Insights & Art

Straight from the dome to the plate.

Tag: Education

MythBusters: Learning Styles

“If there’s something strange in you neighborhood
Who you gonna call? (mythbusters)
If there’s something weird
And it don’t look good
Who you gonna call? (mythbusters).”

What the Research says about Learning Styles?

Background:

For the purposes of this assignment, we have chosen to suggest an approach for a school in the Western suburbs of Sydney, with an ethnically and linguistically diverse student body. Being engaged in professional development, the school has noticed the discourse of learning styles in professional spheres and wants to investigate before adopting it as school practice. The following is a paper evaluating the research on learning styles, and suggests an approach for the school to take.

Introduction:

The term “learning styles” is the constructed concept that “individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study that is most effective for them”. Over the last fifty years, the myth of ‘Learning Styles’ has become one of the most popular aspects of educational theory, with it gaining traction amongst the wider academic circles. Pashler et al., states this education theory is very alluring because it presents an easy solution to the paradox of teaching inherently different students within a mass production system. However the popularity of this myth ventures into the field of pseudo-science as its catchy narrative is overwhelmingly unsupported by the current research. Furthermore Pashler et al. states that with the constant active promotion from vendors offering different tests, assessment devices and online technologies, it has allowed educational institutions to easily identify students learning styles, and adapt their instructional approaches accordingly.

It cannot be denied that it is important to recognise that students are diverse and learn differently, whether it is culturally, linguistically or cognitively. The concept of learning styles may seem like a credible approach to cater for this diversity, however there has been limited evidence supporting it. There is some evidence of neural correlation with a preferred learning preference, for example Kraemer, Rosenberg & Thompson-Schill (2008) had the first set of data that showed a neural correlation with a stated style preference, which suggested that those who are associated with the verbal style have a tendency to convert pictorial information into linguistic representations. However, in the majority of the research on learning styles, students who used their preferred learning styles did not fare significantly better than students who were prevented from using their preferred style. It is therefore important that educators are aware that learning styles are not reliable predictors of the most appropriate learning style for any given student.

Alternatively, Huebner suggests the use of “differentiated instruction to effectively address all students’ learning needs”. It cannot be denied that students come from complex backgrounds with a diversity of language, ability and prior knowledge in any given area. They will also have a preference with the way that they learn and retain information. However, evidence suggests that implementing differentiated instruction, rather than teaching to a single style or ability, proves to be the most effective when addressing diverse student learning needs. Instead of grouping students into learning styles, understanding how to promote student engagement and motivation, assessing student readiness and having effective classroom management procedures can enrich the student learning process. Huebner further affirms this statement by stating it is important to understand that with differentiated instruction, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model, instead it builds upon the prior knowledge, interests and abilities that students bring to the classroom.

The Myth of Learning Styles

Massa and Meyer’s study was very effective at highlighting the wide divide between what is the popular narrative and what is academically supported. Altogether Massa and Meyer performed three separate experiments to test whether or not ‘visual learners’ and ‘verbal learners’ excelled when multimedia instruction was given in their respective fields, in a total of 51 cases, 49 showed little or no evidence, for learning styles, with some even showing evidence against.

When Massa and Meyer’s first experiment involving 52 participants showed no evidence to support the learning styles education system, they attempted the exact same experiment in a different context. In the first experiment, the mean age was 18 years old with all the participants coming from the Psychology pool at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In experiment two it, the participants were non-college educated adults, with 15 out of the 61 having high school as their highest level of education. However despite the shift in demographics, the results to experiment two were very similar, with no significant increases in academic scoring in 14 of the 15 experiments.

Out of the 51 cases, 52.94% (27/51) of the time, the results showed a minute leaning towards the expected direction (visual learners getting slightly better results on visual instruction), whilst 47.05% (24/51) the results headed towards the opposite direction. These scores highlight how inconsistent this educational theory is and that there was close to an equal chance of a person either benefiting or not benefitting from learning styles classrooms.

Instead it was found that adding images to aid any form of instruction was a benefit to both ‘visual’ and ‘verbal’ learners, further discrediting the notion that people can be cleanly categorized into either element. This has been validated by studies such as Mayer and Moreno (2002) and Austin (2009) who found multimedia which incorporated animation and narration were consistently shown to be the most effective when it came to student’s retention of knowledge and academic scores.

