Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Pedagogical Knowledge: Three Worlds Apart

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

We know a lot about teaching and learning, but our knowledge is scattered across three separate domains.

Educational research

The first knowledge domain is centered on the world of educational research that’s been advancing what we know about teaching and learning for more than a hundred years. There’s hardly an educational issue that hasn’t been studied in education or its associated subfields, like educational psychology, adult learning, and higher education. On this large empirical foundation we could rest a more evidence-based instructional practice.

But educational research remains largely unexplored by those who teach, partly because there aren’t strong norms expecting college teachers to grow and develop their instructional knowledge, but mostly because the journal articles describing these studies and their findings aren’t written for practitioners. They’re written to inform the next round of research. That makes them tough for outsiders to read and often researchers aren’t focused on the practical implications of their work. Then there’s the disdain for educational research held by some faculty. “Why should we bother with those who theorize, hypothesize, and ‘study’ what we do every day in the classroom?” I was asked recently. So, there’s nothing we can learn from this work? How naïve is that? I admit that not all educational research is great scholarship, but is all the work done in any discipline flawless?

Discipline-based pedagogy

Then there’s the world of pedagogical knowledge that exists within our disciplines. An increasing amount of it is empirical, and it is practitioner scholarship that makes it more applied and with clearer implications. Some faculty read this type of scholarship (not many), and still fewer contribute to it. The work is based in the disciplines because that’s where it often gets counted. And although this scholarship still doesn’t get counted as often as it should, it’s valued and rewarded today way more often than it used to be.

by Maryellen Weimer, PhD.

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The Power of Teachers’ Questions Lies in Their Ability to Generate Students’ Questions.

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

I was looking at one of my old teaching and learning books, Kenneth Eble’s 1988 book The Craft of Teaching. Some parts are now a bit dated, but many are not. It was one of those books that greatly influenced how a lot of us thought about teaching and learning back then.

But I found something in the book that was even older. Eble includes a discussion of and several quotes from an 1879 book (actually the ninth edition) by Josiah Fitch titled The Art of Questioning. Eble writes that it’s a small book and was originally aimed at British Sunday school teachers. Here’s the quote that caught my attention.

For indeed, the whole sum of what may be said about questioning is comprised in this: It ought to set the learners thinking, to promote activity and energy on their part, and to arouse the whole mental faculty into action, instead of blindly cultivating the memory at the expense of higher intellectual powers. That is the best questioning which best stimulates action on the part of the learner; which gives him a habit of thinking and inquiring for himself; which tends in a great measure to render him independent of his teacher; which makes him, in fact, a rather skillful finder than a patient receiver of the truth. (Quoted on p. 91 in Eble’s book, pp. 138–39 in Fitch’s book.)

by Maryellen Weimer, PhD

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Learner-Centered Pedagogy and the Fear of Losing Control.

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

In the spring of 1991, I returned to teaching after more than five years as a Benedictine monk. The monastery had been founded in China in the 1920s, and when exiled after the Chinese Revolution, the community had relocated to the Mojave Desert in California. During my novitiate, I had taken up a private study of modern Chinese history, even though my research and academic formation at Cambridge University had been in early modern English puritan studies. When my community sent me to study theology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, I also studied the history of missiology and continued to read about the modern emergence of Christianity in China. So when the history department of a small liberal arts college in Santa Barbara asked me to teach a non-Western course after I left monastic life, I suggested Modern Chinese History.

I recall my fear, walking into class that first day. Twenty-five eager students greeted me expectantly. My plan for the first two weeks filled me with uncertainty. I explained that they needed to divide up into teams of two or three, do research on a Chinese province, and come into class with handouts and a report on what they had learned. These were bright students and eager to learn. They enthused about the prospect of the project and returned the next several sessions with excellent presentations and dynamic discussion about the interconnectedness of a region of the world that had previously been a mystery to them. Their engagement in the work reassured me, as we moved on to the next stage of the course: my lectures.

