Teacher (educational) Development – An Invitation

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February 22, 2011 by Willy Cardoso

What is the purpose of being educated? What’s the point of education? Why do we need a curriculum? Why do we let other people decide what we will study/learn? How often should we change, innovate, abandon, adopt, adapt, etc our educational practices? And based on what?

These are maybe unanswerable questions, but for me, questions of this nature should be in the core of anything that leans towards teacher development. I’ve heard many people say otherwise, ‘You’re crazy, teachers need practical tools, motivating activities, content-knowledge, technology, and many other things more important than philosophy.’

If you agree with the latter attitude, you’re finished with this piece and would probably be better off here.

If you consider thinking/reflecting/discussing/arguing/positioning oneself about questions like the ones above as important as anything else a teacher should be able to do, I invite you to join me in an effort to gather and produce some material that can be used in teacher education.

I’m thinking about short texts, videos, and follow-up questions or tasks, pretty much like an ordinary worksheet or lesson idea that a teacher trainer/developer/educator can use in a session. Whereas we have great posts and videos that challenge us to think more about education and not only about teaching, I feel we lack simple material to use with trainees in a more workshop-like lesson. (I chose the word simple, as the opposite of , erm… academic – so reading Durkheim, Dewey and Deleuze is cool, but won’t do much in this proposition – paraphrasing Einstein, let’s keep it simple, but not simpler)

A parenthesis here for EFL/ESL teachers: Apart fom being both great books, what is the difference between Teaching Unplugged and Learning Teaching in light of the above? Take a look at the introductory chapters of both books and pay attention to explicit educational background used by the authors to support their methodology (ok, dogme is not a method, but you understand what I mean) – Question: Does it matter?

I think it matters very much whether  a teacher knows where her/his actions come from and how it contributes to a greater ‘plan’. Once teachers started to overtly propagate critical thinking in the classroom, it’s nothing but sensible to expect the same from them, and starting from the essence of what they do seems like a good option.

I’d like to kick this off with one of my favorite little, and simple, texts: The Sabertooth Curriculum

View this document on Scribd

 

And here are some simple ideas of what to do after reading it.

View this document on Scribd

So, that’s the idea basically. Would you like to share some interesting stuff? Leave a comment, send me a link, use your blog trackback, well you know, do it – and I’ll upload it here. And yes, before I forget, it’s not a blog challenge or meme, I’m tired of that. Take this as an invitation – to a party where everyone is both the host and the guest.

It just occured to me that a variation of my motto forget teaching, focus on learning is now taking shape in the TEFL/TESOL arena: forget training, focus on development, or something like that ;-)

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6 thoughts on “Teacher (educational) Development – An Invitation

  1. crazykites says:

    Although I’ve not been in the game long, I really think you’re correct to want to innovate teacher training.

    Although training has been a great practical aid, I feel I need a philosophy behind what I do – something that goes beyond how I perform in a classroom. I need to know I’m making a difference that is more than clarifying rules and putting on a good show for an hour and a half. It’s no good to just go with the flow and do more of the same. I remember a quote “stand for something or you’ll fall for anything” and if a teacher falls for anything, you have one pressured teacher who’s trying out EVERYTHING.

    In the middle of reading Teaching Unplugged. Trying to get my head around it all. :)

  2. David says:

    My dream is to be the head of a teacher’s college and throw out the existing curriculum, the traditional curriculum. I’d simply have student teachers working in teams to develop a year’s worth of curriculum and have them teach some of it during their practice teaching. They’d become experts at finding out – “what’s worth knowing” and what is essential. The rest – the Ss can learn outside of class. (this sentence reminds me of Postman and Weingarten’s essential reading “Teaching as a subversive activity”. More relevant today than it even was in the 1960s. Especially the chapters, what’s worth knowing and New teachers… – get it here on my blog. http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2010/06/15/let-me-list-the-ways-im-subversive/).

    I think your example of the Sabertooth curriculum really highlights the value of the inquiry methodology (and too how knowledge is constructed around our own belief system). It is how all our learning should be organized. In addition, I find at present several really disturbing things about education and how teachers teach.

