is a pretty crude question, but it is
basic. In the jargon, it is called “defining
the Aims of the session”. “Aims” are
somewhat looked down upon by theorists,
because they can be vague and woolly.
Defining aims, however, also raises
the question, "Why
should they learn this?"
Some texts start by referring to “students’ needs”: I find this a little disingenuous, because once they have joined the teaching and learning system, it is generally up to the teacher to define their needs in the terms of that system.
But that is a topic for debate if you are on a course, like all the items boxed like this.
“I want them to appreciate the issues around the introduction of genetically-modified organisms into the eco-system and the food web"
|It is pretty self-evident that you are going to tailor your teaching to the capabilities and experience of your student group. Isn’t it?||
There will be about 15-18 of them, mostly 17-18 year-olds. They have fairly basic school-leaving qualifications. They are doing a two-year vocational course at a Further Education (Community) College. This is part of a course on “Environmental Issues”
questions are: “What do they want to
learn?” and/or “What would they rather
Are they in the class because of a passionate interest in the subject? Are they there because they need the qualification at the end of the course? Are they there because they were sent?
See the more general material on motivation.
So—would you set out to challenge and change their motivation? Or would you simply get on with it and hope that you can get them on board as you go along.
Most of them are not particularly interested, but not terribly hostile. They have a fatalistic sort of attitude—“This is just something which has to be got through”. They are accustomed to be told what it is they need to learn, and on the whole they do not question it. It is quite important to them to get the qualification, because they know it will improve their employment prospects, but they do not really see the point of its content. In particular, some of them question what this topic has got to do with Business Studies, or Health and Social Care—or whatever—anyway.
They are keen to find out what the teacher wants them to know, because that will get them through the assessment.
finds it easier to learn in slightly
different ways. Your class will contain
people with a mixture of learning
styles, and you will need to offer
something for everyone.
There is a perennial practical problem here: do you tailor your teaching to what they respond to? Or do you try to get them to develop their skills in using styles they are not familiar with? The answer may depend on the kind of course you are teaching.
Now this is a big question. It's here because the powers-that-be, including Ofsted, believe all the egregious rubbish put out about learning styles, and so if you are on a QTLS or even QTS course you will be expected to answer the question. On the other hand, yes, people do learn in different ways—just not in the simplistic forms hyped by (on the whole), ex-academics on the make. See here!
Taking the Honey and Mumford classification, for all its limitations, few of this group (apart perhaps from that quiet young woman at the back) are Reflectors or Theorists. They tend to be Activists or Pragmatists: you have noted their tendency to rush into things, and to take trial and error approaches to problem-solving. You will certainly need to get them active if they are really to engage with the material.
“Where are they, physically?” but in
terms of their learning to date. What,
in other words, is the base-line from
which you start?
If you don't know this, you will have to make deliberate efforts to find out.
According to the course outline, this module is about putting more specific vocational matters in a wider context. Last term they spent four weeks looking at issues of pollution.
Some of them might have done some biology at school, but you can’t rely on it. However, they are by now familiar with the discipline of researching a topic for themselves, providing you can point them in the direction of appropriate sources.
|Now we are getting more specific: in the light of your answers to the questions above, where can you realistically hope the students will have got to by the end of the course/module or session?||
“I want them to appreciate the issues around genetically-modified organisms.” What counts as “appreciating”? Perhaps it makes more sense to say, “I want them to be able to back up their opinions about GMOs with some evidence.” That provides some guidance about what to do next.
|Some of the answers to the question above will be straightforward: they will largely be about sheer knowledge, comprehending it, and perhaps applying it in relatively straightforward situations.||
They certainly need to know, for example, what a “genetically modified organism” is and perhaps how it differs from a normal selectively-bred plant. Do they need to know about DNA?
They may also need to know what the main players say about GMOs.
The arguments have raged fierce and long about whether everything can or should be specified in terms of objectives. Clearly there are some things you can’t describe, but you know when you see. I don’t believe in abandoning these altogether—you can't have a liberal “education” without them.
This is a big one, too.
I want them to be able to evaluate the issues in a mature way — neither being too influenced by supermarket prices, not giving in to media food scares. But I want them to make their own minds up, rather than have me tell them the “right” answer: that would be an abuse of my position, anyway.
you should still be able to conceive
of what would count as evidence of these
softer outcomes, so that both the student
and you would know when they had been
achieved. Specify some of those, and
you get something clearer and (probably)
See the figure below
There’s an infinite number of issues to cover. But perhaps if we covered questions to ask about sources of information, that would go some way towards it. [I can incorporate that as a question about everything they research.]
