Monday, February 6, 2017

Training teachers for engaging students

The Grattan Institute. have released the report "Engaging students: creating classrooms that improve learning" (Pete Goss and Julie Sonnemann, February 2017). The headline finding from the report is that for Australian school students "... as many as 40 per cent are unproductive in a given year ... nearly one in four students are compliant but quietly disengaged." (Page 3). The authors go on to recommend strengthening university training for teachers, induction programs and regular feedback. Those are useful and uncontroversial suggestions, but the authors do not explain how these are to be achieved without increasing the length of teacher training, or the cost of it.

– engage their classes, such as student response cards
– identify triggers for student disengagement so they can adapt
and improve their approaches.

More controversially, the authors recommend government only accredit initial teacher education courses which "teach evidence-based techniques for engaging and managing students, and whose graduates can demonstrate that they can apply these approaches in practice" (Page 4). I don't think anyone is going to argues with evidence based teaching, until it comes to specifics as to which evidence supports which teaching methods.

What I find worrying about this report is its last-century approach to education. As an example, it is proposed teachers use response cards: "The teacher asks a question of the class. Each student writes their answer and holds it up. The teacher can then scan the room to see who is following and who may need help.". What we instead need to do is "flip" the class: this sort of basic feedback can be handled using a learning management system, which asks students questions, provides intimidate feedback to the student and a report to the teacher.  The class group time can be used to explore the aspects of the topic causing problems for students.

The authors als recommend "tools at scale that help teachers assess and improve engagement". But there is no mention as to what these tools might be, or how to teach students to use them. I suggest we need to introduce our teachers to blended learning during their basic education, as the primary tool they will be using. In-service teachers then need on-line support, through support groups, formal supervision and formal post-graduate on-line studies. All this is affordable, from the savings in the current antiquated education system.

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