Today’s teaching models

As a teacher student it’s fascinating to speculate ‘what kind of teacher will I become?’. Based on Dr. Sue Askew, an university lecturer in health education in the University College of London, I’ll go through present day models of teaching. They comprise of roles for teacher, goals of teaching, what’s the view on learning and how feedback is seen.

  • Receptive transmission
    Role of teacher
    is to be an ‘expert’ and goals for teaching are to impart new knowledge, concepts and skills.
    (This is fairly basic and could be seen as the minimum base for teaching).
    View of learning includes that a cognitive dimension is stressed. Learning is individual and affected by ability which is fixed. Learning involves increased understanding of new ideas, memorasing new facts, practising new skills and making decisions based on new information.
    (Memorasing is currently losing ground in teaching, since understanding and making connections are more emphasized).
    Feedback discourse is considered as traditional discourse in which ‘expert’ gives information to others to help them improve. Main goal through feedback is to evaluate and it’s seen as a gift for the pupil.
    (Feedback is then sort of given one-way. Most teachers I have encountered have utilized feedback in this manner).
  • Constructive
    Role of teacher
    is to be an expert. Goals incorporate facilitating the discovery of new knowledge, concepts and skills. And helping to make connections, discover meanings as well as to gain new insights.
    View of learning is based on cognitive dimension, although social dimension is recognised to some extent. Learning is affected by abilities which can be developed and is affected by experiences. Learning involves making connections between old and new experiences, integrating new knowledge and extending established schema.
    (It’s important to see learning as an ability that can always be developed, as contrast it being somehow ‘fixed’ ability).
    Feedback discourse means an expanded discourse in which ‘experts’ enables others to gain understandings, make sense of experiences and make connections by the use of open questions and shared insight. Primary goal is to describe and discuss. Feedback is considered as two-way process.
  • Co-constructive
    Role of teacher
    is based more on an equal power dynamic. Teachers view themselves as learners. Goals include facilitating the discovery of new knowledge, concepts and skills. And to help make connections, discover meaning plus gain new insights. To practise self-reflection and facilitate a reflexive process in others about learning through a collaborative dialogue.
    (In general I see this style progressive and good, but it could also weaken teacher’s credibility. Yet, it has to be acknowledged that a teacher is never ready and there’s always room for improvement).
    View of learning includes that the cognitive, emotional and social dimensions of learning are seen as interconnected and equally important. The view of learning is extended to include reflection on the learning process itself and meta-learning, that is learning about learning.
    (This manner brings up sociological dimensions of teaching, which should be better understood in order to improve pedagogical thinking).
    Feedback discourse is based on expanded discourse involving a reciprocal process of talking about learning. Primary goal is to illuminate learning for all. Feedback is a dialogue, formed by loops connecting the participants.
    (Finally, this manner stresses that feedback should go both ways and that teachers should also receive feedback from pupils).

As always, comments and feedback are most appreciated 😉

Thoughts about school curriculums

Technically speaking school curriculums are administrative documents, which include goals of teaching, desired information and skill levels, teaching methods, time needed for teaching/learning as well as actions needed from pupils and lastly evaluation of their learning. In theory, curriculums are based on values and norms of each society and they are built on a vision for future needs. Curriculums change as new information comes along, through transforms of political tendency and paradigm shifts. For instance Finnish basic education’s curriculum reform from 1994 was partly based on an analysis about quick change in economic environment. Finland was recovering from a deep recession caused by the collapse of Soviet Union. It was then that school system’s function concerning upbringing was recognised in a more profound way (to aid families in the midst of financial problems) and the need for lifelong learning was brought up, so that swift changes in the society wouldn’t cause too much disturbance.

Moreover, it’s possible to perceive from the school curriculums whether societies appreciate first and foremost that an individual is adapted to the society or are individual personalities taken more into account. Naturally it isn’t as black and white, due to the fact curriculums may involve many elements. In any case in Finland curriculums have transformed from emphasizing ‘collective good’ to ‘individuality’ and religious ‘lutherian morale’ to ‘rationality’ (whatever that in any given moment might be).