I need to get them to understand the multiple levels of the debate, too. Now how do I do that?
you should be able to list the “objectives”
you are teaching towards. Well-formed
objectives should be the touchstone
of everything in the session. If it
doesn’t contribute to the objectives,
why is it there?
But be prepared to revise them, in the light of experience. There is always a danger that you end up teaching something different from your aim, because you can’t express the aim in the form of objectives.
|Strange question? Not really, because the objectives are for the students: it is they who have to reach them, and you can’t do it for them.||
They can go and find out about them, using newspapers, publicity from interested players, and the Net. They can tell each other about their findings
|Your role is to help them to reach the objectives. It is not to show off how much you know about the subject, or to entertain them—although you may end up doing both. In this very conventional model, you are the servant of the subject.||
get practical again: you need to plan
for individual sessions—only very reactionary
university lecturers just plough on
through sessions starting where they
left off last time. So you need to “chunk”
the material so that it is manageable
within the time limits.
I have one session of an hour and a half. I could check with the rest of the team to see whether the generic research skills involved justify spending longer on this topic — but if I can be specific about the sources they might use, we can still do something useful in this time.
How many questions on the worksheet? Depends on the level— five, I think, from factual to evaluative.
is not just a matter of whether you
have an Overhead
Projector (OHP), data projector, video, etc. It
includes the working room, and how it
can be laid out; the textbook if any;
the library and IT facilities, and the
access to information; the students'
experience you can draw on. Each provides
constraints and opportunities.
If you haven’t got it, of course, can you get it?
The room has a projector and a DVD player. They could do their presentations using the OHP—but “presentations” as such at the end might take too long. I'll go round and ask for answers to the worksheet questions instead.
We’ll set the room up so they sit round the tables in four small groups. I’ll have to allow time for setting up, because there’s a class in before us.
The library is over the other side of the college: I need to bring the materials with me. But the IT suite is next door: check the machines are networked and that not all of them will be in use.
I wonder how many of them like tomato ketchup?
This is where we begin to get iterative: the diagram is linear, for simplicity, but in practice we review everything in relation to everything else. This takes us back to here.
The reference to Activists is to another learning styles scheme. Sorry! But, hey, it poses a question about whether you should believe all the peculiar stuff I'm putting out.
Or whether it matters whether your students believe what you say...
There will be something to do, for the Activists. They can apply their IT skills. The questions will make them think. The quiet ones can contribute to the small groups. How should I mix the groups up?
[N.B. Should I give all the groups the same information? It would make for better debate afterwards if they had different sources. Which is most important here, the knowledge about GMOs, the informed opinion, the research and evaluation skills, or the debating skills? Can’t be the last—not enough time ...]
|Time||Learners doing||Teacher doing||Resources|
|0-5||Set up room||Direct, supervise and help||Furniture|
|6-10||Listening, answering questions||Introduction:
What have Frankenstein and tomato ketchup
got in common?
Explain session objectives and structure
|11-15||Sharing out worksheets and information: settling into groups||Supervise: allow one member from each group to computer room.||Worksheets: copies of articles: handout of net sources|
|16-60||Working in groups||Discreet checks on progress: answer questions: feed in additional material on request. [Don’t forget to check the computer room.] Prompt at 50 minutes.||Paper resources: networked computers.|
|61-65||Getting back to large group||Supervise [slippage time]|
|66-80||Answering questions, discussing||Asking work-sheet questions around the groups: summarise answers on whiteboard.||Whiteboard, coloured pens|
|81-85||Listening||Summarise: link to sequence topic: comment on process if appropriate|
|86-90||Clear up and re-arrange furniture||Supervise: collect materials|
Soft “objectives” or “outcomes” are those which cannot be taught directly, such as “appreciation of” or even “understanding”. Assessment can only get at sporadic instances of them, and is often subjective. They are to do with emergent properties of the whole and often appear in the aims of a course.
Hard (sometimes referred to as “behavioural” objectives), are those described by action words: “describe”, “list”, “make”. They are relatively easy to assess—but usually not the whole story.The diagram suggests that even if you can't cover the whole of your soft aims with hard items, you can do some of it—and then you can (perhaps) encourage the rest to emerge.