The Argument for Learning Styles

One of the most significant reasons that the learning style theory gained momentum was due to educators realising that each child is different in the way that they learn and process knowledge. In their book “The Importance of Learning Styles,” Sims and Sims assert that learning opportunities need to be designed with the strengths and weakness of the child in mind. This is an argument which stands true to this day, even though the nuances of the words ‘strengths and weaknesses’ have evolved since then. In Sims and Sims’ time, the goal of learning styles assessment was to “make distinctions that lead to meaningful differences”. This was carried out through theories such as the Experiential Learning Theory presented by Kolb and the Learning Styles model proposed by Grasha-Reichmann. Both of these researchers were making nascent responses to the dilemma which arose from the acknowledgement of individual differences, or perhaps preferences, for perceiving and processing information. Since then, research on differentiated instruction by ability level and all forms of expression have developed these ideas.

The preconceived notions of some researchers have inhibited the critical analysis of data leading some to believe that what was measured was an indicator of different learning styles. Sprenger states that differentiation strategies such as tweaking the content or making instructional changes, need to be implemented after analysing the student’s “learning profile” or style of learning (2008, p.xvi). For qualitative researchers such as Sprenger (2008), who work with small scale case studies or take part in action research in their own classrooms, the idea that a child’s behaviour can indicate the child’s cognitive processes would have been almost self evident as it would have been observable evidence.

Massa and Mayer (2006), although critical of the learning style theory, acknowledges that in their study a correlation between cognitive style measures and processing measures were found where an individual’s professed learning style (visual or verbal) matched with how heavily they relied on help represented through the two styles. However, these findings are few and far between. Given the dominance of the learning styles discourse, it is very possible that researchers and participants alike were unwittingly primed to form these conclusions.

Conclusion

The basic idea of cognitive styles, that different individuals process certain types of information differently, has appeared in many forms and has been part of many theories in various avenues of psychological research. Despite this widespread interest, however, a precise description of what constitutes a cognitive style, both from a behavioral and from a biological perspective, remains elusive.

Although many schools are still inclined to adopt the concept of learning styles into their pedagogy, we would advise not to use it as a basis for teacher practice due to the lack of evidence for it. An overwhelming proportion of the evidence is based on ‘preferences’ instead of an assessment of cognition, or contain flawed and insufficient methodology. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that in fact, what can be described as ‘learning styles’ has no significant impact on achievement.

Given these findings, we encourage the school to adopt the approach of differentiation, where pedagogy is designed to treat students as individuals based on their ability, prior knowledge, literacy and appropriate forms of engagement and management.

This was written by Gi Eun Lee, Kasturi Murugavel, Erica Sung and myself; SC. Thank you for being an amazing team, even if it was for a short period of time.

Praxis: An Ingrained Habit

 

“Elaborate upon the relationship between research and practice in education.”

“Action research as a critical social science… As a way of understanding the interplay of theory and practice.”

  • Wilfred Carr and Stephen Kemmis

As information and data becomes more easily available, the institution of education has experienced a considerable shift in its approach towards the discipline of teaching. It could be argued that in today’s climate, statistics and facts have been fetishized and have too much influence, dehumanising an occupation which is predicated and built upon human relationships. ‘Praxis’ is a counter-movement to this rising trend of placing data and quantitative data on a pedestal, as it also stresses the importance of personal experience, pedagogical knowledge and being contextually aware of the environment before implementing teaching practices. As every school, classroom and student is inherently different, it is important to foster a healthy sense of scepticism in order to use research to its fullest extents.

The rise of Neo-Liberalism has drastically altered societies’ and government’s approach to public institutions and services (Wilkins, 2006). Under the influence of this growing school of thought in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, educational decision-making has been increasingly underpinned by economic rationale more than social values (Welch, 2016). However, this focus upon statistics has its foundations in the 18th century with the rise of the French Enlightenment which looked towards science and ‘empirical evidence’ as the answer to all questions; natural or social. Goldacre’s essay titled ‘Building Evidence into Education’ (2013) symbolises Australia’s shift towards this ‘empirical’ and ‘factually sound’ education system, where quantitative data is unquestioned as the only source of ‘truth’. As a medical doctor, Goldacre’s desire to increase the amount of randomised testing in the subject highlights his lack of experience within the classroom; as students are simply not chemical reactions.

