Monthly Archives: March 2013

Book: Mao’s Last Dancer

Happy Easter, everyone! 😀

At last, I have time to read and review a ‘fun’ book this week. Here goes…

Mao's Last Dancer
Mao’s Last Dancer

China’s reforms from the perspective of one Shandong family.
528 pages, ★★★★★

I chose this book because I love reading about China’s tumultuous transition from a chaotic, agrarian backwater to the economic powerhouse that it is today. Rather than reading history books, which give you a top-down perspective, novels give you the perspective of one of millions of Chinese families—like Zhang Yimou‘s To Live (film), and Jung Chang‘s Wild Swans (review coming next).

Protagonist and author Li Cunxin was raised in the 1960s in Li Commune in the outskirts of Qingdao. Despite poverty, despite not liking dancing, and despite growing up in a country with a nationalised hatred for all things extravagant and Western—especially ballet, Li Cunxin was selected for world-class ballet training at Madame Mao’s dance school in Beijing. This led to an international ballet career—and the fame, fortune and international travel that follows. All of this was unthinkable for most Chinese at the time.

China was full of contradictions under Mao’s rule (1949—1976). During the Cultural Revolution, officials issued “self-criticism” assignments to ballet students who indulged in such unnecessary extravagances as eating sweets. But why isn’t ballet itself considered extravagant and unnecessary? The “Criticise Confucius” political campaign included arguments such as, “Confucius was a feudalist whose theories described an ideal society for feudal leaders at the expense of the populace”. But during the Cultural Revolution, wasn’t the Communist Party doing exactly the same thing to its own people? Irony was everywhere, and it propelled Li Cunxin to fame.

His first trip to Houston revealed the true extent of the lies he’d been told back in China. Americans were not poor and unhappy; nor did they all carry guns; nor did they “kill coloured people”, as his family and fellow villagers back in China had warned. In America, he discovered the combination of happiness and wealth 1960s China was craving so much—and he instantly fell in love with it. He even got married, albeit hastily, to the first Western girl that he kissed.

Li Cunxin’s journey represents the journey that China took as a nation. From the 1970s onwards, China became increasingly infatuated with the west, started enjoying some political freedom (communes were dissolved), promoted cultural exchange (intermarriage is on the increase), got richer, emigrated (many Chinese with the means to emigrate have already done so) and started sending money back home (Chinese companies are investing in large western companies—sometimes purchasing them outright). It’s not just millions of Chinese who are following in Li Cunxin’s footsteps, but China as a nation-state, too.

Li Cunxin’s autobiography isn’t just about one man’s lucky journey. It instead describes the tumultuous transition to modernity that millions of people—and China itself—took in the last 60 years. Highly recommended for anyone who loves Chinese historyrags-to-riches stories, economic developmentSlumdog Millionaire, or Billy Elliot. 🙂 ★★★★★

Book: STS Education: International Perspectives on Reform

Okay, I acknowledge that most of these teaching books aren’t of any interest to most people. My next book review will be an interesting one—I promise. 🙂

STS Education
Another hard-to-find book

“Please make science education relevant”.
259 pages, ★★★★

STS stands for “Science, Technology & Society”. It’s an international group founded in Oxford in 1990 with the aim of re-thinking how to teach science in today’s schools. All the authors in this book broadly agree that the science taught in schools needs to be more relevant to our daily lives. No more lofty, pointless theory. Many of you will know that I agree with that. 🙂

Instead of just “this is how nuclear reactions happen”, STS aims to add, “here are the safety, environmental and economic implications of nuclear power plants”.

Instead of just “this is how plants photosynthesise”, STS might add, “here are the implications of using biomass as a source of ethanol for cars”.

STS isn’t alone. ChemCom, SEPUP, SATIS, SISCON and SCISP, and—shameless plug—The Triple Helix are all striving towards the same goal.

I’ve summarised the most interesting chapters of STS Education below. Notice that all the authors broadly agree!

