Professional learning and Primary Mathematics: Engaging teachers to engage students February 24, 2015Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: educational leadership, mathematics education
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The issue of student engagement with mathematics is a constant topic of discussion and concern within and beyond the classroom and the school, yet how much attention is given to the engagement of teachers? I am a firm believer that one of the foundational requirements for engaging our students with mathematics is a teacher who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, confident, and passionate about mathematics teaching and learning – that is, a teacher who is engaged with mathematics. Research has proven that the biggest influence on student engagement with mathematics is the teacher, and the pedagogical relationships and practices that are developed and implemented in day to day teaching (Attard, 2013).
A regular challenge for me as a pre-service and in-service teacher educator is to re-engage teachers who have ‘switched off’ mathematics, or worse still, never had a passion for teaching mathematics to begin with. Now, more than ever, we need teachers who are highly competent in teaching primary mathematics and numeracy. The recent release of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) (2014) report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, included a recommendation that pre-service primary teachers graduate with a subject specialisation prioritising science, mathematics, or a language (Recommendation 18). In the government’s response (Australian Government: Department of Education and Training, 2015), they agree “greater emphasis must be given to core subjects of literacy and numeracy” and will be instructing AITSL to “require universities to make sure that every new primary teacher graduates with a subject specialisation” (p.8). While this is very welcome news, we need to keep in mind that we have a substantial existing teaching workforce, many of whom should consider becoming subject specialists. It is now time for providers of professional development, including tertiary institutions, to provide more opportunities for all teachers, regardless of experience, to improve their knowledge and skills in mathematics teaching and learning, and re-engage with the subject.
So what professional learning can practicing teachers access in order to become ‘specialists’, and what models of professional learning/development are the most effective? Literature on professional learning (PL) describes two common models: the traditional type of activities that involve workshops, seminars and conferences, and reform type activities that incorporate study groups, networking, mentoring and meetings that occur in-situ during the process of classroom instruction or planning time (Lee, 2007). Although it is suggested that the reform types of PL are more likely to make connections to classroom teaching and may be easier to sustain over time, Lee (2007) argues there is a place for traditional PL or a combination of both, which may work well for teachers at various stages in their careers. An integrated approach to PD is supported by the NSW Institute of Teachers (2012).
In anticipation of the TEMAG recommendations for subject specialisation, I have been involved in the design and implementation of a new, cutting edge course to be offered by the University of Western Sydney, the Graduate Certificate of Primary Mathematics Education, aimed at producing specialist primary mathematics educators. The fully online course will be available from mid 2015 to pre-service and in-service teachers. Graduates of the course will develop deep mathematics pedagogical content knowledge, a strong understanding of the importance of research-based enquiry to inform teaching and skills in mentoring and coaching other teachers of mathematics. For those teachers who are hesitant to commit to completing a full course of study, the four units of the Graduate Certificate will be broken up into smaller modules that can be completed through the Education Knowledge Network (www.uws.edu.au/ekn) from 2016 as accredited PL through the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES).
In addition to continuing formal studies, I would encourage teachers to join a professional association. In New South Wales, the Mathematical Association of NSW (MANSW) (http://www.mansw.nsw.edu.au) provides many opportunities for the more traditional types of professional learning, casual TeachMeets, as well as networking through the many conferences offered. An additional source of PL provided by professional associations are their journals, which usually offer high quality, research-based teaching ideas. The national association, Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) has a free, high quality resource, Top Drawer Teachers (http://topdrawer.aamt.edu.au), that all teachers have access to, regardless of whether you are a member of the organisation or not. Many more informal avenues for professional learning are also available through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as blogs such as this.
Given that teachers have so much influence on the engagement of students, it makes sense to assume that when teachers themselves are disengaged and lack confidence or the appropriate pedagogical content knowledge for teaching mathematics, the likelihood of students becoming and remaining engaged is significantly decreased, in turn effecting academic achievement. The opportunities that are now emerging for pre-service and in-service teachers to increase their skills and become specialist mathematics teachers is an important and timely development in teacher education and will hopefully result in improved student engagement and academic achievement.