This elevation of research and statistics as universal markers of truth in contrast to personal experience, which is often seen as limited and context-specific, was evident in the forum posting of week two, where the concept of critically questioning research was foreign to many of my peers. Lee’s (2016) forum post highlights this passive mentality of blind acceptance, “I tend to straight away read the aims, findings and the conclusion as I rely [on] the researchers to be correct and [I] don’t question their reliability.” Likewise, it was very surreal to have to dismantle the ‘Learning Styles Myth’ with my EDUF4044 group; a piece of pseudo-science which had been so ingrained into ‘popular education theory’ yet was supported by flawed research. It was uncomfortable having to waddle through a theory which was underpinned with conflicting pieces of evidence, further highlighting how dependent I was on research to simply provide me an answer and how I needed to be more critical.

There has been a cultural divide between the researchers and the actual practitioners; I personally experienced this sense of mistrust at both of my practicum schools, with many experienced teachers telling me that theory was purely just abstract knowledge with no practical merit. A big reason for this tension between the two parties is that quantitative research often championed in Evidence Based Policy, tends to portray itself as universally relevant and an unquestionable authority on ‘truth’. But only by removing the empirical filter of objectivity which is often associated with quantitative data, teachers can instead explore the deep structures of privilege which significantly impact the learning abilities of students. A ‘fundamental’ interpretation of the text leaves no room for interpretation and thus approaches the classroom like a complicated mathematic problem, devoid of emotion and without accounting for teacher experience. Teachers are not simply the transmitters of knowledge or educational policies; teachers must use their agency in order to tailor their teaching in a way which is still pragmatically functional. By trying to understand the reasoning behind data instead of blindly applying it, teachers can develop better praxis, using scepticism to comb out research and advice which is inapplicable to their field.

In order to counter this fetishisation or empirical data, action research has been a growing pillar of good praxis. Zeni (1998) calls action research as an effective way to mesh the two perceived worlds of research and practice, advocating for the personal testing of theory and research. Action research places emphasis upon individual experiences and interactions whilst ‘demystifying’ the theortical. Action research also calls for the creation of a ‘communicative place’ shared by all teachers to collectively learn from their peers and their own personal insights and research. Such an environment would effectively combine the best of research and practices. By having multiple teachers implement a certain tactic, this can produce a more accurate indication of whether the research is beneficial or not.

Whilst research and practice are often portrayed as two different categories, usually on the opposite sides of the spectrum, a good teacher dedicated to their craft stands within the intersecting circles of the two venn diagrams. Without research to guide a teacher’s decision, their classrooms would be informed by urban myths, however without physical experience, the research merely stays as hypothetical knowledge. Understanding the inherent links between research and practice, teachers must constantly self-analyse and only from that will they be able to refine their craft, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Tripp’s (1996) framework of teacher self-analysis also effectively bridges the perceived and real gap between research and practice; requiring teachers to accumulate research to find a ‘critical moment’ that represent something more ‘significant’ than normal. If it is a critical moment, then the teacher will come up with a number of solutions to address the problem. After the brain storm they will then design different steps which will be implemented with the effects studied accordingly. This constant cycle of reflection will help uncover the limitations which may not have been mentioned within research. It will also highlight that whilst research may often exude an air of complete objectivity, every classroom is inherently different and the results will vary accordingly.

However, despite the current climate of education being one which romanticises statistics and numerical data, it is important teachers do not slide in the opposite direction and overestimate the importance of their personal views. This can have a negative effect as teachers may not seek to improve their teaching practice, seeing research and new teaching methods as mere deviations from their routine. Low (2016) writes that whilst it is important to distinguish that research is not universally applicable, neither is personal experience.