In Chapter 1, Joan Solomon argues for moral science education because the next generation will use science to have a huge influence on society. She uses the industrial revolution, the green revolution, energy crises and myxomatosis to illustrate her point (in a revised edition, she might also allude to avian flu, SARS, improvised explosives and food safety scandals). Only “moral science” classes can ensure that the next generation’s use of science is positive.

In Chapter 2, Glen Aikenhead wants to keep science education relevant. According to Aikenhead, science has made three major leaps in history:

  • First, Natural Philosophy emerged based on observations of nature. Bernard Sylvester (12th century); Roger Bacon (13th century); Nicole Oresme (14th century); Leonardo da Vinci (15th century); Nicolaus Copernicus (16th century); Johannes Kepler & Galileo Galilei (17th century) all had a major influence.
  • In 17th century Europe, the counter-reformation led to the institutionalisation of science. Mersenne, Descartes, Bacon, Huygens, Boyle and Hooke all had a major influence.
  • In 19th century Europe, the Industrial Revolution led to the professionalisation of science.
  • In the 20th century, World War II led to the socialisation of science.

Aikenhead’s point (I think) it that science keeps changing, so our education of science should change, too.

In Chapter 3, John Ziman says there are 7 ways to teach science:
(Italicised comments are my own)

  1. Relevance approach—“here’s why we should learn about X”
  2. Vocational approach—“learning about X can help you work at Y”
  3. Transdisciplinerary approach—“X is relevant to your other classes”
  4. Historical approach—“here’s the story of how X was discovered”
  5. Philosophical approach—just don’t go there
  6. Sociological approach—the best approach—”X affects us all”
  7. Problematic approach—”what would happen if X…”

In Chapter 5*, Glen Aikenhead says STS aims to fill a “critical void” in the curriculum with “human compassion”. The actions proposed in this chapter looks like an extra layer to Bloom’s Taxonomy—a seventh, “Moral” tier. After students have understood, applied, evaluated and created things in class, can they make moral decisions based upon the information given? Aikenhead proposes that 10% to 40% of science education should be “moral science” (just once, 80% is suggested).

Aikenhead also says here that STS has four purposes (again, italicised comments are my own):

  • Cognitive—plain old brain training
  • Academic—useful knowledge for life
  • Personal—improve your own life by learning to make informed decisions
  • Social action—improve the lives of others by leading by example

*Chapter 5 was the chapter on our university reading list.

Chapter 11 talks about historiography and the public’s alternative conceptions of science. “No one has explored the views of the public about historicity of science and the relationship between theories that became superseded and those that replace them”. I love that sentence. I’d like to see “historiography of climatology” taught in schools—as well as, “alternative conceptions of science”. Both, though, are touchy subjects!

Chapter 12 is sloppy. The line “…all Africans believe in the existence of the creator—the supreme God” is ignorant, and, ironically, unscientific. (They’d never be allowed to write “all Asians” or “all Europeans”, so why is “all Africans” acceptable?)

Chapter 6 is only relevant to curriculum planners (i.e. governmental organisations). I skipped Chapter 13 on India. Chapter 14’s gender debate would have been interesting in 1990 but is now out-of-date. All other chapters were of little relevance to me.

STS is already an old idea, and some of its ideas have already been implemented in curricula worldwide. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I want to see MTS (for maths), HTS (for history), ATS (for art) taught in our classrooms. If we understand why we’re learning such seemingly irrelevant stuff as circle theory, then we might just pay a bit more attention in class. That can only be a good thing. ★★★★

Book: EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment

EDF4004: Curriculum and Assessment
Custom book compiled from various chapters of other books

Wordy and top-heavy. Time’s better spent reading PEEL, Oosterhof & Marsh.
290 pages, ★★★

Q: Why the strange title?

“EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment” is a custom book that contains all the major readings for the Monash University EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment course as of 2011 (the reading list has since changed, but the general ideas here are still relevant). The publishers have overhauled the formatting to make it consistent, added new page numbers and even a new index for this “custom book”. It’s probably only found in Monash University.

Q: What does “top-heavy” mean?

