Saturday, August 02, 2014

Educational beliefs I have let go of

Before becoming a teacher, I used to assume that kids couldn't know things unless they were taught them. I really thought that a comprehensive curriculum and rigorous tests were the way to ensure a quality education. Every time I encountered kids who seemed to struggle with basic numeracy, I would mumble something about the school system lacking rigour. In this post, I want to list some of the beliefs that I no longer hold.

Here are four beliefs I used to hold but no longer do:

  1. Students learn what we teach them
    It is a well-established fact that students construct their own learning and that this construction is influenced by many factors, including what teachers say or demonstrate. I know many teachers, myself included, who finish correcting their students' papers and exclaim: "I told them ...." or "was I even in the room when we discussed this?" At times, I still express my frustration this way but I am no longer surprised when students do not internalise what I said in class.

  2. Students cannot learn what we don't teach them
    Once I give my students room to explore, they often discover knowledge I do not possess. One small example is a year seven student who taught herself to build a Scratch game that interact with the user through the laptop's camera. I did not even know that such a feature had been added to Scratch.
     
  3. All students need to be taught the same content
    Many teachers fear that, if students were allowed to learn different things, they would not all have the prerequisite knowledge for the following year. Experience has shown me that students don't retain much of what they have learnt from one year to the next. Sorry, they don't retain much of what they have been taught from one year to the next. Why? Because students don't learn what we teach them!
     
  4. Knowledge is sequential
    I have found that students understand the decimal system (base 10 numbers, even whole numbers, are meant here) much better when they realise that it is not the only one on offer. In fact, "variation theory" holds that, for us to understand "green" we need to see a number of objects coloured green as well as objects of different colours. Without the first condition, we might associate the colour with grass only and fail to realise that it can be property of apples and bell peppers. Without the second, we wouldn't need a name for the colour since the world would be monochrome.

This post raises the question: What beliefs have come to replace the four mentioned above? I think that I can answer this by telling the story of a year 10 class I had the pleasure of teaching last semester. I do need to tell that story as a way of saying "Thank you" to the 17 students in that class but this will need to wait for another post. In the meanwhile, please leave a comment on the educational beliefs you have relinquished.

3 comments:

Maddie Scott-Jones

said...

Great blog, Ziad. I like #3 in particular.. I've been worrying about it with my Maths program - the fact that they will not all move on to Year 9 with the same knowledge. I need to remind myself that GROWTH is what matters, but am worried that changing things in my classroom without a departmental approach will be detrimental rather than positive in the context of how we do things.. In other words, I can see the benefit for the girls this year but need to come up with a 'where-to-next' step for the students when they move into Year 9. I'd love to pick your brains about all of this. Hope you're having a good weekend.

L Moloney

said...

Only a teacher that sees teaching as a vocation rather than a "job" would be thinking about their Educational Beliefs and reviewing these late on a Saturday evening. Any good teacher thinks about their students and "what to do next" any hour of the day. I even found myself while on leave taking photos and thinking "that would be really interesting for my Year 7 Science class, I know how I could bring that in to make it more real."

Students are lucky to have teachers Like Ziad that constantly review their beliefs. That way we evolve into better educators that walk beside our student on their journey.

Rambling Teacher

said...

Lisa and Maddie, I apologise I didn't see your comments till now. I should see what happened to the notifications I should be getting when a comment is awaiting moderation.

Lisa, the students are lucky to have you share all your experiences with them. Yours is an experiential classroom.
Maddie, I am more than happy to talk with you but I will be the one picking your brains first.