Resistance

In Chapter 16 of The Skillful Teacher, Brookfield pinpoints the reason for students’ resistance to learning.

The one that stood out for me and I think it does for most new teachers too: we are guilty of being too passionate. We are drawn to teaching because we are passionate about what we do, when in reality we need to be passionate about teaching. Brookfield explains that being too passionate in our subject makes us blind to the difficulties that students experience that cause the resistance.

He also cautions that this passion can drive us to want to convert everyone, especially the “hardcore resistant students.” (215) When we don’t succeed in converting them, we feel incompetent as a teacher when they don’t believe. Teaching styles can become more preachy than organized. Students resist on the basis that the learning is “good for you” rather than justified. In Brookfield’s words, it comes across as “superficial. (216)

He goes on to list more reasons, some of which are repeat themes in the book and other new. A few examples are:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Poor self-image as learners
  • Poor teaching styles
  • Irrelevance of learning activities
  • Fear of looking foolish
  • Lack of clarity
  • Dislike of teachers

They are all valid reasons. And when dealing with resistant students, the reasons may be one or many. A bit of reflection and conversation with the students may reveal the reasons, but often it remains a mystery.

Past, Present & Future

I came into teaching rather abruptly, three years ago. There was a plan. It was in the works – take the teaching diploma program and find a nice pastry chef instructor position – only it happened years before I anticipated. The transition from industry to teaching happened in a short 2 months – and that included a move from Los Angeles to Vancouver.

It’s been a steep learning curve. It’s still steep, and I don’t anticipate it plateauing anytime soon. The Provincial Instructor Diploma Program is helping to navigate through and it’s the first step in professional development.

After completing the program, I’m interested in attending teaching conferences regularly to keep up with teaching models and research. It’s also important for me to continue practicing my pastry skills. Thankfully, in the pastry world, there are many classes to keep my skills sharp.

I recently heard about a three day chocolate seminar for pastry chef instructors. It pleases me that even within my industry, courses are being developed for instructional purposes.

It’s a perfect blend of my two favourite things.

Teaching in Diverse Classrooms

In chapter eight titled “Teaching in Diverse Classrooms” of The Skillful Teacher, Brookfield identifies how much the classroom make-up has changed in the last few decades.

It is stated that in the average American adult education classroom, students “from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups [are] outpacing the growth by white students” and that “multicultural classrooms in which multiple intelligences and culturally grounded ways of knowing coexist.” (Brookfield, 97) The differences of the classroom are not just limited to race but include cultural norms of interaction and varying levels of educational backgrounds.

As adult students, they are in your classroom to pursue knowledge and experience for their future careers. As a teacher, you need to somehow deliver the information in a way (or multiple ways) so that the majority of the class can learn.

As a teacher in this environment, it is important to remember a few things:

  • Be aware that “an individual teacher is inevitably limited by her own personality, learning preferences, racial group membership and experience.” (Brookfield, 102)
  • Get to know the students.
  • Use a variety of teaching methods.

Our experiences make us who we are, but we can change. In the first point, Brookfield addresses that we need to identify who we are, how we learn, and what we know about different ethnicities and races. By performing this form of personal inventory, we can then begin to grow. This change requires effort and awareness. It can be achieved with self-reflection, an activity suggested by Brookfield in other parts of the book.

To help tailor lesson planning to reach the greatest number of students, Brookfield suggests getting to know your students. In his examples, he uses the assessment technique called the Critical Incident Questionnaire. Administered once a week, he his able to keep the pulse of the classroom. If anything issues come up, often they can be identified with this tool and address sooner rather than later.

After getting to know the class through this assessment technique, it is now possible to reach into the teaching toolkit and make use of a variety of teaching methods to increase the number of students you can impact. To be effective in diverse classroom setting, it is not possible to choose a one-sized fits all style off teaching. Often, multiple techniques may be required in one lesson.

Brookfield closes the chapter with a reminder that as a teacher, you may not always reach every student, but “if your purpose is to help people learn, then you must be open to constantly varying your activities in response to what we find out about the range of students we work with.” (Brookfield, 108)

REFERENCES

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On trust, technique and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

What Was That Saying About Assumptions?

There is a saying about assumptions, but unfortunately the outcome is not very optimistic for either party involved.  In chapter 2 of The Skillful Teacher, Brookfield introduces four core assumptions that are mutually beneficial to both student and teacher. The assumptions involved a student focused teaching philosophy that can help a new or even seasoned teacher get through some of the difficult moments of teaching.

He summarizes the essentials of how to be successful in four assumptions. For student focused teaching, he recommends  a teacher should:

  • Do whatever helps the student learn
  • Be reflective in practice
  • Maintain a constant awareness of how students are experiencing learning and perceiving teachers actions
  • Teach college level students as adults

It’s a common theme in his book that there is no canned teaching method that you can open up and use for the entire class. It involves many methods and often you might have to use all of them in one class to help the students learn.

It’s understandable, using one or two techniques is much easier than the idea of planning a multitude of methods. So, Brookfield has compartmentalized the messy into the above four assumptions to help keep the new or even seasoned teacher on point with student focused teaching.

Awareness is another key component for success. Brookfield recommends teachers to be reflective in their practice, for that is where teaching growth can occur. It is also important to check the pulse of the classroom continuously. This can help you adjust the pace of the classroom if necessary.

The last key point is a reminder to treat adult students as adults. Respect plays a large part in this assumption. In fact, in a Faculty Focus article “What Students Want: Characteristics of Effective Teachers from the Students’ Perspective”, writer Ellen Smyth explains that of all the characteristics students want from their teachers, respect is number one. And who can blame them, as suggested in a humbling exercise, play a little imaginary roll reversal and you’ll see for yourself.