As someone who strongly believes that Australia’s education system is heading towards the wrong direction with the focus on standardised testing, I often advocated for the need for teachers to foster student creativity; which will be the most valuable commodity in the ‘human capital’ economy. One statistic which encapsulated this need to ‘modernise’ the standard classroom was Randolph’s (2007) finding that “students on average spend approximately 50% of the instruction time being distracted and only 1% of the school day actively responding.” At the start of my second practicum experience, my goal was to implement teaching and learning strategies which would allow students to contribute and participate in ‘embodied learning’. However, many of the students at my second practicum were disruptive and my hardest challenge was getting them to listen to me instead of breaking out into conversation. I had to drastically alter my teaching strategies; incorporating lessons and activities which would advocate individual work so the students could learn how to work independently. This experience really made me question the universal validity of research and the consequences of blindly accepting research. Whilst Randolph’s research does highlight a fundamental flaws still plaguing Australia’s education system, I personally feel like his results were based in affluent socio-economic environments, speaking as someone who came from a private school. Contextualising Randolph’s research was an important part of developing my praxis as it allowed me to refine my teaching approach to something more suited for the environment. This sentiment was echoed in a lot of my peer’s week one forum post, with many stating that their classrooms would have suffered if they have just blindly implemented educational strategies without second thought.

The word praxis stems from the idea of embodied learning or theory which is actively implemented, and this is only possible with when a teacher is able to balance and incorporate both research and practice into their classroom. Whilst there has tended to be a shift toward viewing empirical data as most form of reliable evidence, an informed teacher must constantly self-reflect to see if such research can be applicable within their context. Only when the veil of ‘objectivity’ is lifted from research will teachers can begin to experiment with their teaching methods accordingly. It also gives them an opportunity to analyse data from a social-historical view and develop better understanding of the reasons for such findings. However it is also important that teachers do not completely abandon research for the reasons stated above and purely rely upon personal experience, because those experiences can also be generalisation within a certain context. Teachers who see and act like research and practice are separate categories with no intrinsic relation are the ones which are most likely to fall into stagnation, unwilling and unable to shape the research to fit their environment. Research and practice are inherently linked in a cyclical dance and a severe tilt towards either direction will have negative consequences for one’s pedagogy and students.

Professional Teaching Relationship with the Community

“My classroom is my castle, and the sovereigns of other fiefdoms are not welcome.”
– Palmer, 1998.

Teaching is one of the most privatised public professions and this isolation has a lot of negatives effects on this occupation and how teaching relates to the wider public at hand. In Australia, one of the pillars of teaching culture is individualism, the ability for the teacher to make choices in their classroom without the collective scrutiny of the staffroom or their peers. Not only are many teachers disconnected from the wider community such as parents and carers, often many teachers teach without the support of their colleagues though this isolation has been interpreted as ‘academic freedom’. Yet many teachers recognise the importance of interacting with the wider community to support their students. The teaching profession must better integrate itself into the wider community, not only because it results in better academic benefits, but because teachers also stand to benefit from this transparency.

Whilst the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” does hold merit, teaching is a profession where often the teacher is the only adult in the room. Unlike many other professions where teamwork is an essential part of success, it is possible for a teacher to shun cooperation and yet be an ‘effective’ teacher in the classroom. However, this creates many issues, by not embracing the wider community; consisting of other staff members and parents/care takers, teachers are isolating and further ‘mystifying’ the occupation.

In my first practicum, I experienced firsthand the consequences of teachers allowing their pride to stand in the way of collaboration. The teachers of the English staffroom had to hold a lunch meeting to decide whether or not they should share notes and handouts with each other. Not only did this disadvantage the students, resulting in classes being given an uneven amount of help, it also meant that teachers could not improve their craft due to a lack of constructive criticism. The lack of teamwork added another variable which contributed to whether or not students were successful. Socio-economic status is already such a big factor in academic success and by not providing an equal opportunity for all students at learn at the same quality, this further entrenches the possibility of success. When teachers are not willing to question the teaching practices of their colleagues due to an unspoken rule to just absentmindedly respect their peers, this leads to the privatisation of the craft. Without the ‘supervision’ of other teachers, this leads to a profession which is very divided since ‘universal’ academic standards cannot be established.

