Category Archives: Practice of Teaching

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

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

Classroom Layout Matters

How to set up the classroom is one of the many decisions a teacher needs to take at least once a year. An overarching goal is to create in the classroom a space that is welcoming, safe, inclusive and educational for the people who will work together there throughout the school year.

Although different classroom configurations suit different activities (individual work, interactive work, pair-work and group work, for example), different priorities (maximising time spent on task, holding frequent whole-class discussions, minimising disruptive behaviour, promoting inclusion for example), and different curriculum subjects, in most classrooms it would be impractical and time-wasting to change the layout on an ongoing basis. Instead most teachers try to use one predominant layout with occasional changes for particular activities.

My ideal classroom layout is in a U-shape. Every child can see one another’s face which is good for class discussions. I can see every child and move around to check their work quickly if necessary. I can also move quickly towards any area where disruption is brewing and try and pre-empt it before time is wasted. The space in the centre of the U can be used if I want the children to sit down away from their seats to listen to me telling a story, for example. It’s relatively easy for children to work in groups of 2-3 in this configuration but not so good for having them work in larger groups.

Unfortunately, most classrooms are too small to accommodate such a layout. The desks may be too big or there may be too many children in the room. So alternative options need to be explored. Continue reading

Expertise in Plumbing and in Teaching

Last weekend I sent the following text message to a plumber who has done work for me in the past.

“Am having a spot of bother with the oil boiler today. It starts off and continues as if about to ignite but then does not ignite. By any chance could you come around tomorrow to take a look at it?”

Later in the day the plumber phoned me and asked me if I was near the boiler. I was. “Have you a flat screwdriver?” I had. “Get a damp cloth.” And he proceeded to tell me what to do. It took me less than five minutes to solve the problem following his directons.

He could as easily have called out and charged me a callout fee to fix the boiler and I’d have been no wiser. Even if he would have ethical concerns about doing so, he may have been able to justify to himself the need for a callout on the grounds that I might make things worse with the boiler, his business was quiet, he was in the area anyway or whatever.

But he decided not to make an unnecessary journey himself and decided not to put any extra expense on me. Immediately he became more trustworthy to me; I’m more likely to trust his advice on other plumbing matters in the future. Continue reading

A New School Year, a Fresh Start for Children

One year ago few people thought Leicester City Football Club would become Premier League Champions.

This time last year who thought that Donald Trump would become the Republican Candidate for this year’s U.S. Presidential election?

But someone believed they could do what seemed impossible and both Leicester and Trump defied most people’s expectations.

How we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by others influence what we believe we can do.

As the new school year begins, children enter classrooms with perceptions of themselves and perceptions of their classmates. They may perceive themselves and their classmates to be serious or mischievous, friendly or cheeky, helpful or shy in school.

They may perceive themselves and others to be clever or average, weak or stupid, capable or smart in some or all school subjects. Continue reading

If Schools Were More Like Coderdojos, How Would Teaching Change?

In a previous post I wrote about features of coderdojos that could be emulated in schools. Among the features I identified were:

1. Learning comes about through solving specific problems
2. Learners choose the problems and tasks that they work on
3. Mentors are experts in the content to be learned but not necessarily in pedagogy
4. Expertise is spread among mentors rather than concentrated in any one individual
5. Learners are organised by their interests and not by their age
6. Learners choose to work alone or in groups
7. Learners can actively teach others
8. The atmosphere is informal

If such features were applied in many schools, the work of teaching would change and particular aspects of teachers’ work would require more emphasis. I identify some of those aspects in this post. Continue reading

10 Questions about influences on Irish Education

Last week The Irish Times claimed to be “the first to identify and rank the main movers in Irish education” in its list of the fifty most influential people in education. This is indeed an interesting task to take on because if we know who shapes education, we know who influences the next generation of Irish citizens and who thereby leaves a substantial legacy behind them. Continue reading

Differentiating instruction in mathematics class (3)

In the last two posts I made suggestions for differentiating instruction in maths class. In this final post for now on the topic of differentiation, I present a third approach. Unlike the other two, which were whole-class suggestions for differentiating instruction, this one requires particular knowledge of individual students and obstacles and strengths to learning that they possess. Continue reading

Differentiating instruction in mathematics class (2)

In the last blog entry I described some concrete strategies for differentiating instruction in mathematics class. That entry described how a teacher can differentiate instruction when teaching the whole class, by placing responsibility on the whole class to work collaboratively to share mathematical ideas and strategies.

A second way to promote differentiation in the maths classroom is through the use of suitable maths problems. Continue reading

Differentiating instruction in mathematics class (1)

When student teachers start teaching mathematics, they find out quickly that children learn differently and at different rates. Consequently, after a period or two of school placement, student teachers appreciate the need to differentiate their instruction for the diverse learners in their classes. But knowing that differentiation in instruction is necessary is different to being able to teach in a way that acknowledges the different rates and ways in which learners learn. “We need to see concrete examples of differentiation” they say.

There are many ways of differentiating and in the next few blog entries I am going to describe some that I use. Continue reading