Tag Archives: teaching

#19: Practice Teaching Questions

Next week, I will begin my student teaching at a high school, a time when students take on a multiplicity of roles and may have to choose which ones to adapt and to reject. The numerous variables interacting inside a classroom can make the typical layman – who is often never inside a classroom – wonder: How can learning take place in such a place? Dealing with 30+ people at once and with a teacher who also serves as an adjudicator (not yet a peer) can seem daunting, but not for me.

Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated in how people’s minds tick ever since I graduated, and what better way to explore that than inside a classroom where everything is within plain view of anyone else?

I want to infuse the habit of questioning onto my students; the last thing I want for them is for someone else to take the rudder on their learning, whether for the noble goal of learning what they have to if they are to survive in today’s occupational and social landscape, or whether for manipulating the students’ learning for their own ends or for someone else’s will which the students won’t consent to if they knew what was going on the whole time

The best way that I have in my hands, and an affordable one, is to teach children the lesson along with questioning habits that will enable them to link their lesson with the real world. And if they don’t find any connection, that’s okay too; at least they can have the knowledge stuffed in their mind for further contemplation or if there is really no connection, then they can encourage schools to chuck out the lesson the moment they start raising children

Now, as I do my practice teaching, here are questions that I want running in my mind. You’ll notice that one question may logically precede another, so this can really keep you busy. I will stop each chain to three questions, to save space, although the chains might well as be perpetual:

1. What am I teaching? Should I teach this stuff, if at all? Why am I teaching this stuff?

2. Do the students find value in what I am teaching? Do I myself find value in what I am teaching? What values do we derive?

3. How am I teaching? Is there a better way to teach a certain lesson, after I taught it? How can I adapt my teaching methods to the cultural backgrounds of the students so that all of us are comfortable with the teaching?

4. What are my students doing during their spare time? What is the extent of my influence toward their spare time? And how should I influence the way they spend their spare time, or should I wholly stay out of it?

5. How should I deal with the other teachers and other school personnel? What can I learn from them and what can they learn from me? And how can I help them in every way I can?

Notice that they are very generic. Many more questions can sprout, depending on the circumstances. Some of them may increase or decrease in relevancy. But it’s better to keep your mind working rather than churning out the same run-on-the-mill education that students often receive. It’s better to challenge yourself when teaching – and to challenge the underlying precepts of work – rather than stagnate and regret that you should have done 20 years earlier what you want to do today.

Finally, the questioning habit is contagious, more so for people who want to retain or renew their childlike curiosities.

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#16: A Few Scattered Drafts on Learning How to Learn

What should schools be good at? The quick answer: learning – and teaching students to learn. It is almost an educational truism that students in schools should “learn how to learn” and to sharpen the mindsets that would help them to do such. I’ve always assumed, pragmatically, that students just forget whatever they learn after they are tested for that knowledge, so unless they are particularly turned on with such information, then they should at least be able to graduate with something of value: ways to learn how to learn plus the mental acuity for such.

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In the Philippines, what is school’s function? There always goes the familiar chorus: “So that children will grow up and be able to get jobs.” That underscores most of serious schooling talk in the Philippines aside from grades, tests, and schedules. It’s a constant grind: parents remind children to study hard to get high scores in tests to get good grades, and there’s no letting down because the schedules are tight. At the base of all these is the hope that all graduates would somehow be able to get good jobs, mostly abroad, where plenty of money is to be earned. Diplomas, moreover, serve as social signals that someone is educated; just notice how they are conspicuously displayed at every home, along with some medals and certificates.

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I’m not saying that education should stray as far as it can from industrial demand. Of course, schools need to produce a mass of graduates able to take on high-level technical work. But we can’t just manufacture students who can “do” without building up their thinking. Many technical procedures today might become outdated later on, and many new ones will emerge. Graduates are in a better position to learn those new techniques if they know how to learn – thus saving themselves from becoming what Alvin Toffler called the “illiterates of the 21st century”. And, oh, many professionals today insist that most of the stuff they know came from the job itself.

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A strong proposal: Leave the expertise to the jobs; while at school, teach students to learn how to learn, with the subjects as vehicles to that end. Ideally, I want every last student in the Philippines to learn Math. It’s a highly rewarding discipline; it has the dual benefit of having lots of industry applications and its being hospitable to play. One can do Math with a definite purpose or without one. However, Math teachers know well that with a few exceptions, most of the Math (content) that students learn goes down the drain. So while teachers should still teach Math, they should do so in such a way that students will become curious with every discussion, not feel trapped with the knowledge they have (couldn’t it be possible that sometimes knowledge can be trap – we’d rather be inside it than confront the outside world where wolves sometimes thrive?)

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Curiosity is important in “learning how to learn”, and such a trait manifests in constant questioning. Schools should certainly encourage this attitude; when a teacher declares “Any questions?”, he or she better be sincere. Connected to this is the purpose of questioning; is its main (perhaps for some, only) purpose to assess what students already know? What if teachers began asking questions without needing students to answer, with just the remark that these questions are good questions but they need not be answered right away? After all, the best questions always stick in the minds of interested thinkers for hundreds or even thousands of years.

