Posted in PGCE

Teaching the art of teaching. Or is it science?

The benefit of education was summarized quite brilliantly by Kendra Todd, the winner of the United States TV show ‘The Apprentice’ in her final pitch to tycoon Donald Trump: ‘in life you get to learn by your own mistakes, but in college you get to learn by other people’s mistakes.’ To which she heard those immortal words: ‘You’re hired!’  (NBC shown on BBC2 Oct 06).

That sums up why I enrolled on the PGCE and why I have found the first module so informative. Unlike many other participants, I am not currently teaching. I prefer to view this as an advantage to a certain extent, because it means I have not come with any prejudices or resentments that perhaps I might feel if I believed that I was already doing a good job of teaching and not in need of training.

It must be an extraordinary task – teaching teachers teaching. Where on earth do you start? And with such a diverse group. Therefore, giving us some pointers; integrating some basic theory with the chance to have a go and stressing a few obvious elements of the teaching–learning process seems a logical introduction.

As a learner, I was forced into realising the importance of planning and preparation by the addition of the microteaching element and in this way, the module employed the theory that ‘Most learning is done by doing’ (Race, P. 1999) This opportunity provided a focus for me to put into practice what I had heard, seen, read and experienced during the course so far.

Not wishing to give all the credit to the tutor, it was up to the students to come up with the subject and armed with what we had learned, plan; prepare and deliver the session successfully. I spent a long time thinking; playing out scenarios in my mind, before coming up with my subject. My instincts tell me that one needs to be creative and find a way of bringing theoretical knowledge to life and that without that, the best-planned session, which may tick lots of boxes in terms of the delivery of expected content; use of resources; evidence of learning and so on, but can still end up leaving no lasting, or even a negative impression in the mind of the learner. There is the need for that indescribable ‘x-factor’ within the teaching process, which is surely the ultimate reason why people are inspired to teach in the first place.

On reflection, the discipline I knew I had to employ to plan my microteaching session ‘An Introduction to the Arab World’ (HOSS, S. 2006) gave me the basis for the creative thinking, a scaffold upon which to hang my ideas and beliefs. I put many hours into planning the event and found the subject at the forefront of my mind, even when I first woke up each morning, and this allowed the session to evolve in my mind prior to the delivering of it. This process is an intellectual process, which weighs up many elements and tries to put them together in a coherent fashion.

The content and delivery was an important consideration, but I also wanted to build in an opportunity to try out some of the teaching resources available, along with my own. Before embarking on my inaugural Power Point slideshow, I researched it and was delighted to find that my own assessment – that it is a brilliant tool for showing pictures but when used as the basis for lecture content reduced the intellectual process – is an argument that has many supporters. (TUFTE, E. ROONEY, B. 2003).

Therefore, I used Power Point to project some photographs that illustrated what I was saying and to impart some summary facts only, and argued my case to the learners based upon sound research and rehearsing of the facts prior to the class.

I covered quite a broad subject, which, on analysis, had many inter-related elements. I was determined not to offer a ‘dumbed-down’ version, despite the time constraints and I believe that without investing time and effort into the planning process, this would not have happened.

The other resources I employed, such as wearing and providing costumes, musical instruments, cd’s, music clips and newspaper articles, that I used to decorate the room and create interest and extension material, I provided in the belief that the teacher ought to go that extra mile to stimulate interest and learning and that an enthusiasm for the subject is infectious.

Ensuring equal opportunities, considering differentiation, being aware of the psychological needs of a mixed adult group, were important considerations, especially because of the physical elements of the session.

The over-riding concern was to make sure that no-one felt foolish (Davies, J. 1996) because I wanted everyone to have fun and also gain some real learning from my session. Employing the discipline of setting out the aims and objectives at the top of the class and going back to them and quizzing my students using a variety of assessment techniques showed me that I had been successful in my endeavour, and this was incredibly satisfying for me.

Equality was a major theme of my session – that Arab and Moslem culture is misunderstood, stereotyped and ignored by Western civilisation. I was able to encourage the group to increase their knowledge and challenge their own prejudices as a process that happened during the session, in a covert way, and the feedback demonstrated that this had indeed been one of the outcomes.

I would argue that it is not enough to pay lip-service to these issues as part of the teaching process, and I demonstrated that as an element of the learning process.

As someone with only scant Welsh, I felt comfortable using some Welsh content and reference to the Welsh language as part of my session, handouts and lesson plan. Students of my generation (educated in the 70s) sometimes feel a bit sidelined by those with Welsh. We were the ones who were encouraged to drop Welsh in favour of European languages. I and others have felt discriminated in the jobs market because of this, but I am only too aware of how negative feelings themselves can be an obstacle to taking on new ideas.

Therefore, I have taken the attitude that we should celebrate cultural diversity  regardless of ones prejudices and as a teacher, one is in a fortunate position to be able to promote the Welsh culture, while being sensitive to people’s strongly felt feelings and experiences. I have made a commitment to apply Welsh as much as I am able to as part of the teaching process and I can see the validity of doing that.

In conclusion, I  refer to the ‘SOLO’ taxonomy, (Biggs and Collis 1982, cited by Atherton, J. S. 2005) as a model for reflecting on my development during the course so far:

At the start of this course, being overwhelmed by the written information and briefings, I was simply acquiring bits of unconnected information that seemed to make no sense.

Then, I began to make simple and obvious connections, while still not grasping their significance. By reading and rereading my file, and following the five minute first-attempt at teaching, I moved on to the ‘multi-structional’ – making connections without quite grasping the significance of the whole.

I feel I am to a certain extent now at the ‘relational level’, able to appreciate the significance of the parts in relation to the whole. Having secured some teaching shadowing and practice, I look forward to reaching the ‘extended abstract level’, making connections not only within the given subject area but also beyond it to enable me to generalise and transfer the principles to my own teaching practice and above all, continue to be open to taking on new ideas.

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Surviving in the remote but glorious Pembrokeshire 'outback' isn't enough - I wanna thrive and feel happy to be alive....I hope my posts make you feel that way too :-)

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