I am bewildered by the lack of thought and emphasis on engaging lesson content in education. A few months ago I wrote about the latest trend to hit Australian shores – “Direct Instruction”. Teachers are given a script and instructed to stick to it at all times. The script tells them when to pause, what to repeat and what to leave out. Direct Instruction is being used for teaching maths and spelling in classroom across Australia. It was designed, in my belief, to ensure that all teachers covered the curriculum regardless of their abilities.
Only trouble is … it is a boring way to teach and a boring way to learn.
Why can’t Maths, English, Science etc. be taught in an interesting and lively manner? Why does it have to be reduced to a talkfest or an excuse for an endless cycle of worksheets? If it’s so important to know, why can’t it be taught in a fun way?
Thank goodness for Professor John Hattie:
PROFESSOR John Hattie of Melbourne University drew the wrath of many when he told teachers to ”just shut up”.
In fact, Hattie is supported by a considerable body of research; for instance, North American writers Lorna M. Earl and Andy Hargreaves, who observed lessons no more interesting than watching a haircut in progress. Researchers talk of students drowning in a sea of teacher ”blah”.
The difficulty is that so many people consider themselves experts on schools because they once attended one.
Long-winded accounts of subject matter may have once worked for teachers but young people these days are different from those of the previous century. Their attention spans are shorter, a product, perhaps, of constantly changing multimedia stimuli. They expect – indeed, demand – to be entertained.
Their world is high-tech and their attention is rarely captured by drab or monotonous presentations, which makes engaging in learning one of the chief tasks and difficulties of the modern educator.
The emphasis in schools has changed from teaching to learning and, quite rightly, the critical issue for a teacher is not the quality of their own narrative teaching but rather what their students are learning.
For them to learn effectively, and particularly to master the skills of ongoing learning, of processing apparently limitless information and of developing discernment, they need to be active, not passive, learners.
They need to be ”doers” who can find and process information, rather than just listeners.
Hattie is right: if teachers talk their students into oblivion, the teachers’ knowledge on display might be impressive but what the students gain in terms of content, skills and wisdom will be limited.
Good teachers certainly explain work clearly and test their students’ understanding with strategic questioning. They are masters of content, passionate and excited about their subject, convey a deep interest in their students as people, set high expectations, imbue their students with the confidence to succeed and give students feedback so they know how to improve.
Depending upon their subject, they utilise a wide variety of teaching strategies, working with mind and hand, desk-based and experiential learning, books and screens and also sometimes make their own products.
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