April 24, 2007

Slicing teaching

I didn't think a great deal at first about Dan Meyer's idea of teaching being an art/science that can be sliced into very (infinitesimally thin) slices, but as time went by I found myself using the concept more and more.
Here's one thin slice that immediately helped me understand what Dan was on about:
In my first year, I realized I often phrased my instructions as questions, tossing out weak mandates like "Would you guys please get down to work now?" because I wanted to be liked. I worked at balancing kindness and firmness ("I need you guys to work quietly now.") so that we could work and learn more.
After reading Other People's Children, I reflected on the possible differences between Japanese pedagogical rhetoric (teacher-talk) and that of a white, Western, middle-class male. I reflected on this some more when a colleague returned me a short piece of Japanese I'd written and which he'd proof-read for me, saying, "Use the short form of the verb, not the long form. It makes you sound kinda feminine." Hmmm. So I started implement that change in my teacher-talk right away. It seems to be working. At least, I notice when I lapse and don't use it, I get these looks like "Does he seriously expect us to do this?" When I use it, there's no debate.

Another "slice" is telling students at the outset of each class exactly what that session's objective is. I did this last semester. I haven't done it this semester yet. It's easy for me to dream up good ideas like this; it's harder to gather the data to then assess whether it's a strategy worth keeping or not. Would a strategy like this translate into actual immediately measurable results? I didn't gather any data (other than the usual semi-annual student evaluations which were no worse and no better than previous years), which in turn did not inspire me to continue this practice.

I'll have to re-think my lesson plan so that it includes more regular assessments of teaching/learning objectives. The only trouble is... that's hard work! (Damn!).

1 comment:

cleve360 said...

1) One technique I try to do with the "state the class objective" slice is to borrow a page from the marketing book and frame the objective in a way that Ss feel is important - (simplistic) example with my adult BE Ss: instead of saying "today we'll be working on the conditionals" I'll say "After today's session you'll be able to discuss future scenarios for your marketing plans when you have a presentation..." which is more meaningful to them.

2) Yeah me too: it's really hard for me to implement ideas, and then when I do they sometimes don't work. (Disclaimer: shameless plug coming up...) In fact I have so much concern about this gap between teaching ideas and implementation that we're developing some software to help close it. What happened is that with our language learning web app, we designed in some ways to help BE Ss implement classroom language in real life, on-the-job performances - e.g. transfering classroom work on conditional into an actual work presentation on forecasting market trends. Then I realized that this would be useful for Ts as well, as a kind of action research protocol - transfering ideas into classroom actions, and monitoring results. All spun together in a collaborative web platform...now if we can ever finish it....