This proved a challenging task, as I spent my days outside of the classroom writing detailed notes that constructed a narrative of China’s nineteenth-century encounter with Western powers, and the Chinese Empire’s struggles to resist their aggression. I then moved on to the twentieth century miseries of war, revolution, radical social changes, and the trauma of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Without formal training, Chinese words, important Chinese figures and places proved challenging to pronounce, and so I filled the chalkboard with them as I lectured, and stuck close to my notes. Students were reduced to silence—except for the sound of pens on paper and periodic sighs or requests for me to repeat a line I had said. Students walked out of my classroom with fingers cramped, but notebooks filled with information. I recall the sense of satisfaction I had. I was doing my job.

by Kenneth L. Parker, PhD

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New Evidence on Cooperative Learning

Friday, November 1st, 2013

The body of evidence documenting the effectiveness of cooperative learning is already impressive. The large and regularly cited meta-analysis of Johnson and Johnson published in 1987 reviews 378 studies that explore the use of cooperative learning groups in a wide range of settings. More than half of the studies reviewed favored cooperation in groups compared with only 10 percent favoring individual effort.

The new research highlighted here looked at a small but important variable not controlled in much of the previous work: time on task. Cooperative learning occurs in groups that typically meet in class or in controlled settings outside of class. But what if the members of those learning groups decide to study on their own without the aid of their group members? If they and others in their cooperative learning group do better than those exclusively studying alone, then it’s possible that individual study plus the group work is what’s making the difference. As the researcher describes it, “the present study argues that the learning method [in this case cooperative learning] and the time on task should be carefully monitored both in the classroom and during the students’ out-of-class studies to identify the true academic benefits of cooperative learning. Accordingly, the students participating in this study were randomly assigned to a cooperative learning condition or an individualistic learning condition and were compelled to remain in their assigned conditions for both the regular classroom sessions and a series of homework sessions scheduled on a weekly basis.” (pp. 100-101)

The procedures for ensuring that students in the cooperative learning groups did not study alone and studied about the same amount of time as those studying individually were elaborate and are described in detail in the article. The three-person cooperative learning groups were assembled using average test scores from the previous semester, and each group contained students with a range of test scores. Their learning of the content in this engineering course was assessed via seven homework tests and four unit exams.


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Storytelling a good way to learn English

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

EVERY effort by the Education Ministry to improve the English proficiency of our students and teachers alike, must be lauded.

Storytelling is a common activity used in teaching English to primary as well as secondary students.

Storytelling competitions with attractive prizes are held to encourage students to develop their oratory skills in the language.

But then again, let us ask who are those telling the stories? More often than not, they are the average or above average students who get to participate.

What about the below average and “no-hopers” in English?

Do they get a chance to tell their stories? Most teachers will be quick to point out that since these students can’t even construct a simple sentence correctly, how can they be expected to tell a story in English?

When I was a secondary school principal, I often took on certain relief periods for the “last” classes in the lower forms.

Students in these classes were branded as low achievers, uninspired and unteachable.

Most of them were from vernacular primary schools; they had little or no grasp of the English language. In fact, they felt shy and embarrassed to speak the language.

I went into these classes to “teach” them English! At times I chose the “story-telling” approach.

In order to do that, I had to first encourage them and to make them feel easy and relaxed.

They needed to understand that the principal standing before them was now a teacher just like any other.

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Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Many of us who teach in higher education do not have a teaching background, nor do we have experience in curriculum development. We know our content areas and are experts in our fields, but structuring learning experiences for students may or may not be our strong suit. We’ve written a syllabus (or were handed one to use) and have developed some pretty impressive assessments, projects, and papers in order to evaluate our students’ progress through the content. Sometimes we discover that students either don’t perform well on the learning experiences we’ve designed or they experience a great deal of frustration with what they consider high stakes assignments. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) proposes that it’s important to determine the area (zone) between what a student can accomplish unaided and what that same student can accomplish with assistance. This provides for consistent structural support, when required (Hogan & Pressley, 1997).