Good question. In places, this book leaves the classroom and focusses—again—too much on theory. I want practical classroom advice, not classroom theory. I’m a training to be a teacher, but this book seems more tailored either to a philosopher or a Minister of Education. I say “top-heavy” because this book is aimed at those at the top of their profession, not at graduate teachers. I didn’t need to read most of this book.

In this book, you’ll find the following information:

Curriculum Design: This book tells you how to design a curriculum from the top down. Unfortunately, the description is wordy and hard to follow, and our tutorials were much more useful in explaining the curriculum design process than this book. I used this book to make this diagram, but the notes I took in our tutorials were much clearer and more useful.

Maker’s (16-part curriculum design) Model—totally confusing, overly-theoretical re-hash of PEEL practices. Read PEEL instead.

Gardner’s (8) Multiple Intelligences—be sure to cater to all of these skills when designing assessments and assignments:

  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Naturalist
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-Kinaesthetic
  • Music

(7) Aspects of Quality Learning—check that your assignments and assessments contain all these classroom aspects:

  • Processing
  • Planning
  • Linking
  • Reflecting
  • Decision making
  • Risk taking
  • Working collaboratively

Bloom’s (6-tier) Taxonomy—make sure your assignments and assessments satisfy the following modes of thinking:

  • Remember
  • Understand
  • Apply
  • Analyse
  • Evaluate
  • Create

While browsing the web, I found a previous Monash University student’s blog (coincidentally, also from 2011), who put some useful study notes online. Check out her site here. Her diagram (titled Appendix 1) combines Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences nicely.

(5) Orientations of a curriculum—Cultural, Personal (see William Kilpatrick), Vocational, Social (see Harold Rugg) and Economic (see David Snedden).

The literature cited in EDF4004 are in overwhelming agreement that there’s been a recent call for “new basics” that take into account the “multi-literacies” that “transcend social boundaries”. Basically, play to every student’s individual strengths, no matter what those strengths are.

(8) Student Masks (by Keefe & Carrington, 2006) — students disguise problems with strange behaviour. Here’s a translation (left = what you see; right = what’s really going on).

Academic masks

  • Mask of super-competence → student may have reading difficulties
  • Mask of the clown → has ADHD
  • Mask of boredom → struggling with focus and studies
  • Mask of activity (busy doing futile tasks) → struggling to complete the work (stuck)

Self-esteem masks

  • Mask of helplessness → being ostracised
  • Mask of invisibility → low self-esteem
  • Mask of the victim (and bully, too) → talk to student then refer to psychologist
  • Mask of contempt (“school sucks”) → feels rejected by studies, socially or at home

Remember that these ‘masks’ were devised by Keefe & Carrington, 2006.

Page 122 summarises Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design in two concise bullet points! (There’s no need to read that two-star book now):

  • Curriculum Content—same for everyone
  • Curriculum Process—varied for each student (use a mixture of PEEL techniques)

Page 130 tells us that Aboriginals are doing terribly in Australian secondary schools.

Page 164-5 tell us how peer-assessment and self-assessment are great learning tools but teachers are seldom well-trained enough to implement them properly. In peer-assessment and self-assessment, remember to:

  • Promote the value of self-reflection
  • Set targets (or get the students to set themselves targets)
  • Develop explicit criteria (so students can’t cheat when marking)
  • Provide practice (students’ self-assessment ability gets better with time)

Page 179 tells us that parents want honest, individualistic, constructive school reports, and longer, better-organised meetings with teachers at parents evenings.

Mirroring Oosterhof somewhat, page 192 reminds us that there are four types of portfolio assessments:

  • Showcase portfolio (my best work)
  • Evaluation portfolio (all my work, graded)
  • Document portfolio (teacher’s secret record)
  • Process portfolio (student’s own progress reports)

There were only two more surprises in the rest of the book:

(1) Celebrating student achievement can be carried out in the form of brochures, newsletters, in-school displays… and out-of-school displays at (for example) supermarkets and universities. Students displaying their best work in a supermarket (supervised, of course) is a great idea.