Another aspect to look at curriculums is to investigate how well they translate to real life scenarios. In Finland equality is an important factor in curriculums and in principle, they are neutral documents in which gender isn’t present, but girls and boys are rather treated as equal pupils. In that context equality is defined as equal rights and obligations for girls and boys covering family life, education, job market as well as broader society. Lahelma (1992) has been inspecting school curriculums and according to her pupils always represent a gender as well — despite of school’s agenda. And one can wonder, whether pursuiting creativity, spontaneity and responsibility means same things for girls and boys. Lahelma emphasizes how gender neutral curriculum always get ‘genderalized’ in a reality where teaching practices and educational content differentiate boys’ and girls’ lives according to a social hierarchy between the two genders. As it’s also been studied through several school textbook analyses that textbooks are connected first and foremost to masculine experience. It’s then a paradox to think that curriculums somewhat aim for equality and neutrality, yet real life school teaching scenarios could make pursuing them difficult. I’ll look school textbooks more into detail in later posts.

Comments and thoughts welcome.

Why teaching about marginal issues matters?

Many of us have been taught deeply about important historical events, about times when our country faced a moment of crisis. In the case of Finland, such instance is probably best known as the Winter War (1939—1940). While those struggles should not be forgotten or be left out from the curriculum, there are also other historical themes which could be taught to pupils more in depth.

It’s eventually a choice what we teach and how. A constant debate exists how much emphasis is to be put on certain topics and how the ever-present lack of time should be handled in teaching. Yet, I argue that marginal issues concerning for instance ethnical minorities could be addressed better through teaching. After all, we teach since we want to create awareness and improve critical thinking, not just reproduce lessons exactly the same way as was taught earlier.

Further, marginal issues should be more present during school lessons, because:

  • Today’s marginal issues could be tomorrow’s majority. During European history several natural scientific theories were put in margin due to the fact they didn’t fit into catholic church’s agenda.
  • It gives opportunities to explore new fields. Not everything has yet been researched and pupils should be encouraged to enter topics which aren’t mainstream.
  • They expand awareness. Teaching ultimately creates awareness and it’s our job to prepare pupils with better cognitive skills. Pupils learn to inspect a phenomenon through multiple angles.
  • They offer means to handle new knowledge. Pupils face new knowledge currently at the greatest speed ever. Handling and filtering incoming data is crucial. We don’t want anyone to feel powerless amidst information flow and that they can’t have an influence.
  • That’s a way to present pupils opportunities of discovery. The joy of making new findings and connecting them to earlier lessons is important for school motivation. It also underlines that anyone can make information discoveries.

All in all, this blog post leads us to question:
What topics are left out of the curriculum and why?
(I’ll come to that more in future posts).

Please share if you have ideas concerning the topic.


What is hidden curriculum in teaching?

It’s common knowledge that teachers have the official, written curriculum to give us for instance guidelines about topics meant to teach. However, that’s not the only thing influencing teaching. So called hidden curriculum is a side-product of teaching and means all the things that are taught and learned (usually) unintentionally.
Hidden curriculums could even displace the official curriculum and pupils could learn totally different things than what was originally meant during teaching.
I’m not here to to argue whether the idea of hidden curriculum is real or not, good or bad, but rather to broaden the understanding concerning teaching.

Hidden curriculum doesn’t exist in any written form as each teacher and pupil have their own underlying motives which affect the whole learning experience. Additionally, rules and norms which are taken for granted in schools could be a result of hidden curriculum.

It’s said that by researching the concept of hidden curriculum we gain information about the reality of schools that transcends the most obvious forms of teaching. That’s because there’s a lot of aspects in schools which both teachers and pupils are unaware of, yet ones that should be taken into account. 