By isolating the teaching profession from the wider communities, teachers are harming themselves by unconsciously hurting the development of the occupation. When the profession is removed from the wider community, what rises to take its place is stereotypes and uneducated guesses. The privatisation of teaching has resulted in many unrealistic and unfavourable depictions of teachers in western popular culture and also a lack of influence within the political spheres.

Whilst a lot of teachers lament the fetishisation of statistics and the focus upon data as an over simplistic measurement of quality teaching. How else will the general public be able to evaluate the profession when teachers have not been the most vocal about what they do in the classroom? A big reason for the shift towards statistics is because the public has an outdated perception of education, that creativity isn’t as important as regurgitation or that written texts are still the ONLY important text in the English curriculum. Whilst, part of this blame falls upon the general populace for not keeping up to date with such an important public institution. Teachers must also shoulder the burden, for creating an ‘us versus them mentality’ and failing to educate the wider community about the shifting demands of 21st century education. John Holt summarised his concerns with the shift towards neo-liberal, economically driven education in the quote “The more we concentrate in trying to teach all the content, the less our students tend to learn.”

In the 2015 PISA tests, which are used to measure a national standard level of education, 9.1% of 15-year-olds Australians failed to achieve the basic levels of reading, maths and science literacy. The more Australia begins to slide down the international education hierarchy, the more the public begins to latch onto an ‘easy fix’ solution. This has generated the wave behind the shift towards neo-liberal education and the focus upon standardised testing and statistics by the wider community. And these changes to the general mindset has had negative impacts upon Australian education but it also has further cemented the negative perceptions of teachers in this nation. One of the most common criticisms of modern day university courses is that it is too focused upon the theoretical and academic aspects and thus when new teachers are finally placed in the workplace, they are insufficiently prepared to deal with the emotional burdens.

Thus the isolation of the teaching profession creates a vicious cycle; the public reacts by insisting that teaching returns back to something which can be easily measurable. Instead of embracing more ‘intangible’ skills which are necessary for a modern economy built on human capital, thus teachers are cornered to teach an outdated syllabus. For most teachers, this change is demoralising, as statistics dehumanises the complex and emotionally charged task that we’re required to perform. For many students, teachers are the most stable adults in their lives and their professionalism and attention may inspire or motivate; intangibles which cannot be measured. Yet these relationships become undervalued and instead classrooms have become more competitive as standardised testing ingrains regurgitation but at the price of creativity or passion. And when education becomes standardised to only reflect and emphasise white middle class values, then questions have to be asked whether education is fighting or creating inequality.

However, on the bright side, this rift between teachers and the wider community can be reversed, and I was fortunately enough to see the teaching staff, at my second placement, actively go out of their way to bond with the parents. Whether or not the teachers were aware they were following the Proficient Professional Teaching Standards (PPTS), a lot of the positive forms of communication between the two parties fell in line with these guidelines. Dot point 7.4 of the PPTS states that a ‘lead’ teacher will “take an active role in establishing community networks and provide external learning opportunities.”

Due to the high levels of refugee and English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) families at my second placement, the school provided weekly English lessons which were headed by a learning support teacher and a teacher who was bilingual in English and Arabic. Many parents were thankful for these opportunities to learn and this further allowed them to become more connected and active in the schooling life. These English classes would also provide opportunities for parents to get a translation on permission notes that get sent home and also a chance for parents who are not that familiar with the Australian education system to get some firsthand experience. Dot point 7.3 of the PPTS summarises the positive actions and attitudes displayed by this school in its goal of engaging with the wider community: “Build opportunities that engage parents in their child’s learning and the priorities of the school.” A lot of the miscommunication and uncomfortableness in parent-teacher relationships are marked by the factor that the welfare of a student is a very emotionally charged topic and because both parties involuntarily enter this relationship. Yet by providing these chances for parents to become more involved, the school is transforming from a simple educational institution to a trusted pillar of the Middle Eastern/ Islamic community.