Attard, C. (2013). “If I had to pick any subject, it wouldn’t be maths”: Foundations for
engagement with mathematics during the middle years. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25(4), 569-587.
Australian Government: Department of Education and Training (2015). Teacher
education ministerial advisory group. Action now: Classroom ready teachers. Australian Government Response.
Lee, H. (2007). Developing an effective professional development model to enhance teachers’ conceptual understanding and pedagogical strategies in mathematics. Journal of Educational Thought, 41(2), 125.
NSW Institute of Teachers. (2012). Continuing professional development policy – supporting the maintenance of accreditation at proficient teacher/professional competence. . Retrieved from file:///Users /Downloads/Continuing%20Professional%20Development%20Policy.pdf.
Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (2014). Action now: Classroom ready
Tags: education and training, educational leadership, teacher education
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from Dr Tina Lim
As we think, contemplate and discuss course redesign for 21st century teaching and learning, it is important that we look inward, look around as well as look back, even as we look ahead.
Firstly, at the very start of the journey, we should ask ourselves what our core beliefs about teaching and learning are. Crucial questions to be answered are:
- What do we value?
- What do we believe about how people learn?
- What do we need to do to improve our practice so that it more truly reflects our values and beliefs? (Atkin, 1996).
According to Atkin, our core values and beliefs will drive our practices (or at least they should). Following from the question of “what are the core values and beliefs?” comes the question of “how in principle do you respond?” and then the question of “what practice is congruent with the principle and its underlying belief?”
For example, if we say we believe that meaningful learning occurs when students are allowed to confront real problems, make choices, and find solutions, then what we ought to do is to design learning environments which allow students to engage in authentic problem-solving experiences, nothing less (even if it means doing what we haven’t done before or don’t usually do, a.k.a. going outside our comfort zone – and yes, spell that as ploughing in more time and effort in redesigning our units, and possibly also when implementing it for the first time).
Meanwhile, looking back and looking around means that we utilise research findings and/or best practices to inform our next practice. It could be derived from our own past successful experience as an educator or learner, or from what we read or learn from others’ experiences or research through attending conferences and seminars. Going through available online research findings and reports of best practices is a good way to obtain invaluable input on specific needs and interests.
Revisiting time-tested and research-informed principles of good teaching and learning would put us in good stead. One such example is the set of seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education laid out by Chickering and Gamson (1987) namely:
(1) Encourage contacts between students and faculty;
(2) Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students;
(3) Use active learning techniques;
(4) Give prompt feedback;
(5) Emphasize time on task;
(6) Communicate high expectations; and
(7) Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.
While the principles were written specifically for undergraduate education 25 years ago, it should still hold for current undergraduate education, and to a great extent, for postgraduate contexts as well.
Then, there are the five fundamental principles of instruction developed Merrill (2002), which have been shown to promote learning:
(1) Task-oriented – Centre instruction on real-world problem solving;
(2) Activation – Activate learners’ existing knowledge as a foundation for new knowledge;
(3) Demonstration – Demonstrate new knowledge to learner in the context of real-world tasks or problems;
(4) Application – Engage learners in real-world tasks/problems and give feedback on and appropriate guidance throughout the process; and
(5) Integration – Encourage students to integrate new knowledge into their life through reflection, discussion, debate and/or presentation of new knowledge.
And of course, there are many others in the literature. The main point is that as we embark on any course redesign, taking note of well-founded fundamental principles and embedding them in our next practices would surely be deemed a good step toward engaging students better.
Last but not least, even as it is now a common expectation that student teachers to do self-reflections through inquiry, it is timely that we too do the same. What is the phrase commonly used? Ah yes, “walk the talk”. This is particularly important considering that we need to be able to show our student teachers that we do what we say and say what we do. We too, need to look back on our own practices as we consider the next step forward. Exemplary teaching-learning design, delivery, and assessment which are continually improved upon would speak volumes to our future teachers about the importance of self-reflection for self-improvement.