If there is one major paper in the course and 80% of their final grade depends on their ability to meet the high expectations of that paper, they better be able to produce a quality piece right out of the gate. However, often they’ve not had any preparation to meet these high expectations and no opportunity to revise and resubmit their work. Whether your students are “grade-focused” or “learning-focused,” they will benefit from the energy you put providing scaffolding opportunities for each major or key assignment in a course. A good rule of thumb is the higher the stakes, the more scaffolding you need to include. In other words, the heavier the weight, the stronger the support.

Getting Started with Scaffolding
Take some time to evaluate how you’ve designed the learning experiences in your courses. Identify what your major assignments/assessments are and then create a scaffold for each. One unintended outcome of this exercise is that you may discover that either you have an assignment that is no longer relevant or you are missing something that might even be a more meaningful gauge of student learning. Consider these tips to scaffolding a major assignment or assessment.

  • Write a brief description of each major assignment/assessment which should include the necessary skills you intend to evaluate using the assignment/assessment.
  • Ponder what prerequisite skills are necessary for students to have in order to be successful on this assignment/assessment and list them.
  • Determine whether these prerequisite skills are reasonable for students to have already mastered prior to beginning your course.
    • If not, these are the skills you will want to scaffold into your current course in order to better prepare learners to be successful on the major assignments/assessments.
  • Look at the scope of the course and come up with mini assignments or learning experiences that can be purposefully introduced throughout the schedule of sessions in a way that offers learners time to learn and practice these prerequisite skills.

by Vicki Caruana.

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Techno wizardry enlivens classes

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

The clever use of technology in the classroom is a sure-fire way to increase interest in learning among today’s tech-savvy students.

AS an educator, I have always been a great believer in John Dewey’s famous quote: If we teach today as we taught yesterday, then we rob our children of tomorrow.

So it is our duty to teach our students in such a way that we prepare them for a better tomorrow.

Our students have already beaten us when it comes to technology.

My teenage son has taught me loads about technology and is still my biggest and quickest source of information when it comes to technology; what’s new, what works best, installation, and all about the social media out there. Now, we teachers need to catch up with our students on technology.

It is crucial to acknowledge the importance of technology integration in classrooms these days. Let’s look at the benefits of technology integration in the classroom, the technological content knowledge teachers should have, and most importantly the implication for teachers.

Classroom technology

Technology integration in the classroom brings about a more student-centred approach. When teachers use technology in the classroom, their approaches seem to be more student-centred.

Students tend to work together more while using technology; for example, to search the web and create multimedia presentations.

Hypermedia and hypertext increase their understanding. Hypermedia environments are dynamic and interactive and create a non-linear collection of information.

by Dr. Termit Kaur Ranjit Singh.

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An Exemplar of Pedagogical Scholarship Takes on Student Reading

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I read lots of articles on teaching and learning. Most are solid pieces of pedagogical scholarship; a few are exceptional and I found one of those here lately. I prepared a long and detailed summary of it for the August/September issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. For this post I’d like to identify several features that make this such an outstanding exemplar of pedagogical scholarship.

For years I’ve been trying to make the point that scholarly work on teaching and learning shouldn’t look like research in our disciplines or educational research. Most of the work teachers do on teaching and learning doesn’t advance knowledge the same way research does. It is work that asks questions related to practice and answers them using a range of pragmatic approaches and methods. Articles don’t focus on the next areas of inquiry. They’re written for practitioners interested in how the findings might be relevant to what, how and who they teach.

This particular article illustrates what pedagogical scholarship looks like when it is unique. The article reports on the reading strategies of undergraduates taking a required writing and reading course. The author, an English professor, has the usual concerns about students not reading well. She thinks the place to start is by identifying what strategies they use when they do read. She wonders if they define reading the same way she does and she sets out to answer these questions with an interesting study design.

