Mittwoch, 25. Dezember 2013

Morning problems - writing practice

One of my all-time favorite teaching tools, was used by one of my teaching role models. I got to experience him work in class last year in Sweden. Not only did I get to experience some very cool methods, I also got to use one of them during my time substituting for him. The only thing bothering me a little bit, is that I’m never going to be able to use it in this form, because this particular setup, only works as a classroom teacher on a primary level. The way (lower) secondary schools work, is that a teacher works in a couple of different classes, rather than being in one class all the time (or every morning for that matter).

It might be used in various other forms, or called different names, but I have never heard of it before. The so-called Morning Problems. 

Before I get into explaining it, there are is one specific thing you need to know about the school (system) in order to understand how this is done. The key factor: the actual lesson in the morning started at 8.40, but the kids usually arrived at school and therefore entered the classroom at around 8.15 or 8.20.

So in the mornings, before the first lesson, their schedule always had “Morning Problem” written on it. It was a very simple way to get them acclimated in the morning and get them ready to think. He put up some kind of issue to solve on the whiteboard. These problems were mostly Mathematical riddles. Since his background was more on the Maths-side, he built up a sort of 'library' of these riddles. Some of them very solely logical problems, some were strictly mathematical, but always with some fun wrinkle, either in the instruction or in the solution.
The kids had no issues starting to work on it, as soon as they came to school. I even remember some of them just walking through the door, looking up at the board and just checking out the riddle, before they even got to their spot and just stood in the door for a little while already thinking about it.
It brought something challenging and fun. Not only did you get an extra ‘credit’ for finishing it, but you could also relax and do something else before the lesson starts, some 3rd graders wanted to read their books, some wanted to draw and some even wanted to play some chess or other board games.

The main thing about this for me was that specifically every monday morning, the task was as simple as: write something short about your weekend, three things you liked and three things you didn't like. I feel like this form of writing practice, can be really valuable for any class. Not only did they get to write something short and reflect, they didn’t even mind writing, first thing in the morning.

I believe there are many methods, where the kids don’t even notice it to be ‘real’ school work, although they bring an unbelievable benefit. Not only are Mathematical riddles awesome and fun, but incorporating writing and spelling riddles every now and then, is also of great use and improves various skills. I really hope I get the chance to work out something similar to this. I have to hope for the system to be on my side though.

Montag, 9. Dezember 2013

Teacher training - content or methods?

Just like there are different schools (i.e. primary and upper), there are different forms of teacher training. Regardless of how much politics influence the way education works, I still think more specific and individual attention could be brought to the way student teachers are lead down their path of professionalization.

Teachers of almost all subjects, obviously need to have some kind of knowledge basis for their particular subject. For one, teachers have to be able to build/form a lesson, based on the knowledge that the children should acquire, and it is also quite important to be able to answer additional questions somebody might have about a topic.

Teachers also have to know, which methods to use in order teach a certain topic, more importantly, the proper methods for the children. They might have to face the challenge of varying levels in class, or they have to adjust one method, because it just doesn’t fit the particular need for a class.

I would like to take up one of these two points. Especially, because I feel like I’m part of one, and I’m not having fun as a student (teacher) myself, the way I’m confronted with it now.

I’m going to take two personal examples from the last couple of years. One of my biggest passions, ever since I was young, is sports. It never really mattered, if it was a specific sport, it never mattered if I could only watch it on TV, I always enjoyed it. Even later, when I got older, not only did I participate in sports as much as I could, but I also got into coaching after a couple of years. With coaching in a specific sport, came trainer education and trainer certificates, where sometimes you get away from one sport specifically, but you focus more on movement and movement games. Now, in fairness, I might be different from other coaches or trainers, but for many specific movements, I don’t actually have to do and feel the movements myself, to be able to see what could be wrong with them and fix it. This can lead down a very tricky path - how credible can somebody be, if they never really tried it themselves? Well, the end result of sports movements should be that the athlete is able to perform them, without mistakes and economically. Maybe it is a deeper lying issue, but I personally don’t care how I can reach those results; if I get good and proper feedback, and it works, thanks to that, I will be happy. I don’t necessarily think the background of the trainer or coach really matters. The key thing to keep in mind: the coaches main goal is to get you to the end result.

As I mentioned above, there is a situation, which brings this whole big question to the forefront every time I’m involved. My second subject, besides English, is History and Social sciences. As you can imagine, History lessons tend to be very dry. Obviously History teachers have to have a very broad understanding and knowledge, since the topic itself is vast. But to be more specific, I’m in a teacher training program for 10 to 14 year olds. So to be very blunt, I don’t really care about all the details regarding wars and empires, I would really love to know, how I can make these topics interesting for children. Unfortunately these things never get mentioned, leaving me little to no real preparation for the things that I should teach, but at least I know a bunch of interesting topics in detail. I’m always surprised that most of the time our teachers never even taught in the same kind of schools we are going to teach in - which in turn wouldn’t be an issue, because it doesn’t really matter where you come from - it only matters where it leads us, but this part of learning for myself and not for my job is beyond me. To compare it to the previous paragraph, I think the key for a teacher is the same thing as for a coach - get you to the end result - but this time, the end result is that children acquire certain competencies and a knowledge base to be able to evolve, and either attend a higher education institute or get work, and I’m not sure if they would achieve those goals if I talk to them, or maybe let them read about history for hours on end.