One of these aspects is the seemingly apparent individualism, personalism and freedom which school teaching is supposed to enforce, based on the curriculum. Effectively those ideals could mean all the things outside the official curriculum are shut out and each pupil’s social actions are evaluated without taking class, gender, ethnical identity or wealth background into consideration.

Another idea behind hidden curriculum is to remove the misconcept that schools somehow are failing to achieve official goals and that the failure would be due to school system or practiced pedagogy. It could be considered that the mission of school institution isn’t to produce critically-minded and creative human beings or to equally develop each pupil, but rather to guide and force pupils in to the power structures and division of labor which are found in the society. This is called social reproduction in which new generations are socialised in to the society. In any case the success of school system could easily be compared to this agenda.

Closely connected to the idea of hidden curriculum is meta learning. Meta learning refers to the concept that in schools pupils learn to characterize themselves and their skills compared to others and the demands of the school system. Therefore, pupils learn to predict their future identity, place in the society and at the same time learn the limits of their capabilities already in school.

The theory related to hidden curriculum goes not without criticism. Some have argued the theoretical base of hidden curriculums is too rational. It’s also seen as common practice and natural that to protect integrity each school has their own agendas which are derived from multiple sources.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Teacher’s survival strategies

Lately I’ve been reading this book concerning sosiology of education, since it’s the first mandatory book of teacher studies. It has many fascinating topics, including a chapter about teacher’s survival strategies.

First introduced by Peter Woods in 1979, teacher’s survival strategies involve ways for a teacher to make teaching more pleasant — in other words to cope with the reality of schools. These strategies incorporate a dual nature, meaning that they form through teacher’s professional role as an advocator of state’s interests but also by personal ideals, which are based on teacher’s own history and experience as a pupil. The aforementioned clash of profiles results in teacher’s survival strategies.

Let’s check out some of them.

Socialisation means that a teacher tries to evoke certain ideals for ‘good pupils’. In practice a teacher shapes pupils to meet her/his ideals, which consist of e.g. proper behaviour and language.

Then there’s domination, meaning that a teacher may use varied degrees of power over the classroom. Domination is described as an easy survival method, due to the fact that pupils are subjected to teacher’s control both being underaged (and therefore under guardianship with limited rights) and due to their institutional position as pupils.

Teacher may also utilize trading, i.e. a teacher might get pupils to promise to remain quiet for certain period of time by promising they can see a movie in the classroom.

Fraternization means that a teacher could seek to come in good terms with pupils through e.g. similar humor. And young teachers might try crossing generations by utilising cultural identification, e.g. using references from popular culture.

Exiting means that a teacher could completely exit situations which involve conflicts or difficult problems. Teachers could for instance ignore identifying learning disabilities.

Routines and rituals are used for instance to ensure peaceful classes. A school could be traditionally seen as peaceful and that’s then used as an argument for demanding peacefulness from pupils.

Professional therapy means that a teacher could see teaching first and foremost as a therapeutic activity. It’s then enough seeing pupils working on something appearing busy and enthusiastic and to think that the therapeutic, pupil-centric teaching is that way being realised.

Morale boosting occurs when a teacher justifies the importance of teaching, for instance after a bad day. This could happen along with discussions and professional humor shared in the senior common room with other teachers as well as by seeking their approval for methods used in teaching.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Sales and teaching — an unorthodox approach

It’s not often you read about teaching and sales in the same sentence. Before I started studying to become a subject teacher I actually did relatively lot of sales work. The more I study teaching, the more I consider sales attitude being applicable in teaching and giving a teacher synergy to achieve more. Granted, it’s an unorthodox approach. In any case one needs to inspect teaching from multiple angles.
Let’s begin by listing a few important aspects related to sales:

  • Research
  • Marketing
  • Optimisation
  • Goal-attainment

I see researching and understanding the educational needs of pupils extremely important. Same applies to sales and customers as well. In sales you might have (or might be planning) a commodity or service for which you need to find customers. That’s how some begin a market research. Whereas in teaching you have a subject to teach and could be thinking: Who needs this information and why? That’s why it’s crucial that the curriculum is developed based on feedback from pupils, research, trends and practical experience — these are the basic components of teaching’s ‘market research’.