(2) ICT can assist student learning. iPads are so ubiquitous now that students would probably rebel if you banned them from schools. Compared to the dazzling, high-resolution graphics on an iPad, a conversation with even the most informative teacher can seem like a bore in comparison. How are we supposed to compete with iPads for a student’s attention? (iPads are marvellous things, but teaching students how to use them specifically for study seems like an arduous task.)

The most useful part of this book was at the end: “how to make a grading rubric”. Thankfully, we’d already done this in yesterday’s tutorial. First column: criteria. Next columns contain high, medium and low ability descriptors for each criterion. Final column is “not shown”. Give each square points (typically high = 3; med = 2; low = 1; none = 0) and total each student’s score. This is great information, but I’d heard it already.

I see a pattern here. Is there anything about teaching that I haven’t already read? Or are all other teaching books just re-hashes of PEELOosterhof and Marsh?

Do I really need to read anything else? ★★★

Infographic: Summary of Curriculum Design Schema

I’m preferring useful, practical advice to pure theory. The most useful part of this table is the right-most column (the white one), which tells you how to design a curriculum. Enlarge it and take a look.

Summary of Curriculum Design Schema
Click to Enlarge (PDF)

Book: Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design

I once went to a Cambridge lecture where an adorable character spoke about the differences between ‘biochemical physics’, ‘physical biochemistry’ and ‘biophysical chemistry’ (or something like that). This book does the same thing—it re-packages existing theories in grandiose nomenclature. The result is confusing and pointless.

Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design
Clash.

Re-hash of everything we’ve learned in teacher training so far.
200 pages, ★★

I’m being overly critical of this book because it’s not on my university reading list.

This book integrates two existing educational models: Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Understanding by Design (UdB). Both are referred to by acronyms throughout.

Basically:

  • DI = foreground, teaching, corollaries, schools, students;
  • UbD = background, curriculum, axioms, content, learning.

(Confused? Me too. If you were to read the endless pages that describe where DI stops and where UbD begins, you’d be even more confused.)

Aside from complicated jargon, this book contains nothing new! The “6 Facets of Understanding” are just a reinvention of Bloom’s taxonomy. The “GRASPS Frame” for creating assessments is just a rehash of PEEL practices that are relevant to testing (get the students involved, get them to own the test, create the test, give them choices, etc.) Everything about DI and UbD was explained clearer and earlier by other people!

This book focusses so much on the uniqueness of DI and UbD that it frequently descends into senselessness. Here’s an excerpt:

Corollaries to Axiom 6

• A routine part of collaboration in academically diverse classrooms should occur between teachers and specialists who have expert knowledge about student needs and instructional approaches most likely to respond to those needs.

Why not just say, “teachers should seek advice from superiors when needed”? Big words don’t make you clever. All this book taught me is that several educational reform movements are all moving in the same direction. That, at least, is worth knowing. ★★

Book: The Content of Science: A Constructivist Approach to its Teaching and Learning

The Content of Science
$195, anyone?

Only selected chapters are relevant to secondary level science.
292 pages, ★★★

We were asked to read chapter 2 as part of our teacher training, but in my view, chapter 2 wasn’t the most useful chapter. (Chapter 2 talked about constructivism and how to overcome alternative conceptions, but honestly, it was a little unclear.)

Chapter 3 was a little better. It said that students need to make connections between:

  • the concepts they learn in different classes; and
  • between the concepts they learn in school and their personal experience.

I particularly liked a phrase in chapter 4 written by Layton (1991). He writes that researchers “need more emphasis on researching deconstruction and reconstruction”. This reinforces the idea that “kids are not empty vessels” succinctly (see TED talk below). I like this quote by Layton so much that I quoted it in a recent assignment.

Chapter 5 details how to design class projects. Author Cliff Malcolm proposes conducting group design projects in the five following steps:

  1. Analyse existing examples and present findings
  2. Choose components that your group wants to include
  3. Design your project
  4. Build your project
  5. Submit project and present your design to the class

The above approach, which is relevant to making 2D and 3D models, is also analogous to the methods of teaching proposed by Posner (1982), Osbourne & Freyburg (1985) and Chiappetta & Koballa, Jr. (2006), which deal with the scientific models in students’ minds. The teaching approach for teaching both tangible and intangible (scientific) models begins with exploring students’ existing conceptions. Discussion and experimentation should then be used to (a) find faults in the existing models, and (b) design an improved, more scientific model, which is shared with the class.