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Many of us still assume, naively, that doing is what happens when learning is finished. That is the notion behind the “study well so that you’ll get a good job”. Curiosity can eradicate that notion: when you do something, you learn from it; you constantly reflect; you find better ways to do it; you can find creative twists to it. Curiosity surely helps anyone explore all that is contained within an action, from participants to stakeholders to methods of improvement to “whether it deserves to be done at all”, and such exploration is learning, and it mostly involves asking the right questions and chasing down partial or total answers to them. With this, learning is already doing; the two are not any more distinct.

Do teachers think similarly? Is learning to them a part of doing, or something that should happen before doing? The teacher’s way of teaching will show her orientation toward both learning and doing, and students will absorb what they see.

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One of my friends just remarked that he wanted to be freed from the pressure of books and he doesn’t want to hold any more books forever. I wonder what has happened exactly to him, but it could be this: Books are not something to be read, but “pressed” upon him. Reading, for him, has become a passive activity in which he becomes a receiver, not an active one in which he is deliberate. Reading can’t always be “You have to” from without if it is to be sustainable; it has to be often an “I will” from within.

There could be a Pyrrhic victory behind his situation – he got what he wanted from his education, but I wish he didn’t get an aversion to further learning, especially from books which give not only information but also ways on mobilizing and organizing them with due thoughtfulness.

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#12: A Review of Recent Cases of Philippine School Violence

Have you just intuited that our schools are becoming the breeding grounds of strife nowadays?

First, we review the case of the Colegio de San Agustin student Jaime Garcia. His name became famous because some CSA students bullied him, then he retaliated by stabbing one of the bullies with a ballpoint pen. Then the father of the stabbed bully, Allan Bantiles, allegedly slapped Jaime and even allegedly pointed a gun at him:

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/43937/csa-teen-on-bullys-gun-toting-dad-i-really-thought-hed-shoot-my-brains-out

We remember the Math teacher who forced her students to eat paper and also threw a chair toward someone who had the sense to defy her order:

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=851790&publicationSubCategoryId=49

There are even instances of students getting the upper hand against teachers. Here is one such case of students robbing their teacher:

http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/provincial/38136-guro-ninakawan-tinangkang-patayin-ng-3-estudyante

We also recall the alleged child molestation by a PE teacher:

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/video/136696/24oras/pe-teacher-inireklamo-ng-pangmomolestya-ng-16-na-estudyante-sa-elementarya

Even a school paper of a renowned university has suddenly grown fangs on this attack against other two prestigious universities:

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/277346/news/nation/ust-student-paper-attacks-ateneo-la-salle-on-rh-stands

There are also two school bomb scares just this last week:

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/video/nation/metro-manila/10/10/12/lyceum-suspends-classes-after-bomb-scare

http://www.philstar.com/nation/article.aspx?publicationsubcategoryid=63&articleid=858735

And just hours ago, a stabbing took place at Adamson University.

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/metro-manila/10/13/12/adamson-university-student-stabbed-inside-campus

Men, women, children, elderly, rich, poor, even school buildings – no one is safe.

At least credit me for having a curious memory for oddities. George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I know you may have heard this for a hundred times already in your lifetime. (But you don’t remember hearing it, so you’ll just repeat hearing it, thus proving the truth of Santayana’s proposition. A more orderly world would have no need for a quote like this.)

Let me emphasize, however, that I am in no way generalizing about the rampant violence that has happened in our school campuses nowadays. After all, there are tens of thousands of schools all over the country. There is no way we can cover all the violence that’s happening in the schools. The increased coverage of violent acts taking place inside campus can be attributed to just that – increased coverage. But it’s tempting to wonder: Couldn’t it be that it has always been this way inside the majority of educational institutions in the Philippines, and we’re starting to get vigilant only recently, when deaths and bizarre activities began emerging in rapid-fire pace?

However, I am quite generous in examining the succession of violent in-campus activities. Perhaps they just clustered together by chance, or as I mentioned, perhaps it’s just increased media coverage of the usual stuff.

Copycats Galore

Or perhaps this explanation can also apply. Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor from the Arizona State University, describes a probable explanation for the one-after-another occurrence of detestable acts inside our schools. In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he explains the occurrence of copycat events, or events that follow the publicizing of a similar event. He cites David Phillips’ research on copycat suicides:

(1) Copycat events take place only on places where the events are publicized: “He found that within two months after every front-page suicide story, an average of fifty-eight more people than usual killed themselves. In a sense, each suicide story killed fifty-eight people who otherwise would have gone on living.”

(2) Copycat events are done in a similar manner as the publicized events: “Thus when the newspaper detailed the suicide of a young person, it was young drivers who then piled their cars into trees, poles, and embankments with fatal results; but when the news story concerned an older person’s suicide, older drivers died in such crashes”

According to Cialdini, these two insights add up: “Upon learning of another’s suicide, an uncomfortably large number of people decide that suicide is an appropriate action for themselves as well.”

That insight may apply to acts of school violence. Although we can’t ascertain how many such acts took place during the whole of September and the first two weeks of October, imitation of prior publicized acts of school violence can be a trigger, if we are to follow Cialdini’s logic.

