Wednesday, December 3, 2014

New study: ‘Chalk and talk’ teaching might be the best way after all

What’s the best teaching method?
Nov 24 2014
Seventy teachers from the UK were sent to Shanghai to study classroom methods to investigate why Chinese students perform so well. Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from teaching methods the UK has been moving away from for the past 40 years.
The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.
Given China’s success in international tests such as PISATIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.
Direct instruction vs inquiry learning
Debates about direct instruction versus inquiry learning have been ongoing for many years. Traditionally, classrooms have been organised with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.
Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorising times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.
Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.
The UK report concludes that many of the approaches adopted in Australian education are counterproductive:
Enthusiasm for discovery learning is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction.
Especially during the early primary school years in areas like English and mathematics, teachers need to be explicit about what they teach and make better use of whole-class teaching.
As noted by John Sweller, a cognitive psychologist from the University of New South Wales in the recent Final Report of the Review of the Australian National Curriculum:
Initial instruction when dealing with new information should be explicit and direct.
Many in Australian education believe children are only really learning when they are active. As a result, teachers are told it is wrong to sit children at their desks and ask them to listen to what is being taught.
Again, the evidence proves otherwise. The UK report suggests that even when sitting and listening children are internalising what is being taught. Learning can occur whether they are “active” or “passive”.
Often derided as “drill and kill” or making children “parrot” what is being taught, the UK report and other research suggests that memorisation and rote learning are important classroom strategies, which all teachers should be familiar with.
The UK report states that teachers need to “encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas”, while research in how children best learn concludes that some things, such as times tables and reciting rhymes, ballads and poems, must be memorised until they can be recalled automatically.
Trying to cater to everyone has no effect
One of the education fads prevalent across Australian classrooms, and classrooms in most of the English-speaking world, involves the concept that all children have different levels of intelligence and their own unique learning styles. (For example, some children learn best by looking at pictures, by being physically active, by hands-on, tactile learning or by simply reading the printed page.)
The UK report concludes such a teaching and learning strategy is misplaced:
The psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style.
Instead of taking the time, energy and resources to customise what is being taught to the supposed individual learning styles of every child in the classroom, it is more effective to employ more explicit teaching strategies and to spend additional time monitoring and intervening where necessary.
Lavish praise does no-one any good
One of the prevailing education orthodoxies for many years is that students must be continually praised and that there is no room for failure. The times when “4 out of 10” or an “E” meant fail are long gone. Supposedly, telling children they are not good enough hurts their self-esteem.
The UK report says that, while praising students might appear affirming and positive,
the wrong kinds of praise can be very harmful to learning.
Overly praising students, especially those who under-perform, is especially counterproductive. It conveys the message that teachers have low expectations and reinforces the belief that near enough is good enough, instead of aiming high and expecting strong results.
There’s not just one way to teach
To argue that some teaching and learning strategies are ineffective does not mean that there is only one correct way to teach. While research suggests some practices are more effective than others, it also needs to be realised that teaching is a complex business. Teachers need various strategies.
In the early years of primary school, children need to memorise things like times tables and poems and ballads so that they can be recalled easily and automatically. Education is also about curiosity and innovation and there will be other times when rote learning will be unsuitable – for example, when students explore a topic that excites them and where they undertake their own research and analysis.
Depending on what is being taught, what has gone before and what is yet to come, whether students are well versed in a particular area of learning or are novices, and even the time of day, teachers must adapt their teaching to the situation and be flexible.
The problem arises when teachers and teacher education academics privilege one particular approach to the detriment of all others.
Published in collaboration with The Conversation
Author: Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Education at Australian Catholic University.
Image: A teacher gives a lecture at a cram school in a Goshichon, which means “exam village” in Korean, in Seoul December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won.
Posted by Kevin Donnelly - 12:20

Gurpal Singh, J.D.
Adjunct Professor

Monday, November 3, 2014

FERPA, Teaching and Social Media

Originally prepared and presented to Faculty of the Audrey Cohen School for Human Services and Education.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Using Popular Culture in the Classroom: “black-ish”, Thick Description, & Twitter

Let me preface this by admitting that popular culture is not solely a tool I use in the classroom; my academic work usually focuses on how popular culture gives insight into the social order in which it exists.  That said, whatever your field of study or the topic of your class, incorporating popular culture is a great way to enliven the classroom, promote student engagement, and teach course content.  This will be a part of a series on my use of popular culture in the classroom, and I invite you to share your own lesson plans by responding in the Comments or posting your own Blog.  (To become an author, email

“black-ish” as “Thick Description”
In an Ethnography class (Communicating Across Cultures) in the BAUS program at MCNY, students are introduced to Clifford Geertz’ “Thick Description.”  Students understand how Geertz’ descriptions of the wink, the imitation of the wink, the rehearsal of the wink, and the parody of the wink are all imbued with different cultural meaning, but when asked to create their own “thick description” of a gesture in their cultural scene, they often have difficulties.  For Geertz, thick description is the foundation of ethnography, and I want it to be a useful tool for students to use in their own ethnographies. 