References

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On trust, technique and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Smyth, E. (2011, Apr 11). What Students Want: Characteristics of Effective Teachers from the Students’ Perspective. Retrieved Feb 12, 2016, from Faculty Focus: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/what-students-want-characteristics-of-effective-teachers-from-the-students-perspective/

Deer in Headlights

 

deer-in-the-headlights-look

Here is a great article that discusses how to transition students from what this Faculty Focus article calls blank stares, but I like to call “deer in headlights” to fully engaged students.

When I first started teaching, I experienced a series of emotions when confronted with the blank stare – discomfort, disappointment, confusion, shock, frustration…If you paid to come to school, why are you not engaged? Why didn’t you do your homework? Why can’t you answer the question I just asked you?

The article describes the disparity between the teacher’s expectation of a student’s attention to lecture and their actual attention – dubbed civil attention. It’s defined as “creating the appearance of paying attention.” They’re faking it! It only takes asking a few questions throughout a lecture to realize they really are faking it!

The article considers teachers as enablers in this behavior with the justification that we don’t want to make the introverted students uncomfortable and we avoiding calling on students that are not paying attention.

I like the strategies listed in the article that recommend:

  • discussion questions for reading assignments
  • think-pair-share for the shy students
  • an occasional quiz

Each are examples of how we can create interactive learning. If we want our students to be less passive and more engaged, we should develop more engaging classrooms.

Jay Howard, P. (2016, 02 8). Class Discussion: From Blank Stares to True Engagement. Retrieved 02 14, 2016, from Faculty Focus: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/class-discussion-from-blank-stares-to-true-engagement/

Teaching Perspectives Inventory

In the last blog post, I discussed Brookfield’s truths on teaching and how they evolve with experience. It took the TPI or Teaching Perspectives Inventory test for the first time and saw that my results were presented in a graph that gently went up and down like rolling fields.

What is the TPI and what does do the results mean for me?

It is a test with a series of questions that evaluate your perspectives on teaching into 5 different categories:

  • Transmission
  • Apprenticeship
  • Developmental
  • Nutruring
  • Social Reform

Most people have two strong perspectives and a backup and recessive perspective. I had two that stood out but I wouldn’t say they were strong: Apprenticeship and Nurturing. The apprenticeship reveals that I recognize when learners can work independently and when they need assistance. As they develop their skills they require less assistance. The nurturing reveals that I offer a safe environment where students feel comfortable to make mistakes. Part of me would like to think that both are true, since in my training I had similar experiences with instructors and chefs (perhaps not as many chefs).

Development was not far below either – only by 1 point. So how can I have such a flat line result? The video on the results page describes a flat line result often occurring in new instructors where there is still insecurity of which perspective to push the most or finding balance depending on the student or the content. As a teacher becomes more experienced, the spikes may be more apparent.

Just like the evolution of the Brookfield’s teaching truths, I anticipate that my TPI results may evolve over time.

 

“The truth is teaching is a gloriously messy pursuit…”

 

I’ve been looking forward to taking 3260 Professional Practice because I’m interested in learning best practices of teaching and how to continuously develop to become a be a better teacher. I was concerned about the reading; worried it would be dry text of rigid rules backed by equally dry research. To my surprise, The Skillful Teacher by Stephen D. Brookfield is a unique and insightful read.

Impressed by his succinct ability to summarize similar feelings and experiences in just the first chapter, I find myself recommending it everyone. Brookfield describes the full range of emotions felt by teachers and students when in a learning environment where each party is bringing different experiences and preconceived notions of learning to the classroom.

For me, the most valuable excerpt from the first chapter is the list of truths on teaching that he has established for himself. He describes, “Over a period of time each of us develops this personal truth to the point where we depend on it and sometimes declare it.” (p. 8)

I think these truths help us through the most challenging times of teaching and level off the peaks and valleys of emotions that happen with teaching. I don’t believe that the truths are set in stone, only that they evolve over time with experience and reflection. And we may find some new ones and drop some old ones.

I am pleased to have come across this book early in my career. I wish I had it from day one. I made the suggestion for it be a gift to our faculty and learned that it will be presented to all faculty at our semi-annual staff meeting. I hope that they find it as helpful as I have.

References

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On trust, technique and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

3260 Professional Practices

This is the third class I’m taking in the Professional Instructor Diploma Program.

I am the Executive Pastry Chef and an instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts on Granville Island. I’ve been teaching for almost 3 years.

What I hope to learn most from this class is how to use student feedback to help me become an effective instructor and to stay current on issues and concepts in adult education.

LESSON PLANNING: Media

Rarely do have we attended a class that did not include a handout to provide us with a little more information about the course topic. Handouts serve many purposes of which this article from Faculty Focus outines:

  • Organizers
  • Activity introductors
  • Graphic supplements
  • Study guides

And much more.

The article recommends that handout should not be made haphazardly confirmed by many extensive studies. The following points are recommended:

Keep it simple – keep it to one topic

Consider the visual – is the layout easy to read or can it be used to take notes

Keep it professional – check spelling, reference sources and keep it updated.

Most importantly, try to find a way to get feedback from the students regarding usefulness of the handout.

LESSON PLANNING: Assessment

Assessments are an important part of teaching – they help determine how much students understand or retain the course material. Iowa State University outlines the benefits of Classroom Assessment Techniques and describes a variety of informal techniques instructors can put into practice.

These tool can:

  • Provide feedback for immediate change
  • Nurture the teaching learning relationship process with the student
  • Address the misconceptions immediately

They can reveal:

  • Course related knowledge
  • Student attitudes, values and self-awareness
  • Reactions to instruction methods

Performing assessments through out the term can help improve the student learning experience and also help the instructor adjust teaching throughout the course delivery.