But unlike so much research where the authors are absent in the interest of objectivity, this faculty researcher uses the research questions to challenge her own assumptions about students and reading. Should she be expecting students to read texts as she reads them? She’s a “professional” reader; her students are not. She’s not excusing her students from reading or developing their reading skills but exploring whether her expectations for students are realistic.

She looks at relevant educational research and finds a useful typology of reading strategies that she shares with students and that become part of the criteria she uses to identify the strategies they’re using. Her study involves a reflective reading log assignment in which students regularly respond to assigned readings. They write about how they read the assignment and what they thought about the reading strategies they used. She includes quotations from their logs showing that students, too, are learning about how they read, discovering there are alternatives, and they are beginning to understand that reading is a skill they can develop.

by Maryellen Weimer, PhD.

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Teaching methods slant towards females

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Kuala Lumpur: Teaching methods in schools are more in favour of female students.

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) deputy vice-chancellor Professor Dr Noraini Idris said teaching methodologies have to cater to both genders to avoid disparity once they reach tertiary education.

“The government must implement a variety of teaching techniques which entails more practical education rather than theoretical.

“The boys are more inclined towards visuals and graphics and our education system is focused more on rote-learning,” she said.

She said that most teachers are also females, and their teaching styles also tend to be more effective for the female students.

“Teachers should understand the psychology of male students and include teaching methods that are more appealing to them.

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Ability Grouping Pros and Cons

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Every approach in teaching has its pros and cons. In the similar manner, the concept of ability grouping had certain advantages and disadvantages. But, before we go over the ability grouping pros and cons, let’s have a look at the concept of ability grouping.

As the name suggests, ability grouping is a concept where teachers, group together students having the same ability. The ability grouping is usually done by the teachers on the basis of the aptitudes of the students, that is if a certain number of students show a good aptitude for mathematics, then these students are grouped together for fine tuning and enhancing their skills as mathematicians. Though, this methodology has proved to be very successful in many cases, advocates of equality in education have staunchly opposed the method of ability grouping.

Pros and Cons of Ability Grouping
The debate between the advocates of ability grouping and the people who staunchly oppose ability grouping, is almost never-ending, due to the fact that ability grouping is not at all a wrong method, but it certainly goes against the principles of equality. Critics of this methodology have wasted no time in raising a question mark against the ‘appropriateness’, of this methodology. As mentioned above, there are certain ability grouping pros and cons.

The ability grouping is basically aimed at enhancing the capability of a particular group of students who show aptitude towards a subject or skill. The basic advantage of grouping these students together is that these students are able to ‘fly’ in their own subjects. This not only trains students in the subjects of their aptitude, but the students also develop capabilities and become the would-be experts in their fields. Their choice of career also gets decided at a young age and their capabilities get polished in the right manner. Indirectly, this method does the nation a great favor, by making the students experts on the subjects that they have an aptitude for.

Masters and masterpieces can thus be created and by the time, these students pass out from the educational system, they have a huge amount of knowledge that is certainly greater and more accurate than an average human being of the same age, who has studied the same subject. The earlier educational systems that used this technique have managed to influence the minds of people who became legends, Beethoven, Mozart, Leonardo Da Vinci and many others. All of them started receiving early knowledge, as their abilities were recognized.

As every coin has two sides, there are also some negative aspects or cons of ability grouping. The first and most noticed con of ability grouping is that it breaches the principle of equality. The students with greater ability at a particular subject, go on to obtain more knowledge on the subject, while the regular students may not be able to get the same amount of knowledge. There is a risk of lack of motivation in students, in such cases. The second disadvantage is that there is a strong possibility of students getting permanently grouped. This might eventually lead to a series of quarrels and problems within the class. Another drawback is that ability grouping increases the responsibility of a teacher. To know more about the different ability, IQ, and aptitude, you may also read more on:

The debate whether ability grouping is a positive teaching method or a negative one, cannot be concluded by assessing the pros and cons of ability grouping.

by Scholasticus K.

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