Sunday, August 14, 2011

Modelling learning: Do as you say.

While teaching a "hard to teach" Year 7 class recently I was struck by an event that started me wondering about the learning that we teachers model.

I had an assistant in the class with me who was working with a particularly troublesome group of students and she was doing a spectactular job keeping them on task. She wasn't supplying the students with answers to copy, she was leading them towards finding their own answers. An excellent assistant.

And then she came and asked for the answer to a question. I thought nothing of it at first, as I gave her the answer. She went back to her underlings, where she continued asking questions and encouraged them. It was the change in the students that I noticed. They were no longer as enthusiastic about the task as they had been and one of the students began wandering around the classroom disturbing others. What had gone wrong? What was it that changed the dynamics of the group the assistant was working with?

Then it occurred to me - she had modelled a learning behaviour that we teachers actively discourage in our students. Instead of trying to work out the answer with the group, when she didn't know the answer, the assistant went and asked the teacher. Then she returned to the group, and kept the secret to herself.

Now the added layer to this story is the fact that I was teaching outside of my subject area and the only reason I knew the answer was because I had asked a knowledgeable teacher earlier.

How often do we do this as teachers? We go into the classroom as experts, ready to distribute our knowledge to others like Moses descending from the Mount? Almost challenging our students to catch us out. "Come on, ask me a question I can't answer." When they do catch us out, we hurry back to the staffroom and ask our colleagues or research the answer; all of it away from students' prying eyes.

What about Professional Development? A lot of this is focussed on technology at the moment. Why are we learning this away from students, after school or during Pupil Free Days? Why don't we invite the knowledgeable person into our classroom and learn the technology alongside our students? We all know the technology gurus in our schools, why don't we attend their classes along with the students? This way we do three things: 1) learn, 2) model learning, and 3) publicly state that we value the teacher.

This shouldn't be restricted to technology either. Why not attend a woodwork class and learn to make a cabinet? Imagine what you could learn as a Maths teacher in a woodwork room? Better still, imagine what you could contribute to the learning group as a Maths teacher in a woodwork class? What about a Geography teacher in a Science class? An Art teacher in an English class? An English teacher in a Year 4 class? The opportunities are limitless.