DNA of Great Teachers
this is an extract of Chapter 8: Teaching methods
It is the age of wisdom when teachers use a variety of teaching methods enabling learners to discover and create knowledge.
It is the age of foolishness when teachers see themselves as the main source of information and make learners knowledge consumers.
This chapter describes how teachers’ DNA teaching-codes influence the ways in which teachers teach. Curriculum-led teachers, who already designed their lessons based on the ‘house builder’s paradigm, are ready for teaching and they have all the words and concepts they want to explain, as well as their teaching aids at hand. They greet, and tell learners to take their seats while keeping order and discipline. The learners know they have to take out their books and find the place where they stopped at the end of the previous lesson. Once all books are open on the same page, the teacher starts explaining the next layer of information.
Learner-centred teachers, who designed their lessons within the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ paradigm, have a bouquet of teaching methods at hand to enable learners to discover and create knowledge.
Curriculum-led teachers think in terms of information and content, while learner-centred teachers think in terms of learning processes.
2. Average teaching
Because average teachers translated their lessons from the curriculum, they are the main source of information and subject-matter experts, sharing what they know with the learners, layer by layer, in line and in pace with the curriculum. They are in control and feel needed when assisting learners to interpret tables, figures, maps, diagrams and graphs from textbooks. This is confirmed by vocabulary such as ‘I explained to them what it means’ and ‘I shared this with the learners’. They are convinced this provides energy to the class.
When starting a new theme, their DNA-paradigm guides them to start with theory explaining the principles, definitions, rules, formulas and laws. They are good at indicating connections between theory and practice, which is still to come, and have special ways to illustrate it. They define listening as learning and do not have the means to ensure information is assimilated, incorporated and accommodated within learners’ existing knowledge. They therefore gauge learners’ involvement and participation by the amount of attention they pay to their explanations. They regularly bring it under learners’ attention that there is a difference between hearing and listening. They differentiate between those only listening and not paying attention (and not learning) and those who are listening and paying attention (and are ‘learning’). This exposes their definition of learning. They assume silence signals evidence of learning, not realizing ‘listening-silence’ is not productive learning silence.
Their DNA teaching-codes do not promote learner interaction and do not allow for sessions of productive noise where learners challenge each other’s ideas, argue, agree and disagree.
The roles of the teacher and learners are illustrated with this diagramme. The teacher is in front of the class explaining. This method in its extreme mainly allows for one way communication, if one can define ‘one-way conveying’ as communication. There is no feedback loop which constitutes communication and confirms understanding. They call this ‘giving class’, thinking in terms of classes and not in terms of learners. This is validated by the impersonal way they address their classes by saying: ‘Listen class’ or ‘You’. They rarely address individual learners by their names.
They explain, read from or refer to textbooks, use their teaching aids to show relationships between concepts, while keeping eye-contact with the class to ensure all learners follow and keep up with the pace. When learners nod their heads to indicate understanding they are satisfied that there is no immediate need to do a reality check. (Much like a pianist playing with ear plugs)
They expect learners to be silent as they unravel the topic from different angles, scanning the group, checking that all are listening and identifying those who are not paying full attention. Once called to order, they proceed with the lesson.
When all or most learners indicate that they understand what was explained, average teachers regard the session as successful. As proponents of the deductive approach, they then challenge learners to confirm their understanding by giving exercises and homework, in excess.
Their classroom-management mindset necessitates them being in front of the class, where they are highly involved in their teaching activities, rather than to focus on what learners do. They apply their leadership skills like a choir leader, using a tuning fork expecting all to start and follow their pre-set keys. Those not keeping up with the work are moved to the back where they offer less interference.
When average teachers teach, they demonstrate the following characteristics:
1. Speak most of the time during the lesson; instead of allowing learners to discuss and discover content.
2. Have super skills to clarify and elucidate; instead of empowering learners to solve problems.
3. Stick to their guns concerning their lesson planning; instead of deviating from the lesson to enable learners to gain quick learning-wins.
4. Demonstrate how concepts connect and relate using diagrams and lines on a board or flipchart; instead of empowering learners to determine connections and relationships.