Summary of Constructivist Teaching Methods
Click to download PDF version.

Chapter 6, in my opinion, focuses too much on assessing students quantitatively. While it’s true that grades motivate students to a certain extent, allocating extra teacher-time to improving the accuracy of those grades has negligible effect on student motivation. This book goes much further than Oosterhof’s assessment manual in the range and extent of testing. This book advocates tallying every move of every student: how many times they raise their hands, how many times they daydream or chat; how many intelligent questions they ask their peers. Collecting this immense amount of data would require at least one teaching assistant in each class, and the results may be no more useful than the informal observations that a teacher makes instinctively anyway. Chapter 6 is assessment ad absurdum.

The next few chapters are only relevant to primary schools. Richard Gunstone, however, in the final chapter, describes his “P-O-E” method (predict—observe—explain), which, in my view, should accompany every demonstration done in science class. Over time, P-O-E is also a subtle way of introducing students to aspects of the scientific method. A study by Wittrock & Kelly (1984) showed that “before-during-after” approach (very similar to P-O-E) increased reading comprehension in English classes significantly.

Only half of this book was relevant to me so I give it only three stars. James. ★★★

Infographic: Summary of Constructivist Teaching Methods

I’ve felt off-track recently. There are a lot of things on my mind which really shouldn’t be there, so for the last few days, I’ve done almost no reading. This chart summarises what I learned today.

Summary of Constructivist Teaching Me
Click to download PDF version.

Infographic: Summary of Developmental Theories Relevant to Education v3

Summary of Developmental Theories Relevant to Education v3
Click to download PDF. Version 3 last revised April 2013

Pooled from various internet sources (sorry, I have no time to reference this), here’s a summary of all the theorists I’ve come across in Oosterhof’s textbook, in Marsh’s textbook, and with Freud added in for good measure. Enjoy! 😀

Book: Developing and Using Classroom Assessments

I just put my résumé online. Take a look (there’s a link in the menu bar).

Here’s another education book: a testing bible.

Oosterhof
There’s more science to classroom assessments than students think!

Makes designing professional-looking tests a whole lot easier!
304 pages, ★

Teachers spend 25% of their time on designing, invigilating and marking written assessments. For the other 75% of the time, they’re doing what’s called ‘informal assessment’—observing all the tiny cues in the classroom that they pretend not to notice: the cellphone, the yawn, the shy know-it-all, the one who’s not concentrating, the eager hand-raiser who really loves your class… all these observations end up in a secret notebook (or in the teacher’s head).

Developing and Using Classroom Assessments tells you step-by-step how to design all kinds of classroom assessments. Assessments can be:

  • Formal/informal (informal assessments are daily observations)
  • Diagnostic/Formative/Summative (and preliminary)
  • Internal/External (we will only deal with internal)
  • Curriculum-based/Portfolio-based (students love portfolios: they boost confidence and self-esteem, and allow students to discover their strengths; but portfolios are time-consuming for students to create and for teachers to read)

When designing tests, pay attention to:

  • Purpose: tell the students how you’re going to use the information gained from the test.
  • Specifications: design the test carefully
  • Validity: test everything you taught in the right proportions
  • Consistency: different skills tested together hides a student’s true ability. Give separate grades for each skill used (argument, handwriting, spelling, style).

Score your tests according to:

  • Ability: self vs. best ever self
  • Growth: self vs. previous self
  • Norm: self vs class
  • Criterion: pass/fail grading for each question.

Always put grades into context. “Henry scored 90% in geography” is useless information. Say, “Henry understands our plate tectonics class very well” or “Henry’s score on the plate tectonics test was the second-highest in year 9 in our school”.

Test by:

  • Computer: students prefer this method and get higher scores on computers than on paper. It’s also more convenient for both teachers and students, and closely resembles any job in the ‘real world’.
  • Pen & paper: while some schools are emphasizing pen and paper tasks, the main reason for this was “it will help the students get used to paper examinations”. In my opinion, this is not a good reason.

