It was great to be in the audience for Linda Darling-Hammond’s presentation at the University of Sydney last Monday. I have frequently come across her research in my personal learning quest so it was with alacrity that I accepted the invitation to hear her speak. Much of Professor Darling-Hammond’s lecture that evening encouraged us to keep working towards a new way of teaching and learning via a review of current effective teaching across the globe.
There were three substantial points which I will endeavour to incorporate into my own practice.
The first idea came from Darling-Hammond’s explanation of what some of the new Charter Schools are doing. I was quite interested in the planning and meeting time allocated to teachers during the school day. I had an idea that teachers in core subjects, which are often graded, could meet across the grade levels. For example, the English, Maths and Science teachers who have the lower ability class could meet once or twice a term to discuss the students’ strengths and weakness, as well as strategies for effective teaching. This currently occurs in a more ad hoc fashion, depending on the special needs students but it would be great to have time allocated for this. I could imagine that this could evolve into a research project for the core subject teachers and they could report on their experience to the remaining staff.
The second concept is to incorporate revising and editing time into all tasks. Linda Darling-Hammond’s research shows that effective teachers provide students with clear standards and opportunities for revising which ties in with my earlier blog post on Tinkering for the 21st century learner. I encourage students to continuously adapt their work and see drafting and editing as part of the process and have had significant success thus far with my classes. Occasionally this process encounters some opposition from students, particularly as they get older. Some students develop work patterns which suggest they think that tasks, once done, are shelved and never revisited. This pattern favours the completion of tasks over the quality of tasks. In this mindset, teacher feedback is viewed as less important than the grade/mark. I really want students to see teacher feedback as a variety of strategies for improvement and this will only happen when students view their day to day learning as a work-in-progress. I’ll definitely give this more thought this year and consider how to address this further with seniors.
The final idea for discussion today is one that I’m sure many teachers would agree with: the notion that we could reduce the number of topics we teach but deal with them in a more complex way. The Singaporean Ministry of Education homepage says it well: Teach Less, Learn More. How many times have we all heard, “But I’ve got to get through the mandatory content…”? I remember one of my own Year 11 Modern History teachers handing us a sheaf of typed notes on Russia (which she’d had for years, I’m sure) and telling us to learn the notes thoroughly without spending any class time on it. The notes were on a period of History on which we were not actually going to be examined , but needed to know so that we could understand the period that we were examined on. I’m hoping that she simply did not have the time to teach us this material. And to this day I cannot remember any of it. Very much filling up the receptacles again. Oh well, it was a long time ago.