This post contains the slides and key ideas I presented at ResearchEd in Haninge – #rEDHan on March 10th.
I started off by suggesting that my rainforest metaphor for students’ learning might also apply to teachers – we need to strengthen our knowledge structure in order to have the capacity to explore the possibilities of teaching.
As discussed so some degree in this post – increasingly I think that, in order to move teacher development forward, it is necessary to explore all the various influences on teachers’ ideas about teaching – and, in particular to explore their ‘theory of action’ – their model for how their actions as a teacher lead to their students’ learning. If their theory clashes with the messages in training or any directive, their default mode of teaching is unlikely to shift. Teachers need to be the key drivers of their own professional development and research engagement can be important in unlocking new ideas that then develop new theories of action and ultimately changes in teacher habits.
In the talk I used three examples of this. The first related to questioning. As I explore in this post the need to check for understanding is essential. Reading Wiliam, Nuthall and Rosenshine helps to generate a good theory of action here. The need to ask more questions to more students in more depth becomes more obvious when we recognise how learning works, securing knowledge in long-term memory, and how each learner has their own schema for knowledge in any domain – and our job is to help them to expand and develop it. We need feedback from our students about this process in order to teach next steps effectively .
The next idea is about retrieval practice – explored by Willingham and Rosenshine amongst others. I used some examples of how explicit we need to make this process if we are serious about securing long term memory of key elements of knowledge. Building knowledge helps to free up working memory for more complex tasks – but too often we toss out a lot of ideas, words and concepts – hoping they will somehow ‘sink in’ but that’s not how learning works. Retrieval practice is important and can be taught.
Finally I looked at how cognitive load theory and Willingham’s ‘memory is the residue of thought’ might influence the construction of tasks and teaching episodes. For example, in learning about motors, making them might be very important in building tacit knowledge of how electromagnetism works. However, the time you spend making motors in practice is not also a good time to overload students with equations and Fleming’s left hand rule; not at first in any case. They will remember what they think about. If you want them to learn to use the equation F = BIL, this is what students will need to think about. It’s probably better to do this separate from the original hands on experience – so that students do not experience cognitive overload or focus their thinking on too many things. It’s not about which activity to do; it’s about when you do them and in what combination to secure learning.
Finally I returned to the issue of alignment – the forcefield analogy. Teachers are individuals who will drift onto their own path as their experience and ideas and values come into play. If you want to secure alignment to a set of evidence-informed ideas, you need to engage teachers in a discussion of those ideas and work to generate alignment through improving their knowledge of learning and various theories of action. Without that, teachers will revert to other models, defaults and habits.
Sincere thanks to Eva Hartell for inviting me to Haninge. The ResearchEd movement is wonderful to be part of- thanks also to Tom Bennett and Hélène Galdinoshea for all the work you do!