If you every get a chance to meet the legend that is Chris Kyriacou at York university, you will realise that this entertaining man talks much sense. Like with all the best thinkers, he speaks and writes with clarity and purpose, and presents useful working models for his well-researched ideas.
Teachers don’t often use research to back up what they do for a variety of reasons. Forgoing the political ones, teachers seem to distrust ‘research’. However, I trust people like Chris and Geoff (Petty) amongst others to have a happy blend of research and experience that makes their advice credible.
As part of my new methods of planning I spoke about earlier this week, I presented the idea of providing a ‘flight plan’ for students. That is, making them aware of the purpose of why we were learning something.
I am not sure the extent to which I can plan the following concept, but I often find myself returning to Kyriacou’s concept of ‘receptiveness’. That is that: “the learning experience must elicit and sustain pupils’ motivation and mental effort.”
It has been many years since I have used interactive games and novelty timers in my classroom (although giving the pupils a choice of ‘bell or dog’ using my teachit timer is always useful!). Instead, I have focussed on making students aware of the purpose of why we are doing what we are doing. Indeed, I distinguish openly between two kinds of boredom.
Boredom 1: Finding something difficult, arduous, tedious, confusing, stressful and/or challenging.
Boredom 2: Not seeing any point in what you are doing.
The first type of boredom is necessary for an expertise to be taught. The second type of boredom, though, is devastating, both for the teacher as well as the student. It is imperative that the teacher adapts the requirements of both the national curriculum and the examinations into something that they feel has purpose beyond number crunching.
Students may not distinguish between those two types of boredom. It is essential that they do. Those students who have experienced excellence in the sporting, artistic or musical realms might realise that the first type of ‘boredom’ is necessary. In fact, they can harness that kind of boredom to sustain levels of concentration and endeavour that other students cannot.
What I think some schools promote, though, is the capacity to sustain the second type of boredom. Passive students are passive learners. While some schools with unremitting social issues would be happy with docile students period 5 on a Friday afternoon (and I have taught there!), the best schools seek for students to be active: to ask, “What is the purpose of us doing this?”
Of course, some a question can be asked vexatiously. But in presuming that such enquiry does not intend to pull the rug from beneath the feet of serious intent, making the students aware of the purpose of the lesson (something helped by a pattern of effective learning objectives and personalised rubrics) helps with motivation. It helps with motivation because I believe that nothing motivates more than achievement, and knowing:
a) What needs to be achieved
b) How it can be achieved
c) Where you are now so you can move towards that goal
leads to increased student motivation.
Of course, motivation is not as dry as the above indicates. Part of what makes a lesson useful is when the students are receptive. Receptiveness comes profoundly, I think, from knowing the purpose of the lesson. Glib receptiveness comes from telling a facile joke, or using a gimmicky game. Receptiveness in all its forms, however, is perhaps better than none – if someone is not ‘listening’ to what you teach them (regardless of how ‘well-behaved’ they are) then their learning risks only being superficial.
By that I mean that for a paradigm-changing learning experience to take place, the students have to pull their ideas and their thinking from their guts: to do this, they have to trust the teacher, and be receptive to the tasks that will challenge them.
To plan for receptiveness, aside from lesson structure and making the purpose and achievement of the lesson clear (things which are the fundamental parts of receptiveness), I will try to use:
Whether the picture relates directly, or not, to the lesson or activity is perhaps not as important as if the picture is evocative. I will use a variety of flickr images, and in doing so intend to build a library. Metaphorical pictures, and pictures of expressions will be my aim this term.
Largely for tutor time, although this can be used elsewhere, I will use (and download) videos from YouTube to illustrate points in a clear and stimulating way. Relating points to cultural capital (or perhaps by using points from relevant TedTalks) will be my aim for the term.
3) Quotations from classic theorists, and modern articles.
Recently I have begun using Evernote. Allowing me to collate notes from pictures, .pdfs and articles in any format, I can begin to develop a library of quotations, quips and relevant elucidations to support the activities in each lesson. Although this has been an aim of mine for many years, this will be a particular aim this term.