Reconfiguring Pedagogical Practice

In order for truly effective learning to occur it is imperative that as educational practitioners we do not assume that learners share the same level of understanding and knowledge as we do. Since an essential part of our job is to deliver the curriculum in a fashion which avoids ambiguity and promotes inclusion, this approach to teaching must be pivotal to our profession. The pitfalls of not embracing the above have been coined perfectly through the term ‘curse of knowledge’ (Camerer, Lowenstein and Weber, 1989). Essentially, this rationale assumes that individuals do make a series of implicit assumptions regarding the level of prior knowledge, skill proficiency and even an appetite for learning. Similarly, this rather outdated attitude revolves around the basic premise that students in front of us do view their learning experiences in the same ways we do. Clearly, this may not be deemed appropriate or relevant as classes may exhibit a wide range of ability and learning styles. This is increasingly important as we embrace the challenges of the digital age. Ironically, teachers who may have attained a high level of academic expertise, do not always make the best educational practitioners. Their knowledge may be extremely beneficial to the promotion of academic excellence, but it is crucial that they develop their coverage of the respective curriculum in a fashion that engages, inspires, and forges meaningful and tangible links with the students’ own set of life experiences. One piece of advice might be to make the language of learning more accessible. Extensive use of jargon and the over-use of highly technical concepts without easing in the students is sure to result in disengaged learners and poor performance levels. Furthermore, teachers should be empathetic with their students, with an abundance of patience. The key to success with this is by embracing differentiation. This may involve differentiating by outcome, by task or through embedding targeted questioning in each of their learning sessions. Furthermore, the use of analogy and humour certainly does not go amiss. Starting points are always important with the need to appreciate that students come to class with different levels of ability and prior knowledge. This is particularly true with the introduction of an international curriculum such as IB and A Level. It cannot be guaranteed that students will have already completed the basic core competencies or indeed approached the subject matter in a style conducive to the demands of such a curriculum. This requires a high degree of scaffolding and reassurance. Curriculum documentation must, by default, signpost the opportunities for student interaction and include opportunities for short snappy starters and powerful plenaries which deepen understanding and inculcate reflection, learner agency and autonomy. It is worth bearing in mind here that these are in fact life-long skills which will be instrumental to success in higher educational establishments worldwide. It may be advised to focus on the key concepts and skills required to succeed, using the content as a vehicle for the advancement of learning. Students who do not speak English as a mother tongue will certainly need assistance with subject-specific vocabulary and there should be a range of activities planned to cater for such students. Engagement and interactivity are the keys to success, and both need to be evident throughout learning sessions planned. It will be vital to generate a safe learning environment where students feel valued. Students should be taught that asking questions is more important than answering them. This will generate a more inquiry-based approach to learning which holds more relevance for the future. Questioning needs to be carefully thought through, targeted to meet the needs of the lesson and the students. Developing a more holistic approach to the profession will also reap rewards. Praising the students at regular intervals will promote higher levels of self-esteem. There should be sufficient opportunity to use lessons planned as a way of facilitating further independent self-study. Similarly, flipped learning is worthy of consideration as it allows teaching to be concept based rather than the simple, overly dry regurgitation of factual knowledge. Lesson materials should be designed with the purpose of enabling students to make sense of the prime learning objectives in their own way. This will deepen understanding, promote effective engagement, result in happy students and happy parents when examination results are published. Continuous and formative assessment should also be integral to our endeavours. This provides the opportunity to ascertain how well the students have understood the learning material and also enables effective and powerful dialogue through the constant and rich provision of feedback. Such feedback should celebrate achievement as a matter of course but also identify growth areas as a pre-condition for further academic growth. – Written by Mr. Hywel Bennett, Academic Director GoSchool – New Age International School

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