Never use grades to discipline students.

Always give students feedback and a chance to improve their grade. Usually, they will in the ‘real world’, too.

When analyzing grades, use these statistical methods:

  • Percentiles
  • Quartiles
  • Standard deviations
  • Year-group-equivalent scores (use median of each year-group to make a standard curve, then find the year-group-equivalent of each student, e.g. “Johnny attained year 6.7 level”).

You don’t always need to show these grades to the students. Keep some on paper, and some in your head, and be mindful of how your students will react to a bad grade (will they give up?)

I love the balance of theory, pracrice and examples in this book. Let this book guide you step-by-step to design innovative, varied, valid and reliable tests time after time.

Like Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, this is one of those books I’ll be referring to repeatedly at the start of my teaching career. Buy a copy, and it’ll make designing good-looking tests so much quicker and easier. 

Book: Teaching for Effective Learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures

Teaching for effective learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures
Keep this on your teacher’s desk.

Directory of best teaching methods. A logical, concise teacher’s bible.
250 pages,
★★★★★

The Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL) was founded in 1985 by a group of teachers and academics who shared concerns about the prevalence of passive, unreflective, dependent student learning, even in apparently successful lessons. They set out to research classroom approaches that would stimulate and support student learning that was more informed, purposeful, intellectually active, independent and metacognitive. The project was unfunded and not a result of any system or institution-level initiative. PEEL teachers agree to meet on a regular basis, in their own time, to share and analyse experiences, ideas and new practices.

PEEL has evolved into a global education reform movement with supporters in most developed countries. Its creed, pooled from teachers (not theorists or politicians), has been expanded into an abundance of numbered lists: “the 6 PEEL goals”, “the 10 journeys of change” and “the 12 PEEL teaching practices”.

Fortunately, their main text, Teaching for Effective Learning, is still a practical teaching guide with maximal classroom significance. I’ve already used many of the methods in this book in my own classes, and decided to give my own views here on how effective they all are.

From my 3 years’ teaching experience, here’s my list of favourites (with star ratings)…

A1: Concept mapping (basically character mapping). I love this method and use it myself. Interestingly, PEEL tells you to extend it by including characters, themes and objects in the map (which would be very complicated). ★★★★★

A2: Concept grids (basically tables). Seldom applicable, but useful when they are. ★★★★

A3: What’s my rule? This works better the other way around. Put two headings no the board and ask for differences and similarities from the class to stimulate discussion. Also a form of diagnostic (preliminary) testing. ★★★★

A7, A8, A9 and A10 (and to some extent A26) are ‘translation’ activities, in which your subject of instruction (e.g. Chemistry) is translated into another (English, Drama, Art and Media, respectively). “Write a story about an apple being digested…/ Make a poster that advertises a plant of your choice”. These are time-consuming because students generally aren’t used to linking subjects together, but are fun and students learn a lot from sharing their work in front of the whole class. ★★★★★

A12: Brainstorming. Small groups (individuals or pairs) results in greater participation per student. Ask open questions, let students brainstorm the answers. ★★★★★

A16: Cloze exercises. Choose a new text and use software to automatically replace every (usually 7th) word with a blank space. Ask the students to fill in the blanks. Research shows that cloze exercises are a reliable (formative) test for reading comprehension level. ★★★★

A18 and A29 combine to form a “Reading Process”, or a form of active reading. Highlighting characters, underlining new words, and summarizing each paragraph are standard practices for improving reading comprehension. (They are scaffold techniques, which can be mostly abandoned later, or evolved into more natural forms of note taking). ★★★★★ (as a “Reading Process”)

A25: Silent class. Do this sometimes! Tell the students they’re going to spend the entire class reading in silence. When you read attentively and visibly and silently, making notes, the students will start to imitate you. You can’t do this often, but done occasionally, it improves discipline and independent study habits. ★★★★★