5. Every now and then they ask: ‘Do you understand?’, upon which they get ‘yes’ answers, supported by some heads nodding; instead of asking direct questions as a platform for follow-up questions.
6. Expect learners to think out answers at the end of a lesson; instead of enabling them to think from the onset.
7. Provide answers to learner’s questions; instead of reversing the question by asking: ‘What do you think?’
8. Provide learners with summaries; instead of setting up peer groups to summarise and provide feedback.
9. Provide learners with mind maps at the end of the lesson; instead of empowering them to develop their own.
10. See lecturing as an END and not as a MEANS; instead of seeing it as a MEANS to an END.
11. Measure their success by the number of errors the learners do NOT make; instead of allowing learners to make mistakes and to learn from them.
12. Manage the class by means of authority; instead of using pedagogic means by asking a disruptive learner to explain a concept to the class and in this way use peer pressure to manage behaviour. They have experienced that it assists in establishing a culture of classroom discipline and prevents misbehaviour.
13. Get frustrated at the end of a lesson if learners do not understand, have not gained insight and cannot apply their new knowledge; instead of empowering them to gain these skills during the lesson.
14. Sift out so-called ‘weaker learners’; instead of conducting error-finding on their own teaching practices.
15. Are frustrated because learners do not do as well in tests and exams as they expect; instead of placing more emphasis on learning than on teaching.
16. Regard themselves as good to excellent teachers; instead of benchmarking their teaching practices against learning achievements.
When marking books, some learners get full marks or close to it, while others have average marks and others receive low scores. At the end all learners are expected to do remediation. It does not cross their minds that not all learners have to do the work over because of minor errors. They do not consider requesting these learners to rather assist the ‘short- legged’ ones. In some cases, they write the correct answer for the learner as they are under the impression they can correct a learner’s error. They even say to the learner: ‘I corrected you answer; now you should understand it’. These learners are pleased because they don’t have to do it over and promise themselves, in vain, they will remember not to repeat the same mistake again.
Average teachers motivate their explaining, by convincing themselves that they can ensure that most learners are attending to what they explain. They think the explained information is the fishing gear learners need that logical, critical, creative and big picture thinking skills will develop as part of learners’ maturity later on.
They see themselves as leaders. Their leadership, however, is invisible to learners because they are not able to see the teacher’s footprints along the road. The footprints get lost in the excess of information, causing learners to climb the learning Everest, using a white stick, going up step by step, falling and getting up by themselves, unless an extra class, a co-learner or someone else takes care. This is visible when most learners ask the long-legged ones after the lesson, what they should do and what follows after that.
The above is reinforced by national television screening educational-related issues, showing the teacher standing in front of the class explaining or writing on the board, while learners quietly sit and listen. This reinforces society’s perception that teaching means a knowledgeable person sharing information with learners.
Their DNA coding blinds them from realizing that learners who are making mistakes and correcting them are in fact establishing unique learning experiences which add to their true curricula.
Their mind’s spectacles are polished to see their method of teaching as best, despite the fact that words such as ‘a variety of teaching methods’, ‘rubrics’, and ‘scaffolds’ are not part of their teaching vocabulary.
They use the words ‘teach’ and ‘learn’ as synonyms which qualify them as members of the ‘white coat brigade’. They wear these ‘white explain® coats’ every day of teaching, fulfilling their job in the same way over and over. It is easy for learners to predict the teacher will wear the white coat the next day. ‘White coats’ create an inappropriate professional distance between them and learners and may establish anxiety within the learners - sometimes intended and sometimes not. This is much the same as clinical tests, which show the blood pressure of patients as being slightly higher in doctor’s rooms than in relaxed environments. Their white coat image also signals status, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, when it comes to mastering knowledge, insight and problem-solving. They maintain this position throughout their teaching career and even after retirement when ex-learners have progressed to adulthood. They know the ‘white coat’ is not a reputable ‘name-brand’, but say in defence that it is practical and that it works for them. Others would rather be seen dead than wearing a white coat to a social event, which in this case a class is.