occasion on which it may be necessary, which is when you need to get someone to recognise their need to learn–to recognise their ignorance or incompetence, to put it crudely.

I introduced (rather badly, I confess) the “knowing and not knowing” model as a way to explore this.

Since we did not have a second micro-teaching contribution this week, I asked about “matters arising” from the examples we have had so far. Alex raised the issue of class management; all the learning from the micro-sessions was all very well, but it’s not “real life” where class and behaviour management is the first priority. We discussed the different levels of the situation; helping students to learn content (which we have been practising), and overcoming the problems they bring into the class with them.

There are some pages which put some perspective on it here. But I note in re-reading them that they don’t really engage with the underlying principle of “defining the situation”; that is to say, class management really becomes a problem when you are in the position of continually having to react to it, when the students have the initiative rather than yourself. So it is important to ensure that “they know who is boss”. That does emphatically not mean being authoritarian, but it does mean using all means to give them a sense of security about where they stand, and what will happen in this class. As we discussed, the more formal structures of schools find this easier to set up and communicate than do colleges, but we did talk about some ways in which this can be managed, including setting ground-rules. (You may well feel I don’t practise what I preach, of course…) Oh, and here is a page on how not to do it! (See para . 18 onwards. It was twenty years ago this week.)

We eventually moved on and Caroline asked about how you know whether or not students are getting it. In other words, how do you assess on a minute to minute basis? Throwing it open to suggestions, you came up with answers which correctly amounted to–“everything which happens and doesn’t happen gives information about whether and what learning is taking place.” Specifically, you mentioned:

  • students’ body language, indicating their involvement or otherwise
  • their levels of participation, and its relevance
  • the dialogue you have with them, especially if they are secure and comfortable enough to ask you questions about the content
  • their distractions; texting under the desk, checking Facebook on the lap-top, doodling

and overall, the fact that you will rapidly acquire the professional frame of reference which attaches significance to all this behaviour in terms of teaching and learning.

That led on to a discussion of whether practice makes perfect–it doesn’t, but it may make permanent. I mentioned that several recent books have effectively re-instated the importance of sheer practice in skill acquisition; I didn’t mention all of them but several are touched on in this blog post or the links from it. Crawford (2010) is one of Peter’s and my books of the moment, incidentally.

A propos of the challenge of changing one’s ways (a theme to which I shall return ad nauseam), and linking to the “not knowing” point discussed earlier, there is a take on it here.

And in turn that led to a discussion of Ericsson’s work on “deliberate practice” (Ericsson A K, Prietula M J and  Cokely E T (2007). “The Making of an Expert” Harvard Business Review (July–August 2007). (accessed 1 June 2010)) and the claim that 10,000 hours of practice actually re-wires the brain. And here, I overstepped the limits of my own competence, because I rather sloppily picked up a point which linked this to myelination, which I though I had read in an article in PLoS (Public Library of Science) but I can’t find it there. I did however track it back to a third-hand reference (which is never good practice); the argument is put forward in a rather strange but interesting review article looking at self-help books, which cites Coyle (2009) as the source of the idea. On inspection–not having read the primary source–I find this is far from as firm a basis as I would normally cite. See, for example, this review.

So thanks to Emily for gently taking me up on this; she has forestalled the likelihood of me using it yet again, and developing an ever greater attachment to another piece of dubious “neuroscience”, following the general principle of practice maning permanent.

Sorry for the delay in posting this–see you on Tuesday.

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