In general, studies have drawn a link between increased parental involvement in schools and increased academic success; however questions must be asked whether this is ‘correlation and not causation’. Increased involvement may be because the parents are fluent in English or that one parent stays at home because they are middle class, all signs of social-economic and cultural capital. Those who argue that parent, teacher relationships are important state so based on two premises. The first premise is called the Pygmalion effect, where positive views of a student’s background and family members directly translates to better and more enthusiastic interactions with said student. Hughes, Gleeson and Zhang found that teacher’s perceptions of students accounted for 6.9% of variance in the academic rating of students. Likewise this is supported by Domagala-Zysk’s study  which found that 73% of students who are experiencing academic success, believed their teachers trusted them outside the classroom environment. Likewise, teachers were significantly more likely to rate a student’s social skills as positive or engaging if they perceived their own relationship to the student’s family in an optimistic light. Thus if it is a teacher’s job to help student’s succeed academically, the profession needs to shed the idea that it can ONLY help students within the classroom, instead more focus must be placed upon networking with the community.

Secondly, by unifying the school and the home environments, the student will be more exposed to positive views about schooling and learning. The reinforcing of these positive attitudes to school will not only give the student more incentive to succeed but also make it a lot easier to tackle issues which might transcend both the home and school environment. For an example, on issues of drug abuse, bullying and sexual health, the involvement of the parents and the wider community shows the importance of these topics but also relays to the students that this is an issue which occurs outside the safety of a school. My high school was very active in trying to establish a channel of communication between the parents and the teachers with many situations and opportunities for for meetings. On Saturdays mornings, my peers and I would complete in school sport together against other schools, allowing parents a chance to interact with teachers outside a ‘tense’ academic environment; like parent-teacher nights. This is a good way to build chemistry between the two parties since many parents feel that teachers only contact them with negative information about their child and rarely to compliment or to motivate. Dot point 7.1 of the PPTS states that ‘lead teachers’ will “model exemplary ethical behaviour when dealing with students, colleagues and the community” It is this desire to engage the parents and caretakers, to go beyond the ‘call of duty’, which separates a good teacher in the classroom from one whose influences will ripple across the community.

Because teaching is a very emotionally charged profession, it is important to collect evidence to become reveal the weaknesses in one’s abilities, but also as an insurance blanket to protect rookie teachers. Dot point 5.5 of the PPTS details the importance of amassing information not only to relay to the parents but so teachers can better understand how to improve their craft: “Monitor, evaluate and revise reporting accountability in the school to meet the needs of students/ parents.” In order to rationally explain why you assigned a student a certain mark, it is important that teachers, particularly rookie teachers, assemble model responses which demonstrate the difference between an A, B, C and D mark. These scaffolded examples will make parent-teacher nights a lot smoother as teachers will be readily able to highlight their thinking behind a certain mark with a physical reference at hand. This preparation shows that you’re merely following a rationale structure when marking, and that any poor or low marks you’ve assigned are not because of bias. And this sense of professionalism is something which rookie teachers need to embody in order to protect themselves against questions of ability from parents and students alike.

Furthering emphasising this point of protecting one self, I also think it would be helpful if teachers collected assessments off students, this is getting easier and easier in an increasingly technological world, since a lot of the assessments are now submitted electronically. However, even for writing in-class examinations, I think it would be wise to maintain either a physical or electronic copy. If a school wide system is implemented, the documenting of student work can become a routine. For an example, when it is time to hand back assessments, write the feedback on a separate card and then go through the questions about the assessments with the class. When the class is done reflecting on their efforts and they understand how or why they scored well or poorly, collect back the assessments but let them keep the feedback card. This a written example of what the strengths and weaknesses of the class are, but also allows teachers a chance to reflect on how they need to improve their teaching: For an example, what were the specific topics most students tended to forget and why? Did they understand the literacy requirements of the discipline? As the education system becomes more and more academic and there is greater focus upon students excelling at their studies, teachers must collect this data in order to open the channels of communication with parents about their child’s grades. Dot point 6.3 of the PPTS requires teachers to do more than just teach in the classroom, they must be constantly trying to improve their craft and devising new methods to further engage the students and their parents. Yet this is a tall task if the teacher does not have any data to reflect back upon, and without such information, the teacher’s opinions of how to improve usually don’t move past the stage of speculation.