In both cases I’m not a big believer in really having to do the actual ‘work’ (the sport or knowing specific topics), but I do think it is important to know how to get to the finish line. And especially in cases, where teaching and learning is involved, it is far more important to know how to teach, than what to teach.

Mittwoch, 4. Dezember 2013

Negucation - this is not a good title

A supportive environment, be it family or friends is very valuable on all stages of life. Growing up and getting older, one starts to be more aware of the surroundings. In the workplace, or just among friends, conversations get more mature and more reflective. Talking about achievements or various skills among co-workers or friends tend to go in a positive direction, at least most of the time. Not many people try to negate or downgrade what somebody else did on purpose when having a regular conversation. Most people in todays society have a positive and encouraging outlook on things. To me, it is rather surprising that a very important field of work has not embraced this mindset.

A lot of times, kids in school are everything but encouraged to try things and be hopeful for their future. They are told how ‘bad’ they are doing and that they ‘failed’ in various areas of school life. It’s no surprise where this comes from. Student teachers are treated the same way by their teacher during teacher training. No wonder many of them take on this attitude and live it to the fullest in their profession. But why is that? How come one has to deal with disrespectful behaviour from teachers so many times? And where does this all come from, is it just this generation of university teachers, or is it something that was common before?

I can’t speak for more countries than the ones I’ve been living in. I’ve spent a year in Sweden, where it was almost a culture shock for me at the university, but that is not the point. I’m curious where this came from in Austria. It might be a societal issue in general. If one would follow the classic stereotypes that are known about Austrian people, one could probably find connections to where it came from and how it developed over time.

I’d like to take it back to the basic educational point of view. If the student teachers get treated this way, then they are going to treat their students the same way. I believe in change in education from the top. More people can be reached if teacher education is fixed than by fixing yourself and just your own classroom. But how to start?
First of all, higher standards need to be set for new student teachers. It has to be clear that these people are directly responsible for how the society will evolve in the next twenty to thirty years, it is a big responsibility. If you set higher standards, you also have to embrace people who have better basics than others (e.g. prior work experience, certificates, coaching). And this is exactly where it all starts: people with a better basis than others can not be treated the same way. They are further ahead, so they need different challenges or they are going to lose interest. If it continues they get frustrated by the way they are treated because everything is adjusted downwards to suit the “new” student teachers, and so the negative vibes begin. The same could be said for student teachers who are actually new, in the same breath they are treated like little children. If you enter a study programme you obviously finished some high school or got the accreditations to attend a higher educational facility, meaning, you are capable of doing ‘real’ university things like working independently and getting things done on time. Unfortunately teachesr manage to mess up both of these student groups which in turn leads to teachers who treat their kids on a similar scale.

Somehow there is this strange feeling of being between two university-blackhole-systems - the teacher education is obviously very important for any country in general, but then again, there is no respect or encouragement for students who want to be part of it; then teacher training does not prepare you for what you would actually want and need out of it, and your own teachers don’t even have the experiences which would be helpful to you, which in turn makes them condescending; but the teacher training program wants to have ‘competent’ professors and so on...frustrating on some levels.

Education is something positive. And although there are plenty of teachers and schools that do good work, there still are kids in school hearing that they can not do anything every day in school, and sometimes at home. I’m liking the idea of teachers also switching to the roles of guides and mentors more and more. Sometimes the best ‘teaching’ is just to encourage. Encouraging to try, because there is no failure. If there is no way out, there is nothing wrong with asking a classmate or the teacher will help figuring stuff out. But if right from the start the mindset is ‘how difficult something is and that so many fail at it and that you couldn't even finish another task’, how much fun is it to even start and try. Especially thinking about students who need a little extra help, imagine just being positive around them, they will get through it even if its way harder for them. Telling them that it gets harder and harder, and if they don’t manage the basic things it can be impossible, is not going to help. There are so many competencies that are needed later in in life that could be taught through an encouraging attitude.

I feel like so much good can come out of Education, out of schools and universities, but it has to start with the attitude. It has to be made clear that in certain roles people are role models, if they like it or not, but they have to realize that their actions are far reaching. Imagine a teacher in teacher training having a positive influence on one of his groups with 25 student teachers, these student teachers will go out in their respective schools and give the same positive influence to each of their 100 students. So this one teacher can influence the lifes of 2500 kids. How great is that?
Instead of focusing on the negative things, education has to get a positive spin. It is great to have people who want to become teachers. It is an amazing opportunity to help those student teachers make a difference in schools. It is awesome to be able to work with kids and youngsters and help them evolve and develop.

And even Negucation is a great title!