    1. The misunderstanding about how content and method are interrelated. They aren’t separate and teachers need to understand this viscerally and in their bones – before change will happen. The enacted curriculum IS the curriculum. The medium is the message.

    2. Authority. Learning outside the classroom is not valued. Self directed learning has no worth. We disenfranchise so many, so often. The curriculum is a jailer not an enabler. Like the very old Josh Billings quote – “The trouble ain’t that people are ignorant, it’s that they “know” so much that ain’t so.”

    3. A lack of personalization – building knowledge from the student and teacher’s own mind. Curriculum should be “on the go” and not filled out and fat, even before it is asked to run. (and this is probably why many teachers do like the notion of “unplugged” but imho, it also has its weaknesses)

    I hope to get some time to write/reflect about self directed learning. I think it is the road ahead given the pervasiveness of technology and how individualized in perception/outlook so many youth are. That’s how we have to start thinking – giving students the opportunity and framework to learn “for and of themselves”.

    • I also like to think that self-direction is the road ahead. However, I see we’re still at an early stage of individualized learning, the purpose of education is still societal growth, in theory of course, in practice we know a person cares about himself first and then, if conditions allow, for society. I don’t whether it is all good that in the last decades education has given too much emphasis on ‘socialization’, ‘the social being’. It is important, yes, but it’s more like fashion than anything else. It’s like Now behaviorism is outdated, let’s all be constructivists. In English classes and teacher training we see that in the, for me unjustified, abundance of pair-work for example. I believe that if you’re doing any job and someone tells you every five minutes to check it with your peer and talk about it, you’d be pretty pissed off.

      #1 above is key. I think it is important to know how method and curriculum came to be. Maybe a blogpost? I love Dewey’s account of method, but very dense, hard to expect everyone to understand it. Any thoughts of a more accessible text on it?

      Very interesting that you mentioned Postman and Weingarten, I just happen to be working on something with that book. It’s amazing, and yes still relevant after 50 years.

      thanks for writing David! It’s always good to have your thoughts added to the discussion here.

  3. dingtonia says:

    ” In English classes and teacher training we see that in the, for me unjustified, abundance of pair-work for example. I believe that if you’re doing any job and someone tells you every five minutes to check it with your peer and talk about it, you’d be pretty pissed off.”

    Love this – thanks Willy. When I felt “obliged” to do pairwork – because some institutions “expect” pairwork to be done as a matter of course – I always felt slightly embarrassed asking Business English students to “get into pairs”. Thank goodness I absolutely do not have to do it in my present job. So many times in our lives we are told that what we want to do it not possible: “You can’t learn Latin; the school doesn’t offer it”, “You can’t do architecture, because you don’t have Maths”, “You have to do Geography if you want to study Geomorphology”, “I’m not letting you learn the piano, you have shown no interest in music so far.” Suddenly we stop directing our own leanring and just do what is offered by “the powers that be”. At least in EFL, maybe we can respect the goals the students have set themselves and open up the space for them to pursue those goals.

  4. Callie Wilkinson says:

    Ok, I’m knackered so this will probably be even less coherent than if I wasn’t…and I might not agree with anything I say now by the morning, just to warn you…

    I’m not sure whether I’m best represented by New-Fist, or those who feel most comfortable to go along with what has been deemed best practice/ the norm (albeit outdated) for so many years. I think my career this far constitutes an ongoing struggle between the two. But maybe there is some harmony in that.

    It’s strange because the safety net I feel exists when I am using what I was taught on CELTA is the very thing that imprisons me too! Despite the fact that I have studied pretty much continuously ever since I completed CELTA about four years ago, that is still by far the course that has had most influence on my classroom practice and acts a kind of justification for my action in class. And yet the more I speak to experienced teachers who I would aspire to be like, and read posts such as this one, the more I feel that I am relying on outdated methodology as a crux when I don’t think it is really satisfying my students’ wants/ needs. So, yes, I may, in an observation, be able to say “Well, this is an established way of teaching that has been endorsed throughout the years by coursebooks and writers, so I don’t see how you can question whether or not I am doing my job effectively.” It’s like passing the buck…effectively saying, “Well, it’s not ME whose actions you’re questioning, it’s so-and-so or so-and-so, and they are well recognised in the industry and have sold lots and lots of books so really it can’t be ME you’re criticising…!!!”

