Skip to main content

Think for myself? I don't think so!

Ok, ok, I know my previous post was waxing lyrical about the benefits of getting the students to think.  The wonderful advantages of teaching students to become lifelong learners, to internalise knowledge in order that they might go forth and use this knowledge to create their own masterpieces. These are all noble ideas indeed and I do truly believe in an approach to teaching that embraces such thought.  For this reason I created a course for my Year 10 students using wikispaces that allowed them to think through threshold concepts and construct their own knowledge.  I approached the task with gusto and felt sure that my Year 10 students would greet this creation with similar enthusiasm and indeed a number of them did.

However, it was not to everyone's liking; there were issues and I am not talking about problems with logging on and learning to navigate round the wiki.  Of course, we did have a few hitches in that respect but the interactive whiteboard came into its own as I was able to show the new members of the wikispace round the pages.  The real issue came from some of the students who found it hard to shake off their classroom expectations.  What disappointment for me; they like being and wanted to be passive recipients of knowledge.  They did not want to read, investigate, explore or discover knowledge. Not for them the opportunity to work through threshold concepts and work out problems themselves.  

For many students (and perhaps many other parties) the most important issue is results.  What is going to get them the best results?  The critics in my Year 10 class belittled my efforts.  They wanted me to give them the answers, a worksheet that explained everything, a writing frame with an outline of an essay that would give them top marks.  No matter that I had aligned my objectives with my assessment, these few students were not prepared to think for themselves because they have become accustomed to receiving information and dare I say it being spoon-fed.  

The biggest issue for these students is understanding that a focus on "thinking, reasoning, understanding and meaning-making" (Toohey, S: 55) will take them beyond the relational and lead them to the extended abstract and thus enable them to access higher marks. 

The biggest issue for me as their teacher is helping them to understand this fact so that I can enable them to develop their intellectual abilities. This calls for a paradigm shift both in their behaviour as learners and in my approach to teaching.  I am a strong proponent of such a change as this post hopefully proves, however this is a battle that I cannot fight alone.   This change has to be played out across the whole school and there will be many colleagues who will fear moving away from the tried and tested traditional approach.  For them, there is a concern that in so doing the results will not be so good.  In this respect they have a great deal in common with some of my Year 10 students.  Undoubtedly, the best way to start embedding this approach is to bring it into play from year 7.  At this stage the students have not lost that wonderful urge to get out there and discover building on previous experience and ideas as they generate new knowledge.

Embracing a constructivist approach will be a bit like crossing the Rubicon for some teachers and students and the trick will be crossing it peacefully bringing everyone with us with the right mindset.  Otherwise, even our best students will only continue to demonstrate understanding of knowledge and will fail to reflect, hypothesise and generate new alternatives. 

How do I propose to affect this change?  Technology surely has an important part to play in this whole process....but thoughts on that are for another day.


Toohey, S (1999). 'Beliefs, values and ideologies in course design' Designing Courses for Higher Education: pp46-69

Popular posts from this blog

First steps with OneNote

In all my years of teaching I have always written to-do lists to help me keep organised and have had a lovely black academic diary that I have refilled each year.  However, over time I have relied increasingly on my outlook calendar for important dates and deadlines.  Last April, knowing that as a school we would be implementing Office 365 tools in the classroom in the near future, I saw that One Note would be a good place for me to start learning.  I could cut my teeth on my own Notebook and be ready to introduce Class Notebook in September.

I started using my notebook as a personal organiser in late May and by the end of June I had made my decision to give up my old ways of organising my busy working life.  As time has gone on I have become more adept at using the tool and have organised my Notebook accordingly.

Firstly some OneNote Notebook clarification:

A Notebook has sectionsWithin sections there are pagesPages can have sub-pages. In plain language, imagine that a Notebook is lik…

3 Core Principles to consider when using Tablets & Office 365

Technology must not cloud the pedagogical intent.Having made a start at explaining how I use Microsoft in Education in these three posts here (Learning to teach with Microsoft in Education, First steps with OneNote and Tags & Templates) I want to take a step back and outline my thinking behind using this technology in the first place. I am teaching at a school where a decision has been made to commit to using Microsoft Surface Pro and the suite of Office 365 tools and although this has meant learning about a new set of tools essentially I am in favour of the decision and all its implications.  In fact, use of technology to enhance what pupils are able to learn and achieve in the classroom very much fits in with my intrinsic teaching methods and my ideology.  I have posted on many occasions about technology use.  This post from last June clearly outlines how technology can have an impact on the different stages of teaching.  
As I embark on my second term with my Surface Pro and O…

Does education really need technology?

There may be many with a view on what makes for a good lesson.  Most would not argue with the ideas clearly expounded upon by Hattie and Yates (1) that a good lesson starts with an initial review of knowledge, moves on to a formal presentation, guided practice, initial feedback, independent practice and a follow-up review.  In terms of my own practice this is a model that I follow.  Not via any particular tools because I know that my target audience need variety and must not settle into any type of formulaic process.  Thus, I follow the steps but use different methods. Far be it for me to claim that this effective lesson cannot be achieved without technology.  Having started my teaching career over 20 years ago I know that it is possible to be an effective practitioner and deliver a lesson where progress is made using old-fashioned methods that may well have included some worksheets created on the trusty (rusty?) Banda machine.  Nor am I here to advocate that this process is more effe…