Monday, August 4, 2008

PD, direct instruction, collaborative learning

Ok, I'm at my PD for this semester. Two days about hearing the great uses of placemats, four corners, PMI's, Y charts, jigsaws and blahdy, blah, blah. Yes, they're great. But when it comes down to it, a modelled lesson, some great notes followed by practice, practice, practice in a room of engaged students is still a more efficient use of time. Direct instruction and teaching vs facilitated learning and collaboration in a low ability environment - there's no comparison. DI wins each time.

For high ability students the collaborative stuff works, but it is still slower than a modelled lesson or students investigating worked examples. Good students don't become unmotivated whilst learning new content or seeking their next good assessment mark and don't need the Heinz 57 varieties teaching methods. Entertaining students and teaching are not synonymous. I hated some of my best teachers, and learned more from them than necessarily the classes I liked and were more wafty in their outcomes.

For low ability students I am sick of being told students just need to be taught how to do (insert strategy here).. if junior school teachers haven't managed to use these strategies and teach them effectively I don't have a hope at year 10/11/12 level. (I did see multiple strategy coordination done well at one school where teachers had recorded which year groups had been taught which strategies). And whilst we're at it, First Steps numeracy - please get the kids to do some work and not so much nonsense. Show me some real evidence (research with a valid statistical sample) that it works better with high ability students than traditional methods. I don't think it can, and am challenged to find a large number of low ability students responding to it in a high school either.

That's not to say I am disparaging alternate tasks such as investigative work on the white board (such as the graphing question posed in a previous blog entry). This does work, as long as it is strongly teacher directed. Teaching kids to play board games works as long as I am there playing adjudicator. I would love to see some of these 'I've been out of the classroom 5 years' or 'I like being home with my kids 3 days a week' presenters doing this sort of stuff with kids who like to stab calculators or will fly off the handle because a new student enters the class that they don't like.

Stability, a firm hand on behaviour including clear boundaries, an understanding of effective learning styles for each student and low student teacher ratios is a good recipe for low ability student success.

Give me a month, I'll dig out my Spencer Kagan/Developing Minds books again and go have another hack at collaborative strategies. Maybe I'll even be uni student enthusiastic about it again. I'll keep you posted.

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