References: Atkin, J. (1996). From values and beliefs about learning to principles and practice. Retrieved from http://www.learningtolearn.sa.edu.au/Colleagues/files/links/ValuesBeliefs.pdf Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Retrieved from https://scholar.vt.edu/access/content/user/adevans/Public/DVDPortfolio/Samples/samples/training/track_d/Introduction/Best%20Practices/Article%20-%207%20Principles%20of%20Good%20Practice%20in%20Undergrad%20Ed.pdf Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology, Research & Development, 50 (3), pp. 43-59. Retrieved from: https://www.indiana.edu/~tedfrick/aect2002/firstprinciplesbymerrill.pdf
The context of leadership in 21st century schools: constructing the narrative for teachers October 2, 2011Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Educational Leadership, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: educational leadership, learning communities, personalised learning
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In his second post on school leadership, Steve Wilson argues that school leaders have a key role: to construct a ‘pedagogical narrative’, or ‘learning story’, for teachers and students in their school.
My recent post on school leadership examined the importance of formal school leaders in building up other teachers as informal leaders in schools, and the skills leaders use to do this. This is part of the context of 21st century schools – to create effective learning communities and leadership participation and engagement among teachers and their students. These learning communities experiment with learning strategies, share successes and failures, and progress the work of the school over time to improve teaching approaches and learning outcomes for all.
A key part of school leadership is to enable teachers to work well by creating for them and with them a compelling pedagogical narrative in the school . This narrative is a story about teaching and learning in their school that is optimistic, clearly and compellingly conveyed by the leadership, and which supports teachers to be clear about what they need to do in their day-to-day work. The 21st century school exists in a complex environment in which most forms of information are now readily available on-line. We are information rich (in terms of quantity and accessibility), but information poor (in terms of quality and reliability). Young people of all ages now have a lot of power in their own time to access and create information, and the role of the teacher and school in this new environment in providing quality ‘learning’ is becoming less clear. The pedagogical narrative or story of the school is important in guiding the work of teachers so they can work with, not against, these new ways of accessing and using information (learning). It is the job of school leaders to create this story for, and with, their teachers. This is the key leadership challenge in the 21st century school and defines the context of 21st century school leadership.
In the 21st century school this narrative needs to firstly explain the nature of 20th century learning, what was good about it, and what was not so good. The story needs to explain how the fundamentals have not changed – learning still needs to be challenging, enjoyable, and meaningful for young people. However, the story also needs to explain how new forms of e-networking and technologies ‘fit’ into the goal of achieving quality learning, and what this means for the ways teachers can work effectively. This story, well told and shared amongst teachers, provides a powerful basis for clarity of purpose, and for learning transformation, in schools. Here’s how I would construct the narrative.
How should we think about 20th century learning?
We know that, understandably, many schools are still fundamentally situated in 20th century practices. Despite a century of extraordinary innovation in western education in various eras and places, learning in schools is still dominated by: prescriptive, externally driven curricula; pedagogies that are over-dominated by didactic teaching approaches and passive learning; a focusing on lower level knowledge and a lack of ‘deep’ learning; and learning which focuses on whole groups which progress in standard ways, rather than on individual dispositions and needs. These practices generally placed students as passive receivers of the expert knowledge of others. They are captured in my graphic below of the 20th century classroom as the ‘contained classroom’. This graphic conveys the teacher as the dominating force in the classroom, directing all learning, with students learning quite individualistically and disconnected from each other. They are ‘contained’ within the classroom, also disconnected from the outside world, experiencing second-hand learning through textbooks and teacher exposition, and exercising little learning initiative. While this is not an accurate picture of many contemporary classrooms (it is a worst-case picture in some respects), it is a reasonable representation of the student experience in many 20th century classrooms. We know the results of these practices. We experience high levels of disengagement of young people from school learning – even amongst our brightest young people. We find it difficult to motivate young people to want to learn. Many of us are not satisfied with levels of student learning engagement or achievement, and many teachers do not experience the levels of professional satisfaction in their work that they would like.
