Tag Archives: teacher training

Book: Nelson Chemistry VCE Units 1 & 2

Nelson Chemistry VCE Units 1 & 2

Colourful VCE Chemistry textbook especially good for visual learners
492 pages, ★★★★★

I care a great deal about colour and design. My revision notes always have a colour-scheme that makes sense to me, and I draw colour-coded character maps of the novels that I read (see examples in the “Popular Today” section on the right!). Information makes so much more sense to me in visual form. You can see some of those visualisations on the infographics section of by blog.

That’s one of the reasons I loved this VCE Chemistry textbook. While it doesn’t say so explicitly, it’s noticeably designed for visual learners such as myself.

First, I love the varied yet consistent use of fonts. The main text is set in Garamond on a white background, which makes it easy on the eyes when reading. Titles, tables and questions are set in a tall, rare, old-fashioned sans-serif font on a colourful background, which gives this book its unmistakably unique appearance. Annotations and extra information is set in a neutral sans-serif font (similar to Helvetica) off to the side, usually in colour, and balances the old-fashioned feel of the other two fonts beautifully. The whole book is visually pleasing, which makes me want to spend longer looking at the pages!

I also love the visual summaries at the end of each chapter. (This is where Heinemann—another VCE Chemistry textbook—falls down.) In particular, the visual summary on page 156 explains the properties of metallic bonding clearly and beautifully in one diagram. The diagram made a relatively complicated topic very simple to understand.

Nelson VCE Chemistry 1 & 2 page 156

I hope textbooks become more and more visual. Maybe with the introduction of the iPad in schools, colourful diagrams and interactive animations will become more common in the classroom. I hope so.

I’m also not alone here. Many students I’ve taught in schools are actually averse to reading the main text in a textbook. They don’t even notice the Garamond—they only see the titles and diagrams. While we still need to focus heavily on improving literacy on the one hand, we also need to acknowledge this trend towards more visual ways of presenting information on the other.

As a teacher, I advocate more ‘translation’ activities as discussed on PEELweb.org and as is routinely done with ESL students in IELTS: set students the tasks of translating diagrams into prose and vice-versa. We need to incorporate visual learners in our curricula, for which, this textbook is an excellent starting point. ★★★★★

Book: The Skilful Teacher

The Skilful Teacher: On technique, trust and responsiveness in the classroom

Expert, practical teaching advice.
279 pages, ★★★★

One of my lecturers at Monash University confessed to having an “academic crush” on this author when she started her teaching career. I can see why: Brookfield’s advice is useful, comprehensive and easy to read. It’s neither overly theoretical, nor weighed down by excessive branding (like the UbD and Whole Brain Teaching initiatives). I see this book by Stephen Brookfield as a one-man supplement to the PEEL teaching handbooks.

I’ve summarised some of the book’s highlights below.

First, bad classes are not your fault. Don’t take bad classes to heart.

Second, over-intervention and over-encouragement can cause negative effects: anxiety, patronisation, distrust and dependence. This begs the question: how should teachers occupy themselves when they’re at the sidelines in the classroom?

Third, I love this passage on page 90. Take a look at the images below.

photo 1 photo 2

Fourth, the book makes “critical incident questionnaire” (CIQ) a key selling point. The letters ‘CIQ’ are present on almost every double-page. CIQ forms train students to become reflective learners and provide teachers with up-to-date feedback about which ideas/concepts were taught clearly and which ideas/concepts were not. The author is a major supporter of quick CIQ forms in all classes.

Fifth, write helpful comments, whether they’re critical or supportive. Written comments should be clear, immediate, regular, accessible, individualised, affirming, future-oriented, justifiable and educative.

Sixth, don’t succumb to “conversional obsession” (the act of trying to convert impossibly stubborn students).

Seventh, manage your email trail. Which conversations might require a written record? Which conversations are best kept unwritten?

Finally, he ends with a joke. The last of 15 pieces of advice in the final chapter is written as follows: “Maxim 15: Don’t Trust What You’ve Just Read”.

Of course, everyone’s reading will be different. You’ll notice ideas in this book that I overlooked. I strongly recommend this book for any professional teacher. This book isn’t wholly relevant, but there’s a lot of relevance in this book. ★★★★

Book: Mindful Learning

Mindful Learning by David B. Strahan

Obvious, practical advice.
212 pages, ★★★★

Mindful Learning is exactly what you’d expect from looking at its title. It combines the results of four years’ collaborative research by teachers and students into how best to engage students in the learning process at school. Most of the book’s solutions are either well-established theories or are common sense. I’ve summarised four of my favourite snippets below.

First, most interesting was the “learning and face” section. Peer pressure and teacher pressure are often contradictory. Some students also feel pressured into “acting Black” or “acting Latino”, which often contradicts the wishes of their parents and teachers. Students hold the misconception that “being smart” is a “gift from birth”, and isn’t the result of tenacious practice. School students want success to be seen as effortless (“I didn’t practice for this test at all”), and failures to be seen either as inadvertent or someone else’s fault (“I forgot my homework/sports kit”).

Second, all our actions are efforts to fulfil five basic needs: security, belonging, power, freedom and fun. While this theory is by no means perfect, it’s a simple way for some students to develop more empathy. This theory comes from Glasser (1993).

Third, teaching and learning should be integrated with life; i.e. school curricula should be relevant! This is common sense, but is seldom carried out.

Finally, in a verbatim classroom transcript on page 29, a teacher asks a class how to calculate the volume of a fish. I tried it out with great success—it’s the best question I’ve ever set in a maths class. More on this later.

