01 February 2013

Physician, heal thyself!

I have many criticisms about teaching and/or teachers, and this sometimes leads me to wind up other teachers.  Not here, though, because I've been far too focused on my own teaching!

My criticisms aren't intended to be taken too personally, though.  They're not personal failings, they're just mistakes that are pretty much endemic in teaching, so it's not really that surprising that I fall into the trap of making a lot of these mistakes myself.

So this post is a reflection on one of the errors I constantly find myself slipping into, and that I need to be on constant guard against.

A year ago I wrote about a personal experience as a learner, in a post entitled The Myth of Groupwork.  My criticism of the groupwork was that it was too "task-focused", in that the students and the teacher were looking to fill in all the answers on the sheet, not to "learn" per se.  The results of groupwork tasks give the teacher no insight into the level of knowledge of any individual student, and there's not normally any way of verifying that any of the lower-achieving students have actually learnt anything from the experience.

My error isn't in assigning groupwork, but it's that problem of being "task-focused".  Sometimes I make the mistake of looking at the result of "the class", rather than verifying that every individual has learned from the experience.

Which is not to say that a classroom teacher can check every student's work for every task, every time.  No, that's a logistical impossibility.

What I'm asking of myself is to stay mindful of any compromises I have to make between pedagogy and logistics.  I'm asking myself to remember at the end of the class that I do not and cannot know whether that lesson has been a success... or at least not until exam marking day.

There's a very human tendency to start to accept the things you do as being intrinsically and unquestionably correct, even while retaining a superficial recognition that it is in fact a compromise.  Once you do this, you stop trying to improve, and that's something that I never want to do.  Realism forces me to accept the compromise, but optimism tells me that if I keep my eyes open, I'll find ways to slowly improve and compromise less.

What I've always aimed to do when criticising pedagogy and methodology is raise the questions and increase the readers' mindfulness of their own actions and motivations, but sometimes I've fallen into the trap of criticising more bluntly.  That can be taken far too personally, and doesn't help anyone.

So I suppose that I have to be more mindful not only in the class, but when discussing classes too....

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