Next you begin to think methods to present the subject. Or in sales you would initiate marketing phase. Teacher, at some level, needs marketing skills if we’re ever to convince pupils that the topics brought up are relevant. But it’s not about just pushing teacher’s important ideas one-way. Neither is ‘good’ sales about pushing. As time goes by you develop a sort of game-sense (in Finnish we call it ‘pelisilmä’) that helps in recognising the right tone of voice, authority and expertise needed to get the message clearly understood.

Additionally, both teaching and sales need constant optimisation. For instance time is scarce and resources limited so we have to manage with those assets we have and make the best out of them. Through optimisation we’ll discover what works and what doesn’t. It’s sometimes frustrating but in the end very educational.
Both sales and teaching involve a lot of human encounters so you need to adapt quickly to various changing circumstances. Every interaction is different and gives one an unique opportunity to learn from others as well and to develop awareness of diverse behaviour models.

Finally, in sales and teaching ultimately results matter. I don’t consider good grades or high test results the end result we should help pupils to blindly achieve per se (neither do I ignore their value). Attitudes that help to prepare pupils with life-long cognitive capabilities to always learn more and adapt to ever-changing world are perhaps the most relevant general skills we can teach everyone.

Comments and ideas welcome!

Inclusive teaching strategies

In the previous post I discussed briefly about equality in teaching and how social exclusion could be prevented in schools. In order to expand the topic I decided
to present ideas concerning inclusive teaching methods, because improving them could help to activate pupils more profoundly and make learning altogether more enjoyable an experience. I started thinking this topic after recently watching a video about ‘how to activate pupils more’. A subject teacher described his inclusive teaching method simply by saying that to activate pupils during lessons he states them what is mandated in the curriculum and asks them how could the goals set in the curriculum be achieved. That way, in theory, teaching meets the demand of the pupils’ better while at the same time fits in to the curriculum.

Furthermore, it must be noted that inclusive teaching shouldn’t be about the teacher transferring as many responsibilities as possible to the pupils, but rather about teachers really trying to understand pupils’ educational needs and make improvements based on their feedback. Although a teacher should always be the fair authority in the classroom, whose expertise can be relied upon.

Let’s investigate inclusive teaching methods, which in my opinion consist of:

  • Possibility to influence what is taught
    (e.g. history of modern technology or history of video games)
  • Possibility to influence teaching methods
    (e.g. group work or a school play depicting a historical epoch)
  • Possibility to influence school surroundings and rules
    (e.g. what’s the preferred time for a lunch)
  • Possibility to give feedback
    (e.g. a short questionnaire in the beginning/end of the course
    or feedback at the end of each lesson, which then affects consecutive lessons

Firstly, possiblity to influence what is taught is pivotal if the modern school system is to be flexible and meet the constantly changing interests of the people and the world outside schools. It’s easy to teach the same things year after year, but by doing so we would do a huge disservice to the people. It’s clear that the effectual curriculum with its time limits should be followed, but there is also room for fresh ideas from the pupils. Subject teaching needs to be relevant, interesting and beneficial.

Secondly, possibility to influence teaching methods opens new ways for interaction.
I recently heard from a friend that one teacher has a system in which pupils earn collectibles (points) through ‘good behavior’ and once enough collectibles have been earned the pupils can decide a school trip destination from a selection. In my mind, this method teaches not only strategical thinking, goal-orientation but also about choices.

Thirdly, possibility to influence school surroundings and rules is connected to everyday things happening in the school environment. Timetables concerning lunch and recess or necessary school yard equipment — everyone has their own preference and not all is realizable or even practical. But concessions should be made if the wishes are reasonable and the rules for instance outdated. Therefore, a teacher should also be aware of trends and evaluate them.

