As someone who has returned to education after a lengthy break I am more than many my age who are teaching, I suspect, keen to improve my skills. That’s not to say that teachers who have 20+ years experience aren’t keen to improve, but that they are normally the ones leading professional development not wanting it.Read More
I have been teaching at the British School here in Alexandria for just over a month. There is lots and lots to commend the school for, my class is wonderful, colleagues supportive and enough prep time to make you wonder why you would ever leave here. But there are challenges, one of which is dealing with overly enthusiastic parents. This is no different to North America or the UK, so it was very timely that I came across this TED talk from 2015 by Julie Lythcott-Haims.
As a parent with a six year old son I have recently become aware how easy it is to fall into a trap like the one described by Julie. I have also seen first hand, within a month of being in the British School, a parent who is already a long way down this rabbit hole and her son is only nine. Of course we want the best for our children, but I think a big part of that is letting children be children and letting them find their own way and that seems to becoming harder and harder.
At the end of August I will be taking up a position as a Y4 teacher at the British School in Alexandria. It has taken over three years and a distance of 36,000 km to get here but I am excited to be finally walking into my own classroom.
I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to secure a position in Whitehorse but the situation there is no better than elsewhere in Canada and I couldn’t wait around for several years waiting to get lucky. It is I suppose a good thing that teaching is a desirable profession in Canada, well paid and well respected. Teachers aren’t overworked and for the most part are able to retire at a relatively young age. It’s a very different situation in the UK where successive governments have seemingly broken the system and where almost half of the teachers teaching would leave the profession if they could.
With my new job it’s a good time to try revive my blog, which hasn’t seen a post since the beginning of March. It will be my intention to post at least once a week. Not sure how that will pan out with the new job and a new home in a new country but I will try my hardest to make a weekly post happen.
It is with some chagrin that I must admit is only in the last couple of years that I have come to understand that most of what we do as teachers is about learning. I think I am in good company and certainly not alone. It is only recently with the relatively easier and more affordable access to MRI scanning that scientists have been able to more fully understand how we learn. While this has been happening more than one myth has been busted. (Learning styles stands out for me.) I thought it would be useful to post a list of some articles I have come across that address the issue of learning and how it impacts what we do as teachers. (This will be an ongoing series of posts as I come across them.)
This first series of posts is from David Didau whose blog is a must read for anyone interested in education. He's a prolific blogger who is one of the most influential educational bloggers in the UK and in my opinion always makes more sense than not. One of the things I really appreciate about his writing is that when he believes he is wrong he will say so which, in this age of polarization and demagoguery is a refreshing change.
A definition of learning - reading the comments not everyone would agree with David but it is a good starting point. Personally I think if he's not spot on he's close.
What's the Starting Point for all Learning - Fascinating post about where learning begins. The discussion afterwards is as, if not more, interesting than the post.
What are they learning? - Thoughts on where our focus should be as teachers. David posits that it is rare for anyone to learn nothing from a given situation. Which means teachers should be more concerned about 'what' students are learning rather than 'if' they are learning.
Learning Styles - There are three posts that relate to this topic. Again the discussions following the posts, especially The Learning Styles myth debunked on the back of an envelope makes for a lot of heated debate as well as clarifying what is meant by learning styles. David then followed up that post with another One more nail in the Learning Styles coffin... where he explained further what he meant by;
...the myth is that our preferences for experiencing information presented in a particular mode, or style, leads to improved outcomes. It doesn’t.
Then Learning is liminal - (the first time I have come across this word) which compliments the posts on learning styles nicely. He also ends this post with the idea that learning is a journey. I use this same analogy all be it in a different way, with my students when they ask why their classmates are not all at the same level. I tell them something along the lines of;
We're all on a journey of learning but most of us are travelling at different speeds. The important thing is not how fast we travel but that we never stop travelling.
I am sure there will be more posts from David concerning this subject in the future. It is after all central to our efforts as teachers. In the meantime if you would like to check out his website, you can find it here.
I came across a great article in the Atlantic by Jessica Lahey called Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic. In it she talks to Teller of Penn and Teller fame about his time as a teacher before he became famous. He taught Latin of all things but his point was how teaching is really a performance art saying that the delivery part of the job is often under valued and rarely taught. I kind of agree although as with most things there needs to be a balance. It's no good delivering rubbish brilliantly, so to speak. The whole article is here and well worth a read.
The following statement is something that a lot of teachers will find hard to accept.
...the idea that students learn differently depending on their personal preference for visual, auditory or kinesthetic cues is just a myth.
For much of my teaching career the idea that people learn in different ways has been one that is widely accepted. This last summer in a job posting one of the requirements was to say how you would cater for the different learning styles in the class.
But more and more research it appears, suggests this is not the case. The majority of people learn in a similar way. Many teachers spend countless hours either planning activities for different learning styles or beat themselves up because they are not. If you are interested then the whole article is here, originally found in Quartz, it was flipped into my Educational Stories Worth Reading. It makes for thought proving reading.