The Hurdles Of Changing The Way We Teach

I’ve been lucky enough to get opportunities to share pockets of my practice with other teachers numerous times. I often wonder how useful it actually is to those in the seats that I present in front of. A couple of weeks ago, I was in one of those seats when a fellow MTBoS friend was presenting at the CEASA Numeracy Forum. Apart from thoroughly enjoying Amie Albrecht‘s keynote, being in the audience allowed me to tune in to an unfiltered stream of teacher comments. With so much positive chatter about Amie’s provocations and hooks for learning maths, there was a surprisingly pessimistic attitude from the teachers in the audience about actually implementing strategies or activities in their own classroom. Teachers were mainly complaining about fitting it into an already packed program, and finding time to do these ‘fun’ activities. I’d like to say, “I get it. We all have no time to actually change how we teach,” but I’m not sure that I actually do get it. I wonder if it is about the time-poor nature of the job, or whether it’s actually something deeper and harder to change. So, here’s what I am guessing are the three big hurdles for teachers. I say hurdles because you need to get over the first one before getting to the next… I think.

Hurdles on the track:

  • Shift in priorities – a change in the desired learning outcomes
  • Shift in student learning experience – a focus on continual construction of new understanding sought after by the learner
  • Shift in culture of learning – students question each other’s thinking, provide reasoning, and share learning experiences

Once these hurdles have been leapt over, I’d be then hoping to hear about the following shifts from the teacher:

Big shifts:

  • Procedural understanding doesn’t precede conceptual understanding
  • Consolidation activities strengthen newly made connections to validate understandings (both procedural and conceptual)
  • New learning addresses productive struggle and the need to learn
  • Speed doesn’t discriminate who is successful in learning
  • A multitude of ways of seeing and understanding is valued and shared
  • Teachers help guide students to understand new concepts through questioning – ask don’t tell model
  • Pedagogy is varied to cater for the learners and curriculum content
  • A mix of resources is used to maintain engagement and provide a range of ways for helping students develop a deep conceptual understanding
  • Fluency is about a deep and flexible understanding not measured by the instancy of recalling mathematical facts

Then, at semester change (if I got any of their students in my own class), I’d be hoping that they resemble the following approach to learning:

Learners…

  • are critical about their own understanding; they seek validation for their conjectures and test the limits of their knowledge
  • look to make connections to prior learning; they learn from pushing their understanding until it fails and needs development
  • won’t just “do”; they want to know how and why something works or doesn’t work
  • are skeptical; they ask questions and seek further information before completely trusting it
  • talk to their peers about their thinking; they share their ideas, understanding, and ways of seeing and knowing

Maybe I’m completely wrong and it is all about time. If it is, then why are teachers attending Professional Development without the intent of developing their profession?

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2 thoughts on “The Hurdles Of Changing The Way We Teach

  1. Great post, John! It seems as if the intrinsic motivation of teachers is the key to effective change (hurdle 1). Now some big questions are:
    A) How can we create atmospheres that might lead to successfully navigating hurdles 1 & 2 for teachers and students (which in turn will make it possible to conquer hurdle 3)?
    B) Are some of the big shifts necessary co-occurrences or prerequisites to leap over some of the hurdles?

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    • Thanks, Jason! I think for A, teachers really need to feel supported to make change – similarly to how teachers support their students. I think we can learn a lot from how our students learn; information overload without the opportunity to reflect and develop their own understanding, which takes into account their prior experiences, probably isn’t best. For B, I’d say they are more co-occurrences rather than pre-requisites, but vary depending on the teacher and their own development (some may be limiting progress, hence the shift could act as an enabler, therefore seeming as though a prerequisite). Sounds very wordy, I apologise about that.

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