Thursday, September 30, 2010

Graeme Aitkin - Teaching what matters and selecting content and pedagogy

Today I am lucky enough to be presenting at and attending the First Time Principals' Conference in Auckland. The final keynote speaker is Graeme Aitken, the Dean of Education from the University of Auckland, these are my notes from his session.

The title of Graeme's talk is - Teaching what matters and selecting content and pedagogy.

For me the session was full of provocative questions and I'll leave them with you in the hope that you find them provocative also.

He asks us 'How do you decide what to teach? and How do you decide how to teach that content?' We need to do more things that matter and do them well.

Teaching itself is not simple.

The role of school leaders in teaching:
  1. Modeling effective teaching
  2. Creating the conditions for effectiveness
  3. Providing feedback about effective teaching to others - not just as part of the appraisal process but it is part of the ongoing process of being in and out of classrooms
  4. Helping to identify and resolve teaching problems
  5. Recognising effectiveness in selection - thinking about the criteria you use in selecting new teachers to determine effectiveness.
There is no one right way to be effective.

What are teachers obligated to be?
efficient, organised, in control, warm, enthusiastic, empathetic, interesting, humorous ...

What are teachers obligated to do?
overviews at the start, group work, cooperative learning, open ended questions, inquiry learning, use visuals, storytelling, whole class instruction ... This list is long and disputed when you look at what research states teachers are obligated to do.


What are teachers obligated to cause?
Successful learning, greater interest, greater confidence ...

To what extent are you 'causing' what is valued in teaching? It is effective to focus on what you need to cause, and how what you should be or do influences that.

There is a critical interaction between 'be' 'do' and 'cause'

Being ineffective is where students experience misalignment, lack of engagement and lack of success. This includes duplication, confusion, busy work, waiting. Graham Nuthall found in his research that a significant number of intermediate students already knew the content the teacher was presenting.

Being effective means giving students more time to be engaged and learning about things that matter.

We should be proud of the effort that teachers are putting in to engage and help students learn. Effective teaching is the effort that goes in to create learning environments and learning students. Teaching as inquiry in the NZC is a model that supports effective teaching. This model asks you to consider what is important and therefore worth spending time on given where your students are at before engaging in teaching and learning activities.

So what does Graeme consider are teachers' obligations?
  • Focus on outcomes that matter - desired results.
  • Cause students to appreciate the value of the desired results
We need 'student sensitive' learning, but maybe not 'student centred' learning. We don't always have to start with something that students are interested in. They don't know what they don't know. It is up to us to spark the imaginations of students.

Wiggans and McTigue (Understanding by design) discuss the twin sins of design - Coverage focused teaching and Activity focused teaching.

Important questions to ask are ...

Why does this learning matter for these students at this time?


What is the best way of teaching this?

In choosing content that matters there has to be some sense of standard against which you are measuring.

Then there is the tough task of appreciation - how can I help students appreciate the value of this learning?

How will we know when we have caused engagement and success?

If what you are doing is not working ... Then try something else!

What are some of the things we can look at to look for engagement and success beyond the obvious standardised tests?

For example:
  • observe the responses of the students over a period of time in a systematic way to ascertain engagement?
  • Ask students to rate activities - challenge, skill, importance, interest, success, relax, self-esteem. Choose one or two of these elements and genuinely ask students their opinions, not necessarily a tick box activity.
  • Ask students to report or explain what they are doing, why they are doing it, how it will help them, how it fits with previous learning and how will they know when they have learned?
  • At the end of a lesson - the one minute response to what is the most important thing you have learned - where did you get the most lost or confused today.
Be prepared to make changes when you identify what is not working, and what is working well. You cannot be effective unless you are curious enough to embark on finding out what works. Be open minded to new possibilities and understanding student experiences, observe your own practice and suspend judgment. Have the wisdom to be conscious of your own ignorance and have a sense of OPTIMISM.

Graeme's last statement :

Wise use of time, wise action, wise use of evidence leads to a profession of wise people.