Monthly Archives: September 2016

Teaching Number Facts and Tables

Every child leaving primary school needs to know their number facts at least up to 10 + 10, 20 – 10, 10 x 10, and 100 ÷ 10. This is often done by asking children to learn off tables such as
7 + 0 = 7
7 + 1 = 8
7 + 2 = 9
7 + 3 = 10
7 + 4 = 11 and so on.

Learning off number facts in such tables works well for some children, but not for all. Stanislas Dehaene, author of The Number sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics compares excerpts from addition and multiplication tables to the following groups of sentences to show how similar some of the tables can sound and how difficult they can be to learn off.

“Charlie David lives on George Avenue
Charlie George lives on Albert Zoe Avenue
George Ernie lives on Albert Bruno Avenue”
“Charlie David works on Albert Bruno Avenue
Charlie George works on Bruno Albert Avenue
George Ernie works on Charlie Ernie Avenue.” Continue reading

Where Do Teachers Learn about Teaching?

Teaching differs from other jobs. What other career have you observed day-in-day-out for 13 or more years before you embark on it? Most of us are lucky enough to observe only hours of the work of a doctor, a dentist or a mechanic. Unless we have a family member in the job, we’ve probably only seen a couple of days or weeks of the work of a nurse, a shopkeeper or a hairdresser. But most of us have observed teaching for several hours daily for years on end.

Because we’re so familiar with teaching, it looks easy. It doesn’t have the mystique or glamour of jobs such as software designer, barrister, entrepreneur, newspaper editor, engineer or chef. But in looking easy, teaching is deceptive. It is a complex and difficult job to execute well. As David Labraee says, in learning to teach we have to contend with learning the complexity of something that looks easy. We also have to be careful about who we learn from because many people who express opinions on teaching know little about the work. Continue reading

Class Size and Visions of Teaching

Patients waiting on hospital trolleys. Long waiting lists for social and affordable housing. Services and systems often struggle to match resources with what people need.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has justifiably been a consistent advocate for smaller class sizes in primary schools for many years. So strong and focused have they been in their advocacy that one former ministerial advisor describes them as “the best lobbyists in the business.” Continue reading

In Praise of Praise in Teaching

A few words of targeted praise can encourage children to keep going when they’re struggling to achieve or they feel like giving up.

Limitations of Praise in Teaching

Many teachers tend to praise children a lot. Expressions like “well done,” “nice work,” or “good girl/boy” fall easily from our lips when a child gives a right answer, completes a task well, or contributes a constructive comment.

In time some children may come to rely on the comments for affirmation or to know they have done something well, even if they’re not sure what it is. The comments promote reliance on the teacher rather than self-reliance. Children may be disappointed with a subsequent teacher or in life more generally if every effort they make is not responded to positively. Continue reading

Sunday Interview Highlight – Conor Galvin

Dr. Conor Galvin is an assistant professor in the School of Education in University College Dublin with vast experience of technology in education.  I met up with him at the 2016 annual conference of the Computers in Education Society of Ireland. I asked him if he saw any downside to the increasing use of technology in education or in society more generally. Continue reading

Teacher Film Review – Être et Avoir

In a recent blog post I mentioned films about teachers and specifically Être et Avoir. For today’s blog entry, I am posting a review of that film.

Être et Avoir
(France, 2002; English subtitles)
Directed by Nicolas Philibert

This documentary follows a teacher and the children he teaches in a single classroom from the depths of winter until the end of a school year. Set in a farming community, we see the changing seasons through the work on the farm. Coming near retirement, the teacher is wise if not dynamic. What we see of his teaching is authoritative – several dictations for the older children; the younger children work on making their letters and on learning to read and form sentences with new words. Continue reading

Learning can be fun without being sugar-coated

Making learning fun is often associated with playing educational games or having children compete with one another for prizes. Such fun can thrill without nourishing.

But learning is also fun when children are given time and space to think, when they can express their ideas and have them respected, and when their contributions – even their mistakes – are used to advance their own learning and the learning of others.

The intrinsic motivation of the second type of fun contributes to a love of learning that may endure.

Unhappy in Teaching

Most of us have bad days at work now and then: days when we’re feeling grumpy, days we’re under pressure because of an enormous workload, or days when nothing seems to go right.

But on occasion unhappiness at work may last for longer than a day. Many reasons or a combination of reasons may contribute to a sense of unhappiness in teaching. One possible cause may be disruptive behaviour by children in the class. Or we may have taken on too much work, in school or outside school, in a given year. We may perceive that we’re no good at teaching. We may have been unsuccessful in applying for a permanent job or for promotion. We may be experiencing tension with one or more colleagues. We may dislike the work of teaching, see it as lacking challenge or being monotonous, and see no way out. The conditions under which we work may have deteriorated. Or our professional unhappiness may have spilt over from personal unhappiness due to illness, relationship difficulties, financial problems, bereavement and so on. Continue reading

A Personal Story about Learning Swimming

I had a new swimming teacher last night. For several months now I’ve been attending weekly swimming lessons for improvers and I’m making slow progress. Still, I go every week because after the half-hour lesson I always feel like I’ve had a good workout.

Although it’s a group lesson, last term only one other person was in my class and this term I’m on my own. So I really get individual tuition. Most weeks the format is the same.

The teacher asks me to begin with the back crawl. This is of little interest to me because I want to improve my front crawl and I can already do the inverted breast stroke. Anyway I go along with working on the back crawl in the hope that it will eventually improve my front crawl. Each week the teacher tells me that I need to “point my toes” more. I point them as much as I can. She tells me to do it more. I try and point them even more. And the cycle continues. Continue reading