A34: Whole-class simulations. Works well for enacting historical events, which are relevant in almost all subjects. Memorable, but can’t be done too often. Requires planning. ★★★★★

B1: Predict-Observe-Explain. Central to science education. ★★★★★

B3 and B7 are types of assisted discussions. This should be standard practice in all classes where group discussion is allowed. Always facilitate and mediate students’ discussions by walking around the room and talking to all the groups. Scope for group-work is limited in Chemistry, though. Pairs work best. ★★★★★

B8: Probe prior views. Diagnostic testing (a.k.a. preliminary testing) should always be done before a unit is taught. Use A3, A12 or simple question-and-answer as a whole class to probe prior views. ★★★★

B19: Complete statements from a stem. “A paragraph is…” makes both a good start-of-class quiz, and a good summative testing technique. ★★★★★

B28: Buzan® mind mapping should be compulsory education. ★★★★★

I excluded three types of PEEL techniques:

First, I’m not a fan of gimmicks. The ‘Y-chart’, the ‘thought balloon’, and the ‘postbox’ method (a bizarre secret-ballot-brainstorm combination) were among the ‘gimmicks’ that I omitted from the list.

Second, I’m also not a fan of non-educational classroom games. “the 5/3 method”, “brainstorm bingo” and “circuses” might make kids happy but won’t teach them enough to justify the commotion.

Finally, some quality PEEL methods were only suitable for primary schools. ‘Mingle/match/mate”, “guess the picture”, A19 and A20 were some of those.

The ones in this list are the best of the rest—the ones I’ll use as a secondary school chemistry teacher.

This book is relevant for every teacher: primary and secondary, sciences and arts, both high and low ability streams. I’ll be referring to this bible when planning my own lessons as a constant reminder to diversify my teaching style and keep my classes interesting. ★★★★★

Book: Ideology and Curriculum

Cambridge, according to Rajesh Koothrappali, is, “wonderful, not only because it’s a good school but [also] because it totally looks like Hogwarts”. How apt.

9780415949125

Theoretical Marxist nonsense. Irrelevant to schools.
264 pages, 

Admittedly, I learned little from this bland, so-called ‘Marxist’ book on education reform. If I could summarise its message in one sentence, though, I’d write:

“School organisers impose curricula on the lower classes to spread their elitist idea of ‘culture’ for self-preservation and thus self-benefit.”

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I overlooked something important, but that’s the #1 message I’m taking home from this book.

The ‘nonsense’ here applies more to ‘theoretical’ than to ‘Marxist’. I’m a teacher, not a philosopher, so a purely theoretical approach to education reform with no recommendations for what I should do in my school feels completely irrelevant to me. Rallying the masses into a revolutionary frenzy—a key tenet of Marxism—is something this tedious book completely fails to do. Read something else. 

Book: Geisha of Gion

Okay, I’m not just reading education books. Geisha of Gion has been sitting on my desk for a week or more, begging to be read. Yesterday, I finally read it.

Geisha of Gion
Written by the real-life geisha that supposedly inspired the protagonist of the same name in Memoirs of a Geisha. This book is also called, “Geisha, a Life”.

More of a ‘parallel alternative’ than a ‘fierce rebuttal’ to Memoirs.
352 pages, ★★★★

I found this book on Wikipedia while reading about Memoirs of a Geisha. Apparently, according to Wikipedia:

After the Japanese edition of the novel was published, Arthur Golden was sued for breach of contract and defamation of character by Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha he had interviewed for background information while writing the novel. The plaintiff asserted that Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity if she told him about her life as a geisha, due to the traditional code of silence about their clients. However, Golden listed Iwasaki as a source in his acknowledgments for the novel, causing her to face a serious backlash, to the point of death threats.[1] In his behalf, Arthur Golden countered that he had tapes of his conversations with Iwasaki.[2] Eventually, in 2003, Golden’s publisher settled with Iwasaki out of court for an undisclosed sum of money.

Iwasaki later went on to write her own autobiography, which shows a very different picture of twentieth-century geisha life than the one shown in Golden’s novel. The book was published as Geisha, a Life[3] in the U.S. and Geisha of Gion in the U.K.

