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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

How Things Have Changed

Firstly, I must say that my comments below are not a criticism of teachers, who work very hard against all the odds, but of education systems that have 'lost their way'.  I am speaking only of chemistry (as that is my subject) but I am sure most of what I say will apply to other subjects.

We must start with what we are trying to achieve.  We are trying to produce quality chemists who are independent learners.
We must now look at ways of achieving this goal.  A prerequisite is having a graduate chemist with sound subject knowledge, which is in depth, in front of the students.  This was the case when I started teaching in 1970 but sadly, is no longer so.
I should like to mention two points here.
1) As chemistry now has to be studied by all students as part of the National Curriculum, the difficulty of
    content has had to be reduced.  Nowadays more topics are studied but in far lesser depth.  It is the
    depth that aids to understanding.
2) As more students are now studying chemistry, more teachers are needed to deliver this chemistry
    teaching.  However, again no fault of their own, many asked to teach chemistry have insufficient 
    subject knowledge to meet our prerequisite above.

I believe only the chemistry specialist has the 'depth of knowledge' to enthuse the students, which in turn leads to an increased uptake in the subject.  

When I was looking for teaching posts in chemistry in the early 70s, there were up to 90 graduate chemists applying for each post. 
Students from the start of secondary school age were taught chemistry by a chemistry graduate.  I   remember teaching atomic structure to 1st year (now year 7) students.

If we believe the news, only about 25% of secondary schools have a graduate chemist.  Hence the decline in chemists coming through to universities.  Check the article here.

I began by saying my criticism was of the education systems.  Had 'the decision makers' looked at what they should have been trying to achieve, ie. quality chemists who are independent learners, they would never have come up with the systems (which have led to a decrease in chemists and university chemistry departments closing down) they have.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

What really makes a difference to students' learning?


What really makes a difference to students' learning?

Firstly a few thoughts.

I have been at the chalk-face of teaching and more importantly, learning, for the past 41 years.
A prerequisite to good teaching is a command of subject knowledge. It is often said that 'it is no use having the subject knowledge if the skill to explain it is lacking'. I go one stage further: it is no use being able to explain the knowledge if the audience is unresponsive. Relationships underpin the best teaching and learning. The audience must want to be there and enjoy the experience. Learning takes place in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

I feel today's instructions/standards focus too much on quantifiable 'tick boxes' rather than on unquantifiable qualities such as relationships. In my 41 years in the classroom I have seen the criteria for an outstanding lesson vary so many times, each time incorporating more facets. Am I being too simplistic in saying that what matters is 'what the students know/understand on leaving the lesson minus what they knew/understood before the lesson?

Conventionally, students do most of their work in the evenings and weekends. This is when they need help from their teachers and just the times when their teachers are not there to help them.
Since the advent of the internet I have always encouraged my sixth form students to email me at these 'out of school ' times when they need help. The benefits of this need not be stated here as the comments in my guestbook 'say it all'. In the present climate, however, such communication with students is banned by most schools for obvious reasons - such a waste of learning potential.

On the subject of' 'Homework' please read my 'Homework - Education's Biggest Scam'.

I hope I have prompted some fruitful discussions and hopefully caused some to reconsider their views on teaching and learning.

Smile, Live Longer and Make Someone's Day

Jim