It’s like this: more trouble begets more coverage, and more coverage may beget more trouble. It’s a vicious circle that may engulf the educational establishment if left unchecked. At least the increased exposure should make us aware of what’s really happening in our schools, given that inside schools, pupils are away from their families and are practically left to fend off for themselves.

A Note to Teachers

Teachers, meanwhile should ask themselves these questions:

Isn’t it violence – to the mind, if not to the body – if they let their students out to the world without sufficient life skills? Have our schools taught us literacy, numeracy, critical thinking,and rapid adaptation to speedily changing circumstances? Have our schools strengthened our willpower to stand alone in the midst of tempting opportunities to follow the crowd’s blatant wrongs and innocent imbecilities, a steel heart that never worships power for its own sake, and a zest for lifelong learning and not learning that ends when school ends?

Isn’t it violence to make schools function like businesses while posing perils to their educational functions?

Isn’t it violence to scream at students when reasoned discussion is a better tack? Isn’t it violence to force-feed students with facts that they’re likely to forget after a long time, and to stress students over them?

Isn’t it violence to judge students, with no regard to the future, when their potentials haven’t fully blossomed yet? This year’s Nobel laureate for Medicine and Physiology, Sir John Gurdon (who shared the prize with Shinya Yamanaka for seminal work on stem cells) recalled what his Biology teacher told him before: “I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”

And I’d consider it violence too when students have to say “Good morning” every day, like busted records, when the mornings out there are mostly no good.

Shakespeare once said, “‘Tis the mind that makes the body rich”. It’s just reasonable to assume that turbulence in mind and viciousness of the body go hand-in-hand. If you corrupt the mind, you corrupt the body, and pandemonium’s going to result if you do that to participants in a crowded classroom.

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#11: In Defense of Surprise Quizzes

This post hardly contains any advice on taking surprise quizzes. This post intends to make students realize the value of these tests as well as defend teachers who give them. We will also examine some conditions that are best satisfied before dishing out these types of quizzes.

Despite how much we may dislike teachers armed with surprise quizzes all throughout the school year, these types of quizzes may provide us with the best opportunities to think. The usual test setup proceeds this way: the teacher gives out the lesson, the students study it, then the teacher gives a quiz about it, and then a new lesson. This process goes on ad nauseam, until both teachers and students are numbed by it.

Surprise quizzes can break this treadmill. With this type of quiz, students can’t resort to their usual test-taking routine. They won’t be able to regurgitate answers because they wouldn’t have been told what to swallow beforehand. They won’t be able to practice only during a convenient time – they have to keep themselves sharp at all times. Their reflex question “So what will come out in the test?” (an absolutely absurd question that should have never been asked at all) will become invalid, for a surprise test should be surprise. Eventually that question, a cause of anxiety for many students, will be weaned out.

From these surprise test benefits, it follows that some test forms are more suited to surprise tests than others. Except for the most basic facts, identification and enumeration of rote facts would be awkward, unless the testing is to ensure mastery of only the most essential facts that students are liable to forget.

The best test types for surprise tests are essay tests, multiple-choice tests that contain no identification, and problem-solving tests. Rather than test specific content knowledge, these test types test the thought processes of students. Giving surprise tests signals the need for students to think sharp all the time, not just during exam time.

If students don’t have the rote knowledge or procedural knowledge needed to deal with a surprise test, then they have to think. As Jean Piaget, a child psychologist whose areas of study are staples in Education classes, said: “Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do.” A surprise test puts students in a position where by default they don’t know what to do, so they have to think, explore, innovate, make wild conjectures, test these conjectures, and look for relevant evidence. It can make students go beyond the usual “Who?” “What?”, “Where?” and “When?” to the realm of “Why?” and “How?”.

For teachers to give effective surprise tests, they should have a respect for sharp thinking at all times. They have to be creative in cooking up questions. A teacher who wants to pass on the “think-all-throughout” frame of mind to pupils should have that same mindset too. Also, when students hand over their answers to surprise tests where answers are long, teachers should be keen in reconstructing the logical processes of the answers they get. They ought to focus on the process more than the product (provided that the questions are focused on the process more than the product).

The world is a surprising world. It’s fast-changing. There’s no stepping in the same world twice, to adapt Heraclitus’ aphorism. All the tomes of information you have mastered at school may be of little use to you later on, as many graduates insist realistically.  According to Tony Wagner, author of several education reform books, during 1990, “the half-life of knowledge in the humanities is ten years, and in math and science, it’s only two to three years”. Half-life of a certain field of knowledge is the time taken for half of the knowledge in a certain field to become obsolete. Today, given the rush of technologies and the enormous speed of spreading information, these half-lives may have become shorter already. Surprise! Has our school system taught us to resist or respect these surprises?

Thus it is imperative that schools give them something else – the art of thinking well. Schools should get their students ready for surprises, not get them used to boredom. As an afterthought, schools should equip students the mental agility and fortitude to counteract routinized responses to boredom, such as watching noontime shows or drenching oneself on telenovelas.

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