Teacher Learning

How can we support teachers trying out new approaches?

Dr Eddy Lee, Vice-Principal, Raimondi College

Question: Some teachers like to try new strategies such as concept mapping, but we have a crowded curriculum. What can we do?

Response: okay now, concept mapping is a pedagogy. Just like you use chalk and talk. same, it should also help you to teach. But the thing is how well this strategy can help you to teach better. And the second point embedded in this concept mapping pedagogy is that there is a theory behind, you want students to take up the responsibility and take up for their own learning. If the teachers teach mind-map or concept mapping without helping the students to take up their own learning responsibility, that’s a failure. You will teach even more slowly than before. Only when you can activate students to become an active learner, responsible learner and reflective learner, then you can teach much faster.

Question: Innovation, strategies, concept maps , inquiry, role-play... How do we choose? What kind of strategies should we use?

Response: So there are two levels that the teachers have to consider, but somehow they are the same. First of all, the teachers, do you have a learning teaching model or a theory in your mind? If you know what you want to get, then you can select. Secondly, it’s at the school level. Thus, do your schools have any learning model that shared by all her teaching staffs? So this innovation should be selected in line with the school beliefs, the school learning model, so that everyone will focus on and share and get the same common language.

Question: It is quite common now that school want to help students to be self-directed learners. What can we do?

Response: Okay, school wants the students to be a reflective learner and activated learner and that is the result. But then you need a model. When you have a model, we focus on the process and that is pedagogy. How can we teach? But during this process of teaching, teachers have to learn and that brings in staff development and professional development. School helps teachers to gain and improve their competence, and they have to share and celebrate and reflect on the failures because we are doing experiments. Experiment does not guarantee that every time you will have a good result. But even you fail, then you can reflect what happen with the same model that we share. What’s wrong this time and what’s wrong with the instruction or the lesson plan or whatever.

Question: Generally, how can schools support teachers’ learning?

Response: Okay, this is a good question. Because teachers themselves are also learners, so we also need to support and scaffold the teachers to acquire this new way of teaching or to understand this new teaching model. So the schools have to make changes or find resources. One way is the principal, the leader. The vice-principal, do they have a common understanding of what a good teaching is or a learning model to share? Secondly, it’s the staff development. Do they have any focus? Any milestones or strategies to tap into the teachers’ understanding, to know what are the strengths and weaknesses of the teachers and to share and to further develop and improve… Thirdly, it’s the panel level. The panel chairperson has to also facilitate this sort of professional development within the members. And that’s much more focused and fit the teachers’ needs. The school level is a bit more general and to celebrate the fruit of the experiments of the year. And then the panel level is to help the school for the members to internalize and understand what they have achieved under a certain understanding or an umbrella of understanding of the school.

Question: Teachers now say they will do some classroom observations to observe each other class… Generally, how do we help teachers’ learning?

Response: Lesson observation and staff appraisal are some of the means to help teachers to gain or to improve or to self develop. But by doing this, you will have the same understanding or same standard or same ruler. So they have to have the same learning teaching model. From the model, they develop some rubrics, what we call some descriptors, then everyone will make use of the same measurement or same standard or ruler to explain, observe and reflect on. and that goes in line when we teach students, we have to share our common language and that is the rubric.

Question: What is something that would be important to observe?

Response: If the learning model focuses on the use of prior knowledge, so the lesson observation rubrics will have an item called “the use of prior knowledge of students” , so does teachers have any tasks or strategies to activate or understand students’ prior knowledge. Or do the teachers have any tasks or events which ask students to make use of their prior knowledge. If they observe this, they can put a track mark and this is what i meant by having a rubric and the rubric comes from the learning models.

Question: It’s important now for students to construct knowledge… So what are some of the things they should observe to see if knowledge construction goes?

Response: Concept-mapping is part of the strategies within one of the particular learning models. Then the teachers need to understand what is meant by good lesson with a concept-mapping. Then they have to spell out those descriptors, level 1, level 2 and master level of using mind map. With these common understandings, then everyone will be very objective and can be very objectively to make comments and the comments will be focus more on improvement rather than criticizing you fail to do this or you fail to do that. Okay, instead you have reached this level, but then how can we improve to the next level, then we check the next level descriptor and that would be in line with the staff development.

Question: You talked about learning models a few times, but these things are quite abstract for teachers, can you explain?

Response: I remember when we went through the teachers’ training, we all talked about models, so model is not new to teachers. But we seldom think back when we are really working in the field. So I think we really need to help the teachers and this is the cultural change that we have to talk about learning models in a school setting. And especially these days, we talk about accountability, I just can’t say I taught very well and I’m teaching very well. We have to explain what we mean by good, what we mean by effective, it should not restrict to your public exam result. Then if we all rely on the public exam results, then how can you explain the good teaching in the junior section, in the primary section, P1, P2. How can you access by saying whether this is a good teacher or bad teacher. So learning model is very important to teachers in the learning profession.

Question: Many people think that NSS change is bringing more work… Do you think new learning model and strategies can really help?

Response: Yes, as I mentioned before, with a learning model, then you can select. You have something to base on, you have some theoretical supports on what you do and what you should not do. Of course, every change is new and then we will explore ways to achieve a certain target. Definitely, we will have some clumsy bumpy road and experience. But humans are very smart, we will learn from failures and experiences. So based on this theoretical support, we will eventually find the smart way to achieve the goal.