Back in 2005 I started my teacher training
These were exciting times for me as a 21 year old straight from university. The world seemed less complicated somehow. I had applied for the course after spending 2 wonderful weeks helping in a secondary school and loving every minute of it. I did not have particularly fond memories from my schooling of my teachers, nor particularly unhappy memories. I have come to realise that this left me with very few mental models for successful teaching but I was full of enthusiasm. I was ready to absorb the wisdom and expertise on offer.
Being 2005/6 it also presented me with a group of ideas, strategies and approaches that still haunt me.
I did learn a lot, I saw a lot of great practice and I got the chance to learn the basics of teaching. The course was rewarding and difficult and I had never worked so hard in my life. Being 2005/6 it also presented me with a group of ideas, strategies and approaches that still haunt me. There are scars that run deep and it has taken me years to break some of the habits thrust upon me. This was not just the fault of my training. Employed as a fresh-faced teacher the same ideas were thrust upon me during observations and feedback.
Teacher talk time.
Here was one of the first and most repeated ideas that I was taught. Research had shown that teachers talked for 70-80% of the lesson and this meant students were not answering questions or thinking. The idea was that this ratio was too high and therefore students were not spending enough time thinking. So far, so good. Better lessons would require the students to be more active in their learning. Okay… When teachers spoke students were passive and therefore did not learn. Um, wait a moment… This meant that all teacher talk was bad. Teachers speaking to a class was a impediment to their learning. Therefore teachers should reduce all forms of talking to the class as a whole. How do I ensure that… This also attached itself to the ideas of student self-discovery in learning. This left me with the idea that the best lessons were ones where I very briefly outlined a task and then avoided speaking to the whole class again until the end. When I think back to what I was trying to achieve I shudder. This was awful. My lessons must have been a confusing mess. I tried not to share any knowledge, that would be too much talking. I occasionally questioned students towards the end of a lesson to check understanding. I did nothing with this information, it was too late to as students were already leaving the room. The worst thing is these were the lessons that got graded as ‘good’ when observed. Some information sheets (at least three different version to prove I was differentiating) and some questions. Perhaps a ‘synthesis’ task at the end, you know ‘create your own version of…’ Straight to the top of Bloom’s there, no need for all those pesky steps in between. This is how I tried to teach. I can only apologise to the students unfortunate enough to be in my classroom those first years.
Observers counting the minutes that teachers talk for.
I try to read as much about teaching and learning as I can. I want to be better. I want to know more. I now understand both where the message of reducing teacher talk time came from and where the interpretation we were presented of it went wrong. If 70% of all of my lessons is me talking and nothing else happening then that is a problem. There is no chance for practising using the learning, no way to transfer if from working memory to long term. Getting rid of all teacher talking though? Not allowing for expert explanations of key concepts. Observers counting the minutes that teachers talk for. It all went so wrong. Sometimes, when I reflect on a lesson I have taught I am reminded that there was a time when I thought the perfect lesson would involve no speaking from me. I am so glad that we have moved beyond this. We have moved on, haven’t we?