Especially considering the real-life death threats involved, I expected Geisha of Gion to be a feisty, chapter-by-chapter rebuttal to Memoirs of a Geisha (rather like Three Cups of Tea and its rebuttal, Three Cups of Deceit). But it’s not like that at all—there are absolutely zero references to the original book. Instead, it’s a flattering, alternative narrative written with geisha grace. The tone, however, an a few important details have been radically altered.

The main difference between Geisha of Gion and Memoirs of a Geisha is that the former portrays a much more positive light on geisha industry. The author claims that she never had sex as a geisha and that mizuage is not a “ritual deflowering” but merely a “change of hair-style”. She emphasises that the okiya (geisha-house) was almost constantly on the verge of bankruptcy (which destroys any claims that the okiya was making a mint through exploitation).

Mineko describes geishas as high-status entertainers:

We are de facto diplomats who have to be able to communicate with anyone. But this doesn’t mean we are doormats. We are expected to be sharp-witted and insightful. Over time, I learned to express my thoughts and opinions without causing offence to others.

That last sentence is particularly important. In stark contrast to the slightly weak, victimised protagonist in Memoirs of a Geisha, Mineko demonstrates her strength in this book by including stories of how she offended both Prince Charles and the Queen—on separate occasions!

This book’s abnormally high death rate worries me. It’s set mostly in 1970s Japan, renowned for its longevity, but people die at very young ages throughout. Disease is also more common than it should be—is there something dangerous about geisha-hood that this book isn’t telling us?

The truth, not that it matters at all, probably lies somewhere between these two books. I have no idea where; I also don’t care. Just enjoy reading them! ★★★★

 

Book: Becoming a Teacher: Knowledge, Skills and Issues

My teacher training classes begin at 10 am this morning, so I spent the weekend reading the first book on the reading list: Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) by Colin Marsh.

Becoming a Teacher: Knowledge, Skills and Issues
One of the key texts in my teacher training

Stylistically, it’s like drinking honey: viscous and sweet. An excellent, comprehensive starting point for all new teachers.
497 pages, ★★★★★

Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) covers every aspect of education imaginable. There’s half a page on the ideal temperature of the classroom, and 1½ pages on the ideal colour for the classroom walls. There’s several pages on how the ambience of the classroom doesn’t influence the students’ grades, but does influence the students’ behaviour and happiness, to all of which, scientific studies are cited. Abundant references attribute published, peer-reviewed papers to every facet of classroom management, including teaching styles, curriculum content, examination methods, and modes of school governance. Not one aspect of education is left to opinion. The whole book is written in lucid prose with no interrupting fact-boxes or other distractions—tables and figures are inset, though, where they’re necessary.

Two facts stand out. First, the 2 × 10 strategy (Smith & Lambert, 2008), in which teachers engage problem students in a 2-minute conversation for 10 consecutive school days, has been proven an effective way to improve students’ wellbeing (and their manners in class). Second, you can use a the results of an innocuous quiz to create a sociogram (which is basically a character map), to create visualise friendship networks in the classroom. The resulting data can be used to foster social cohesion, improve group work, assist seating arrangements, and even break up gangs.

I was most surprised to learn how child psychology underpins basically everything that teachers do:

  • Kohlberg’s 3 stages of moral development
  • Erikson’s 5+3 childhood stages
  • Vygosky’s 4 stages of the development of thought
  • Piaget’s 4 stages of growth, and 2 stages of morality
  • Borich & Tombari’s 2 types of student motivation
  • Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • …and, of course, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Tests, curricula and teaching styles are engineered to cater to every stage that your students might be in. Teaching is clearly a science—yet I used to think it was an art!

I made seven pages of notes while reading this book (I usually make one or two) so there’s a lot to take in: don’t talk too much… you don’t need to shout… give students 5 seconds to answer questions… there are 3 types of test… be fair to all students… don’t just call on boys to answer questions… there’s much more. My internship in April will help me put this wealth of theory into practice.

Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) is an excellent starting point for teachers-in-training. I loved reading this book. ★★★★★