This book is more of a blend (like PEEL) than a brand (like UbD). It’s a collection of common sense teaching practices, and for that reason, I give it a positive review. I recommend this as a light, supplementary reading for existing professional teachers. ★★★★

Book: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Akin to a fad diet… proceed with caution!
279 pages, ★★

Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) is a happy, militaristic style of teaching that claims to grip all your students’ attention all the time. Here’s a really cute kindergarten class using WBT successfully.

This free book introduces the basics of WBT, which can be summarised in 7 “Big Rules” (all 7 of these were in the video).

  1. Class-Yes: when the teacher says, “Class”, the students respond, “Yes”;
  2. Teach-Okay: when the teacher says, “Teach”, the students respond, “Okay”, and proceed to teach each other in pairs;
  3. 5 Classroom Rules: my favourite rule is #5: “Keep your dear teacher happy”;
  4. Scoreboard: ‘Smilies’ (+1) and ‘Frownies’ (-1)  are awarded at the teacher’s discretion and recorded on the whiteboard. Net scores translate into minutes of recess, or minutes of music, at the end of each class. (I am highly reluctant to use this.)
  5. Hands & Eyes: students respond, “Hands & Eyes” and listen attentively to an important point;
  6. Switch: Used in combination with “Teach-Okay”, students will change their pair-partners upon this command;
  7. Mirror: mimic the teacher’s actions and words exactly.

Personally, I would only be comfortable using the first three of these rules in my classes.

Like me, you probably found the first video very cute. Secondary-school teachers will be thrilled to know that it’s possible to train older students in this way, too—although I don’t recommend it.

While I appreciate some of the basic ideas (such as “Class-Yes” and “Teach-Okay”), I found more and more “gimmicks” as I read on. By the middle of this book, WBT had become over-complicated and patronising. For example:

  • Students are given stars and colours, just like on eBay;
  • Students are given coloured cards with different meanings in class;
  • Scoreboards become increasingly complex to the point of absurdity.

WBT used to be called “Power Teaching” until a few years ago. The rebranding included questionable links to neuroscience. This book and its associated materials are littered with pictures of brains and tenuous talk of “mirror neurons”. This probably boosts the scheme’s popularity among laypeople, but repels the scientifically-literate with disgust.

I have three main problems with WBT. First, the references to neuroscience are almost all bunk. Second, the branding is too strong for my liking. If I were to teach like this, I’d no longer be Mr. Kennedy; I’d become a mass-produced WBT teacher. Teachers are not machines—they cannot be copied and replicated to the letter—and no teacher should try to adopt all the techniques of another person. (Any classroom successes would be accredited to the “miraculous” WBT program, while any failures would be attributed to myself.) Third, if I were to follow WBT to the letter, including all these ridiculous rules, I think my class of secondary students would grow weary and give up completely in my class. Coloured cards and eBay stars patronise adolescents, whose main objective is to appear as adult as possible. Students need to feel respected and cared for—and I think that telling secondary-level kids that “you’re a green star level 6 on the third scoreboard now—give me a ‘yaaaay!'”would turn them away.

I’m critical of WBT because I’m a secondary school teacher. It might work well in primary schools, but I’ll likely never get a chance to try it out. I will, however, steal one or two ideas from this book for secondary level if I need to—notably peer-teaching, micro-lecturing and ways of grabbing the class’ attention.

Even though I’ll probably never use WBT, this book was worth reading. It taught me three things:

  1. Classrooms are diverse.
  2. Steal good ideas from lots of people but never take too many ideas from one person (such as the inventor of WBT).
  3. Be your own brand. Don’t copy someone else’s techniques wholeheartedly—it won’t work because you have a different personality, and are teaching different students in a different social setting. What works for them might not work for you—innovate by finding your own way. Copy ideas but not whole personalities. Ultimately, be yourself.

★★

Essay: Student alternative conceptions in secondary level plant science

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to put this online. Here’s the first essay I wrote during teacher training. Monash University was kind enough to award it the top grade 🙂  Continue reading Essay: Student alternative conceptions in secondary level plant science

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.

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: 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. ★★★★★

Book: Over-schooled but Under-educated

Unlike the misleadingly distressed title font, this book isn’t rebellious at all.

Strangely, this book is a moderately flattering history of schools.
310 pages, ★★★

Over-schooled but Under-educated isn’t so much a critique, or even a blueprint, as a history of schooling. It reads like a selection of meandering essays about when schools were built, by whom, and for what purpose—basically, by churches in the 19th century to handle the delinquent poor; and later by the new, self-made middle-class as an attempt to push their children out of skilled labour and into the aristocracy. Over-schooled but Under-educated thus neglects its “schools need reform” thesis for six chapters! In the introduction, the author even writes, “you can skim-read chapters 5 and 6 to read chapter 7 properly, which is the crux of my argument”.

This book’s points are largely obvious. Schools need reform; teachers should let students learn by themselves; standardised tests set precedents more than they measure a student’s existing ability; and the family environment (that’s Pierre Bourdieu’s “Social Capital”) accounts for a greater proportion of a child’s education than does the experience of that child’s teacher. As a teacher, I feel like I knew all this already.

I was expecting something revolutionary from this book. The distressed title font emanates undertones of strength, grunge and rebellion, but none of this was to be found. Instead, it’s written like a collection social sciences essays, and I was thus disappointed.

That said, Over-schooled but Under-educated was worth reading. The most constructive part was the chapter on Finland’s model of education, from which all Western countries, supposedly, can learn.

My own teacher training will take precedent over any other books that I read on education. At this stage, I can agree with the role of a teacher being a “guide on the side”, not a “sage on the stage”, but when my Diploma of Education starts in February, even this view will be up for debate. ★★★