Fourthly, possibility to give feedback both openly and anonymously enables active participation in common affairs. Feedback is often mentioned but still much overlooked. Some teachers don’t really care about the feedback due to thinking they know better, whereas some understandably just want to survive another work day in school. Yet, feedback could give us insights what works, what doesn’t and why.

Finally, these methods should be optional and none should feel they’re being forced to participate. Though everyone should be introduced to the advantages of participation. 

Please comment, subscribe and share your ideas about inclusive teaching.

How to prevent social exclusion in schools?

In Finland you sometimes hear someone saying that our modern school system first and foremost serves the educational needs of girls. And boys are somehow treated worse. It’s then explained that because the school system is better tailored for girls, boys get frustrated with school and underperform. Whatever the case may be, in general girls seem to be performing better in school than boys (according to University of Helsinki’s study, only in Finnish). In the study it’s concluded that girls in average have a more positive attitude towards learning.

Additionally, one could argue that the school system’s ‘mistreat’ of boys is one of factors leading to their exclusion from the society in the longer run. One is considered to be socially excluded when you’re neither working, training, studying — or basically doing things, which are seen as productive in the society (while being both physically and mentally able). Also an acronym, NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) is commonly used in this context.

Furthermore, according to Eurostat’s publication released on August 2016, the share of socially excluded young people in Finland aged from 20-24 was 15.7 %, up from 11.6 % in 2006. Finland scores unfavorably high among Nordic countries with having the biggest share of socially excluded people (Denmark and Sweden closest both at 9.3 %). Overall, social exclusion seems to be increasing in Europe. Financial crises have surely had an impact, but there could be other factors involved as well. In Italy it increased from 21.6 % in 2006 to 31.1 % in 2016 and respectively from 10.6 % to 15.0 % in United Kingdom. In total, during 10 years it has grown in 18 of 28 EU member states. And based on the study made by OECD, higher share of socially excluded are in fact boys/men in Finland.

However it’s not only limited to boys. Whether it’s based for instance on gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and so on, social exclusion appears to be an expanding phenomena and one place to look for reasons is the school system. Let’s investigate how ‘ideal’ equality should be pursued in teaching.

First of all, we should acknowledge that people are different in many unique ways. Some are more talented than others. But everyone should be able to learn and a teacher should encourage everyone. Yet during teaching we shouldn’t specifically favor anyone and at least we should not show it. Pupils should still receive praises and blame accordingly, but there’s a thin red line between praising and favoring as there is with blaming and discounting. I recently read a newspaper article in which pupils were interviewed about their school life and one person was saying how their teacher favors someone, underrates others and how bad it made the particular person feel. People are now and then quick to draw conclusions and some young people might perceive favoring in different ways — perhaps be more sensitive about it. Teachers who aren’t aware of this might verbally or nonverbally show their favoritism and at the same time discourage others. Encouragement is always extremely important, but the key is how often and in which ways should it appear.

Secondly, social exclusion might be a by-product of pupils not feeling they can influence teaching and school surroundings. In my opinion, the basic dilemmas in schools are a) pupils don’t care enough about the subjects taught and don’t feel the relevancy and b) pupils don’t feel they have enough influence what is taught and how. I argue that these dilemmas are also, as time goes by, affecting the development of social exclusion. It’s easier to feel you’re an outsider when you don’t care or when nobody cares about you. That’s why we need to give pupils more influence in schools as well as create possibilities for giving feedback that actually has an impact. I’ll inspect inclusive teaching methods in the next post.

Of course the problem isn’t solvable solely in schools. Naturally families and friends also affect in varying degrees to a person’s growth. But ideally when schools, families and friends work in parallel, social exclusion could be prevented.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of this topic. Please share, if you have more ideas about preventing social exclusion or anything else concerning teaching.