It is time for the teaching profession to drop the belief that teachers ONLY work within classroom. In an increasingly digital world, technology has opened many new doors of communication which do not require a lot of time or energy. It is up to the teachers to reach out to the wider community in order to educate them about what and how exactly the teaching profession has changed within the 21st century. Not only does interacting with the parents and carers have been shown to have a positive academic and social effect upon the students (the primary concern of any teacher), it can also dispel the misconceptions which plague the teaching profession. By being more vocal, perhaps teachers can accumulate more social and political capital needed to shift education away from standardised testing and towards ‘intangible’ values like creativity and technological literacy. Teaching has always been a ‘public service’ and it is time that the occupation truly embraces this title.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
– John Dewey

Protected: Top 25 Most Important Songs Finale

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Teaching from the Heart

Teaching has always been an appealing occupation for me, because teachers have the ability to shape and influence the lives of their students. Whilst a core component of being a teacher involves passing on knowledge about a given subject, the dedication and passion of teachers can often be infectious. For myself, I was greatly inspired by a few teachers from my high school who added humour and creativity to the subjects, they became my role model during my teenage years. Two key aspects which I want to reinforce in my classroom is the need to broaden the scope of English, in a time where multi-modality and flexibility is becoming a greater focus in the workforce. Also I wish to challenge the traditional format of the classroom, allowing students greater freedom to participate in their learning whilst reducing the authority of the teacher in the classroom. For education to remain relevant and accessible it must adapt to the changing circumstances and environment of modern society.

In 2010, ACARA acknowledged the need for English teachers to incorporate different forms of literacies such as ICT, viewing and listening. However, there is a disconnect between the policies and what is being reinforced in the classroom. From my own personal experience, learning in a traditional Christian high school, I felt as if a vast majority of teachers, particularly the older ones, were reluctant to shift from their established teaching style. There was a sense of hostility as if the inclusion of ICT and the move away from essay writing had somehow tainted the purity of English. This outdated view is reflected in a small experiment performed in 2006 with English high school teachers, who were asked to elaborate upon what they defined as ‘literacy.’ Out of 56 participants, not a single teacher mentioned ICT or higher order thinking skills as examples of literacy; instead they only referenced traditional markers of literacy such as grammar and spelling.

English should challenge students and change the way they view texts and society, but it should also adequately prepare them for the work force. The next generation will be disadvantaged if English as a discipline no longer equips them with the tools and flexibility to chart through an increasingly globalized world. I think it’s a shame that most English classes never attempt to divert from essay writing. It wasn’t until I studied education at university did I realise how repetitive my English lessons were, part of me was disappointed that I never experienced the full variety of the subject. Whilst drama is often located at the bottom of the subject hierarchy, it allows students to physically engage in English, in a manner which traditional approaches like essay writing does not. An American Report named Are They Really Ready to Work, published in 2006, found that the average high school employer ranked professionalism, team work and oral communication as the three most attractive qualities in their employees. The collaborative nature of drama pedagogy more accurately reflects the reality of the work place, promoting interactions between students and portraying success as a team effort. However the Australian educational system has yet fully separate itself from ingrained theories such as social Darwinism, thus it still celebrates the success and achievements of the ‘lone wolf.’

Education should be a two way conversation between the students and the teacher, it is important that both parties contribute towards the learning process, allowing students the opportunity to develop a deeper and more personal understanding of their subject. The ascension of the internet has revealed the outdated mentality of Australian high school. Intelligence can no longer just defined by the ability to regurgitate memorized facts because of the widespread access to search engines. Instead the incorporation of ICTs, machinery and the internet has resulted in the workforce shifting towards human capital. Thus it is increasingly important to move away from the outdated teaching format, where the teacher adopts a doctorial style of teaching. The need to foster creativity is a necessary in an age where ideas are more important than physical labour, this can be cultivated by allowing encouraging students to present their opinion to challenge a superficial approach to English.