However, we also know what works from 20th century approaches. Carrington (2006) for example, reviewing decades of research into middle-years schooling, has identified what she calls the ‘signature practices’ of schooling – those things that have been found to work (that is, they engage students, promote ‘deep’ learning, and lead to learning achievement). They include: a focus on higher order, critical and holistic thinking, problem-solving and lifelong learning; learner-centred education; negotiated and cooperative learning; authentic and outcomes-based assessment, and heterogeneous and flexible student groupings. A good pedagogical narrative will draw attention to these ‘signature practices’ of 20th century schooling, suggesting they are a bridge to the new forms of learning that have now begun to evolve and which will eventually characterise the 21st century school.
How is 21st century learning different?
The pedagogical narrative that school leaders construct for and with their teachers should enable teachers to see the new forms of knowledge creation, transfer and networking as opportunities for enhanced learning engagement and learning outcomes. In this optimistic narrative, 21st century learning technologies and networking tools are opportunities for learning, not things to be resisted – the challenge is for teachers to be supported in learning how to work with them. Various thinkers about education (for example Leadbeater, 2008; Miliband, 2006; Williamson & Payton, 2009) argue that these approaches can lead to exciting opportunities for personalised and student-centred learning, in which decisions about learning can be partially driven and influenced by students, thereby enhancing their personal learning motivation and engagement.
My second graphic (above) shows the 21st century classroom as a ‘networked learning community’ – a more fluid and flexible learning environment than that of the 20th century. The teacher is still at the centre, directing and influencing student learning through good planning and targeted explicit teaching, and skills and concept-building. However in this more permeable and connected environment, students are also connected to each other, and to others outside of the classroom, as active learning agents. They use their intelligence and motivation, supported wholeheartedly and guided by their teacher, to engage in activities and projects they have helped to define. They use networking technologies to communicate with, and seek knowledge from, others within the class, and within and outside of the school. They use these learning networks to test and share their own learning and the cognitive and creative products they have generated through their learning. The teacher is still an essential and very significant presence, but no longer the ubiquitous and dominating presence of the 20th century classroom. The 21st century classroom is an active, participatory learning community, a part of many other learning communities, with students and their teachers as committed and active members of these communities of learners.
Clearly, such a pedagogical narrative is optimistic in its vision and expectations. Yet, it is clearly demonstrated in the both the conceptual and case-study literature on 20th century learning and pedagogy that disengaged students can become quickly and powerfully re-engaged through the creation of motivating learning communities in which they, the students, have a voice and can contribute to learning decisions. It is the job of school leaders to ensure that teachers are aware that such an unashamedly optimistic narrative of learning does exist, and that this optimistic story of student engagement through 21st century pedagogies should drive their practices and their school’s evolution into a 21st century school. It is the capacity of school leaders to develop and sustain just such an optimistic pedagogical narrative for the teachers and students in their school that defines leadership in the 21st century school. It is the necessity for schools to develop such effective pedagogical narratives that provides the key driver and context for school leadership in the 21st century.
References: Carrington, V. (2006). Rethinking middle years. Early adolescents, schooling and digital culture. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. Leadbeater, C. (2008). What’s next? 21 ideas for 21st century learning. London: The Innovation Unit. Miliband, D. (2006). Choice and voice in personalised learning. In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Ed.). Personalising education. Paris: OECD. Williamson, B. and Payton, S. (2009). Curriculum and teaching innovation: Transforming classroom practice and personalisation. London: Futurelab. Online at: http://archive.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/handbooks/curriculum_and_teaching_innovation.pdf
Steve Wilson is Head of the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.