A recent episode of the new ABC comedy “black-ish” gave me an opportunity to re-teach thick description in an interesting and approachable way.  The episode features the father trying to teach his son the importance of “the nod” as an act of communication between black men.  While watching the father struggle to show his son the importance of this gesture in his cultural scene, the show became, for me, an extended “thick description” of the multiple meanings of this seemingly simple gesture.
The next day in class, I showed a clip from “The Nod” episode (Season 1, episode 4) of “black-ish”.  Afterwards, we mapped the multiple meanings of “the nod” as a class.  Through this mind map and discussion, we discovered that “the nod” is a sophisticated form of communication that signifies a connection between black men and comes to serve as an acknowledgement of that shared identity and history. 

During the discussion, I nodded my head often, and then asked, “How is my nod different than ‘the nod’ on the show?  The movement is the same.”  I asked them to identify the concept we had studied this semester which demonstrates how the two nods are different.  Almost immediately, one of the students answered:  “Thick Description.”  The room lit up with light bulbs going off over our heads.   “OOOhhhhhh,” a few of them said in this collective moment of realization.

“black-ish” and Racial Inequality
The television show “black-ish” made an appearance in a few of my classes this week.  This new ABC comedy has been met with some controversy over the title of the show and concerns that the show reinscribes stereotypes of black people.  Donald Trump even got involved in the discussion, posting a Tweet that read:  “How is ABC Television allowed to have a show entitled “Blackish”?  Can you imagine the furor of a show entitled “Whiteish”!  Racism at highest level?”

I brought this Tweet up in an Introduction to Sociology course during our discussion of racial inequality.  The simple Tweet allowed us to have an engaging conversation about race, to define “racism”, and to return to other key concepts we had defined, including white privilege, prejudice, and discrimination.  One of the students brought up the term “reverse racism,” and our discussion allowed us to unpack and problematize this term.  This ”real-world” context allowed us to have candid and thoughtful discussion of race in modern American culture.  It also allowed us to ask, “What can be done to combat these systems?”  The students came up with some interesting starting points, including increased conversation, education, and talking more about how racism still exists today though we purport to live in a “color-blind” society. 

“black-ish” and Twitter
I was so excited by the effectiveness of these lesson plans using “black-ish” in the classroom that I Tweeted about my experience, including a picture I snapped of the mind map we made from the class discussion on “the nod” as thick description.  I even Tweeted the image to the show’s creator, Anthony Anderson, and he favorite and retweeted my Tweet to his followers.  This was exciting for me and for the students.  Furthermore, it allowed for our course content to expand far behind the four walls of our classroom. 

Using Twitter to analyze and post course content allows us to see how the work we are doing in the classroom connects to the larger world.  (I require two of my classes to keep Twitter accounts, and use course hashtags for labeling my Tweets that connect to content in my other classes.)  With our collective experience of seeing the application of classroom concepts to the real world, coupled with the “real world” answering back, the students got to see Purpose Centered Education in action. 
By using popular culture in the classroom, it allows the students access into the course material.  By bringing into the classroom what is happening “in the moment” in popular culture, it also encourages students to think critically about the culture all around them.  Often times we look at popular culture as simply entertainment, but as this use of a comedy sit com begins to suggest, pop culture can be a rich way to teach theory.  Furthermore, it’s just plain fun.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Using Twitter in the Classroom: 5 Steps to Get the Most Out of Your Twitter Experience

I assign Twitter in my classes, and I struggle with how to get students to use it.   I wrote the following to help the new user turn a basic social media interface into a robust tool for Purpose Centered Education. 

How to Get the Most out of Your Twitter Account and Assignment
So you’ve created an account, followed your professor and perhaps a few classmates, and maybe even uploaded an image of yourself or one that represents you to your Twitter account. You read and respond to the “Tweets for this Week.” 
“Now what?” you ask.  “Twitter isn’t so great.  I don’t get what the big deal is.”  Like many things in life, you will get out of this assignment what you put into it.  Furthermore, the more you use Twitter, the more robust it becomes.  Here are some ways to help make that happen.
  1. Follow Interesting People, Important Organizations, & Reputable News Sources

Think of who you follow as a giant dinner party; the conversation at the dinner party will be as interesting as the people you invite.  If you don’t know where to start, follow some of the people your professor follows, or an agency you would love to work for, or a local (or national or international) politician or activist.  