High school education in Australia seems to be constantly outdated, sacrificing innovation to preserve tradition, highlighted in the English discipline’s obvious bias towards the technical aspects. The analysis of individual sentences or visual scenes, whilst necessary, often overshadows a more comprehensive approach to the text. In my opinion, university has a more sophisticated attitude towards English and essay writing. By providing broad and open-ended questions and by shifting the focus away from English techniques, it allows for more creative and specialised responses. By diverting away from the repetitive formula of essay writing, schools are tapping into the student’s higher order thinking, giving them the opportunity to tackle an issue or question from multiple perspectives. An example of this flexibility in the classroom situation was the university tutorial where different groups had to create a story about a bird and its victim with cardboard. It was one of the most enjoyable English lessons I have ever experienced, since we were able to personalize the story by embedding our meaning and symbolism in the visual medium.

Aristotle once famously said “those who know; do, those who understand; teach” and this has become part of my teaching philosophy as well. I feel very strongly about this and I wish to become the teacher that encourages inclusive dialectic pedagogy to further increase the students’ understanding. I’ve been tutoring since early 2013; I’ve seen firsthand the importance of trusting your students and giving them the opportunity to voice their own opinion. Likewise most of the teachers I connected with attempted to incorporate the students into their lessons, for an example, implementing the use of response cards or group discussion. The common connection in both teaching methods is the break from the standard and predictable lesson format and both are also widely supported by educational research. Classrooms which employed response cards performed much better than hand rising classrooms, with 62.2% of students receiving a 80% or more on a test, a large increase from 29.7%. Langer and Close also writes that on average, group discussion significantly improved engagement and understanding, though student generated questions had the largest impact.

In the English discipline, the effects and benefits of group discussion is widely known and accepted amongst the teachers, with 95% of teachers recognizing the benefits of formative assessment. Yet despite ACARA and the Quality Teaching Framework highlighting the necessity of student opinion and feedback, 61.1% of classes had no discussion at all and only 1 out of 54 classes averaged more than 2 minutes per day. When there is only one authoritative voice in the classroom it subconsciously promotes the idea that there is a single truth, which cannot and should be challenged. This contradicts the changing nature of the modern work force, where problems often have multiple solutions, team work and higher order thinking are usually the keys to solving such problems. Likewise by only pushing one perspective in the classroom, experimentation and making mistakes, both which are natural parts of learning, become frowned upon, since it deviates from the ‘singular truth’.

Allowing students to contribute to the classroom is important because each individual brings their own set of constructed knowledge, thus giving them a chance to contextually engage a very broad and impersonal curriculum. Research has found that the biggest connection to improved academic results is the increase in active student response, yet nearly all the teachers in my high school spent most of the lesson time on academic instruction. Active student response is different to participation which is simply being present during a classroom; active student response is defined as an observable response to instruction. Yet the average high school student spends approximately 50% of the allocated lesson time being distracted and only 1% of the classroom time responding or speaking.

Personally I wish for students to speak up during my classes because that’s a big motivator for becoming a teacher, I want to continually learn from students who have experienced different environments or perspectives. The continuous dialogue is important because it provides helpful feedback, but also I think forming a connection with the students would stop me from ‘burning out’ or losing my motivation. Because I tutor students one on one, I routinely start every lesson with a few questions about their previous week and then we end the lesson with an exchange of interesting information. The information can be facts, statistics or quotes from influential people, but it allows me to glimpse at my student’s passion and if possible attempt to incorporate their experiences or knowledge as explanations or references in my lesson. I do this because it creates a sense of mutual respect, not only do I value my student’s opinion; I am also willing to learn from them.

Being fluent in English unlocks many opportunities for an individual, it allows them to decipher and decode the world around them. Like every other language, English is a discourse with its own rules and associations, students who are unable to engage in such discourse will be alienated, stigmatized and given less opportunities in life. Thus it is important to rethink how teachers approach education, we have to adapt to the changing environment, technology is now an essential part of life and this must be reflected in education. To promote multimodality, the definition of English must be expanded; teachers need to start asking for homework in the form of videos, podcast and Prezi power points. Instead of normalizing submissive and quiet participants, our students should be encouraged to speak up; because research has consistently showing doing so will result in increased academic results, but also because it is important students know their opinion is valued. I wanted to become a teacher so that I could help make an impact upon the lives of thousands, I wanted an occupation centred around human connection and relationships. Hopefully I can be a teacher that ‘teaches smarter’ rather than ‘teaching harder’, a teacher whose infectious enthusiasm spreads beyond his classroom and into the school.