    As a new(ish) teacher, I still find myself trying to prove my worth by giving grammatical explanations which I never needed to know myself in order to become an effective user of the language. This is crazy! And yet a completely ‘unplugged’ approach to teaching scares the shit out of me, too. I think my students have become as reliant on the bundle of resources I take into class as I am! I have, on the other hand, on a number of occasions (and in a vain attempt to break free from grammar prison), seemingly forgotten all about pedagogy to try out something ‘new’ or ‘dynamic’ to the detriment of myself and everyone else present, who would probably rather have done gap-fill exercises for two hours.

    I wonder if all this confusion is a necessary phase of teacher development. Or this teacher’s development anyway. I mean, if I was taught, as you suggest (?), from the word go to question everything (which I think I actually do by default anyway), I would be in an even more confused state than I am now. Maybe it’s necessary to provide a framework of established ‘rights and wrongs’/ ‘dos and don’ts’ before anyone can question these and evolve by moving away from them. I certainly find this helps in relation to grammar. How can I answer a question about when we might use one tense instead of another, if I have never taught the tenses in the first place? This question is not rhetorical! Please, tell me! Maybe I do think the ‘wise old men’ were onto something with their thoughts about ‘the true essence of education’. Perhaps some things do have to remain constant. But language, and especially the English language, is not like this. It is an evolving beast. My fault, then (or one of them), is trying to give my students ‘rights and wrongs’ perhaps. Maybe I am doing them the same disservice to them that I was exposed to in my initial training. Or maybe not. Some of them seem to crave it! In my attempts not to inhibit fluency by correcting mistakes, a student last week asked a more able student in the group (who then relayed it to me), “Why does the teacher not correct me? Why does she not tell me what is the right way?” …but what she said communicated perfectly the point she was making…even though, grammatically speaking, it was incorrect.

    Right. That’s enough for now. A million other tangents are coming to mind and I have a class first thing. I think this is more a stream of consciousness than a valid response to the above, but it’s been cathartic for me, anyhow!

    Callie

    • Callie, this is a wonderful post! There’s so much in it I’d like to talk about too. Let me make a few comments.

      You said your safety net is the very thing that imprisons you. I think that this is true for 98% of us, I feel that too, I feel safe being an EFL teacher and at the same time being an EFL teacher puts me off and even keeps me away from other interesting jobs I’d like to do. Likewise with my teaching philosophy and credentials, once you are a wee bit less orthodox it seems the mainstream will be always turning you down. As you said, this is partially caused by us wanting to “justify” our actions as teachers, we are constantly looking for validation, so it seems fine to blame CELTA or the DOS, but in the end it doesn’t matter if you have a PhD in TESOL or if you’re just a backpacker, for the students YOU are the only one responsible for your actions (and sometimes for their actions). So, saying “I’m doing Concept Checking Question, because that’s best practice according to Cambridge ESOL and my mates from Twitter” doesn’t really mean anything. It has to be purposeful for the ones in your class, your students have to validate it not anyone else. This is the challenge in my opinion.

      How can I answer a question about when we might use one tense instead of another, if I have never taught the tenses in the first place? This question is not rhetorical! Please, tell me!

      First step maybe is to stop calling it tense. Thinking less like a teacher may help too. For example, I’m absolutely sure that if we were in a pub and I asked you “Callie, what’s the difference between I wish I had travelled more and I wish I travelled more”. You’d tell me that easily and nicely, and if you didn’t know, you’d speculate and give me some examples and we would work it out together. I also think that I would remember that for a long time even if we didn’t use grammar terminology (and we wouldn’t because we’re in a pub) and without having to do any gap-fills.

      As regards your students expectations, you know better, I can’t talk too much about that. Maybe, maybe some learner autonomy stimuli could make your teaching easier and it’s not so hard to include some awareness raising activities in the middle of the syllabus. Take a look at this book, Learner Autonomy, it’s really good and very practical. There’s also this short article I wrote with some ideas on autonomy and self-assessment, maybe it can be help.

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