Follow reputable news organizations that post content.  That way when you check your Twitter, you will be exposed to what is going on in the world.  You will start to discover that many use Twitter to post links.  In this way, you can catch up on the news while accomplishing an assignment for class.  This also helps you become more involved in the world around you, which will inevitably help you in your future career and lives as change agents.

  1. Retweet & Favorite

When reading your newly robust Twitter feed (thanks to completing #1 above), you will come across Tweets that you think are interesting or funny or important or….  You get the idea.  You can Retweet or Favorite those Tweets.  A “Retweet” puts the Tweet on your feed so that your followers will see it.  A “Favorite” gets a star; I think of that as akin to the “Thumbs Up” on Facebook.  I will often favorite a student Tweet, but I only Retweet those I want my followers to see.  

Remember that your Twitter Feed is a representation of you, and so what you chose to Retweet will, in turn, show the world the issues that are important to you. Because I will look at your content and learn from you, I often Retweet things you have Tweeted.  In this way, we share sharing information, and that can become infectious.  In a good way. How you decide to use the two is up to you, but remember Retweeting adds content to your Twitter Feed.  

  1. # versus @

Getting down the differences between # and @ will help you Tweet like a pro.  You may have seen some Tweets that look like Newspeak from George Orwell’s 1984.  Usually those writers are using lots of # and @ signs.
The # is known as a Trending Topic.   The @ is a Twitter account.  So when you Tweet to #CritThinkWrite, you are connecting your Tweet to other people interested in that topic, and also Tweeting to that # or Trending Topic.  When you Tweet to @CritThinkWrite, you are connecting your Tweet to my Feed, as that is the address of my Twitter account.  The @ is a great way to connect ideas to people, and people to ideas.

  1. Use Those Trending Topics (#)!

The Trending Topic connects you to other people interested in the same thing.   If you write a post ,for instance, about concepts from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave that you saw in The Matrix, you might add a hashtag #funassignment.  That way you are connecting your Tweet to any other people who also had a #funassignment.  

You can follow major issues or cutting edge news in this way, too, by searching for a hashtag. During Hurricane Sandy, I often used Twitter to find up-to-date information since the news usually lags behind at least a few hours.  New York Times Magazine or Atlantic articles can take months to write, but people are Tweeting their experiences all the time.  Of course we have to assess that information, as not everything we see on Twitter is true or comes from a reputable source, but Twitter provides us with of-the-moment connections to real people and real issues throughout the world.

  1. Use Twitter to Document Your Research & Development of Ideas

If you are doing a research project for a class, or you are trying to figure out, say, how to use Twitter, then document your research process through Twitter.  The links to articles and your ideas are there.  Your Twitter feed will serve as a log of your involvement with that project or idea.  You can also use Twitter as a partial log for fieldwork, or to document your progression in school over a long term period.  In this way, Twitter can serve as a mini journal.  

Your Twitter account also shows potential future employers the types of issues you are concerned with, and the ways that you are thinking critically about course material and the world.  This is Purpose Centered Education in action, as Twitter allows you to connect what you do in the classroom to the real world.  In this way, Twitter can be robust tool for you to complete your Constructive Actions.  Social Media is not always used productively, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to help you accomplish your goals in school and in your life.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Telecommuting Students into Class

I recently had a experience where a student had an injury that prevented her from physically attending class. Since I had been offering students the opportunity to use skype for online meetings, she thought we might be able to use facetime to have an online meeting. I then began thinking about having her telecommute into class and came up with several options.

Since I use the classroom computer for moodle, lecture slides and videos, I could not use the class computer to communicate with the student. Classroom computers also do not have cameras or microphones. But both myself and students have smartphones and tablets.  Also since I have my lecture slides with embedded videos on moodle and open them during class so that students can follow on their phones, tablets or laptops as an option to viewing the projected images, a person at home could also follow.

Hearing the lecture and discussion might require two pieces of equipment such as a phone for the audio and a tablet or computer for moodle. If students only have the equipment for the audio, they would essentially be the same as a conference call and could hear what occurred in class. They could review slides and videos afterwards.

If there is only one student, I could connect to them with my ipad using either skype or facetime.  I would probably not use the video because I doubt if I could project the screen clearly and I move throughout the classroom. It is my understanding that skype allows group calls but I have not been able to figure out if this works with ipads. If there are multiple students who might require this, maybe members of the class can use their phones to connect them. Skype uses the school's wi-fi conenction so that such students do not need to pay for their telephone calls or use their data plans.

This option also requires faculty to make some policy decisions about who and when such actions take place. For example, it might only be used for those with documented medical needs that prevent them from attending class.  It might also require permission of other class members during planned discussions.

I would like to hear from others who have used or have ideas about using technology strategies to help students participate in classes when they are unable to physically attend.