Stop Teaching – Start Learning

lecture

Do you ever teach a class?

By ‘teach’ I mean talk to the whole class to share instruction or discuss content. If the answer is yes, then I would like to examine your aims in doing so. The three common reasons for talking to a whole class are:

  • Task instruction;
  • Delivery of content/concept/facts;
  • Class discussion.

I believe that only the first of these 3 can be said to succeed in it’s aims and even then fails often. All forms of learning should offer equal opportunity to all, not only to be involved but succeed in the learning intentions. Every learner deserves to maximise their time available to ensure they definitely learn and grow. People are different and so any one-size-fits-all mechanism is guaranteed to fail to be fair to all. I have spoken to people of all ages who agree that teacher verbal + visuals delivery of content to a large audience (more than 5) only suits a small minority who can focus, retain and process the information as it is shared. Photo Credit

Let’s examine each one in turn.

A. Task instruction

A task instruction should be 5 minutes at most. Even if a list of instructions are verbally delivered to the class, at least they are static, surface level information that can hopefully be easily repeated and spread through the class by the learners themselves. I’ve seen many teachers upset that tasks were not carried out as per instruction but this is solved by ensuring their is a mechanism or practice designed to receive and record the instructions. This is the least of our worries.

B. Delivery of content (big topic!)

Question: Why is traditional class teaching / lecturing still so popular?

Answer: It’s the easiest option available to any teacher. They know their topics, they know their script, they did the same lecture last year (most of the time) and thus it requires no preparation, no planning of student activity, no thought as to the current relevance of the content and in most schools, nobody will complain as students will be blamed for not ‘studying’ if they fail. Easy!

An important aim should be that every moment in the development of young people in schools is fully inclusive. Even the idea that a variety of teaching techniques is ok suggests that waisting the time of 50% of learners for 40 minutes is ok as we’ll cater for them later on. This is not good education.

The Class a Teacher Talks to-eduwells

10 assumptions behind teaching a whole class (single-point delivery of content) are that:

  1. All listeners are listening. If they’re not, that’s their fault.
  2. If listening, all listeners can absorb information at the same pace.
  3. All students will be present for this once-a-year performance. If not, too bad.
  4. All listeners understand at the same level. (Your delivery caters for both slow and fast processors equally)
  5. All listeners only require the one delivery (or you’ll be repeating yourself any number of times)
  6. All learners hold the courage to stop you and ask questions publicly (Self esteem has no impact on learning)
  7. There’s not much that can be done as some learners are just better at ‘learning’.
  8. Delivery style can make teaching ‘entertaining’ and thus work for most. (after all, you can’t cater for all)
  9. Students ask for lectures, they like them and these requests have nothing to do with a desire to passively disengage during the teacher’s ‘performance’
  10. Some kids are just cut out for school more than others and can concentrate. That’s life!

Even if you accept that only some of the assumptions above are not true then you have to accept that by not catering for all, delivery of content to any audience larger than about 5 people, fails immediately in it’s aim to include all in the learning. Education must move on and take much more flexible, student-centred forms if it is to fulfil its aims for all learners.

Here’s a version for Star Wars fans 😀

  

First Step

The next question for most teachers is: how can I get through all this content whilst catering for all types of learners and offering flexibility?

Your first step into student-centred learning is to remove the one-size-fits-all delivery and “Flip” the content online. Flipped teaching is a few years old now and has been presented as a structured programme of: “watch the lesson for homework, then do activity in class.” I prefer to not structure it so much. Once I’ve said and shown what I need online, I can feel confident to handover the designing of activities to the student.

Some students share headphones to watch the teaching videos in class, some watch at home and some don’t need the lesson at all. Everyone goes at their own pace and I challenge the whole class to only prove certain understandings or solve certain problems. The time freed up by not teaching the whole class allows me to dedicate all my time to individuals or small groups requesting extra assistance. This also allows the students to involve more people outside the class in their projects.

First App – Teach the way you’ve always done but more efficiently.

Here’s a little intro into the Explain Everything App. My first Flipping tool 2 years ago. All teachers need to know their year long courses are actually only 3 hours of teaching, once you remove the pauses,  tangents, diagram-drawing time, mistakes etc. I’ve recorded 7 high school courses for ages 14 to 18 and they all came under 3 hours. 1st time Flipped teachers don’t know what to do with themselves.

Explain Everything-EduWells.png

C: Class Discussion

This is a grey area and can depend on the skills of the teacher. Designing how the discussion will include all and then how to manage the discussion as it takes place is tricky.  Very few people have the skills to really have everyone in the room feeling confident they can be involved. Large group discussion can be heavily influenced by personalities, which can act as obstacles to the aim that all learn equally. Unless you divide the room into smaller discussion groups and help structure how each individual will feel included, discussion can rarely succeed in all its aims.

Conclusion

If your young or old learners have devices, they are free to access your teaching when and however it suits them. It is time to open up learning as something they do in life, tackle and enjoy together and not just something they receive from a single point at a single time. Learning is also something every teacher should be doing and it is most important that every teacher model good learning behaviour. Technology has quickly changed the educational landscape and it’s time for all teachers to learn to navigate and be part of this landscape.

I posted more ideas about why this is important here: iPad Teaching is NOT about iPads

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