On Sunday, I wrote a post about preservice teachers participating in a trial of flipped learning and my dismay at this news. I suggested that preservice teachers have better things to focus on in their first years of learning how to teach. I made it clear that I do not mind if individual schools wish to implement flipped learning as a pedagogical approach. I believe schools should have the flexibility to implement any approach they think will suit their context and move the results of their students forward. Upon implementation, teachers would then, of course, need to undertake training in this particular type of pedagogy.
Training preservice teachers in the approach is an entirely different matter. Remember, preservice teachers literally do not know a thing about classroom teaching. They haven’t got the first clue how to do it effectively. Preservice training should focus on the most basic knowledge and skills necessary to gain at least a baseline level of competence and hold off on more specialised pedagogical approaches like flipped learning. Teachers can gain specialised training later on. My last post got me thinking about key things preservice training should focus on to give new teachers the best chance of success (hint: not flipped learning).
Focus on universal elements of instruction
Preservice training should focus on teaching preservice teachers the rationale behind and the best way to implement universal elements of instruction. When it comes to instruction, the actual act of delivering a lesson as a classroom teacher, this paper is particularly enlightening. It provides good examples of universal practices preservice teachers should be discussing, critiquing and practising. It’s not at all obvious how to implement these effectively; you actually have to learn how (and why) to implement them.
Consider the first principle:
- Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning. Daily review can strengthen previous learning and can lead to fluent recall.
Daily review is an important aspect of instruction because it combats the forgetting curve and strengthens recall. It, therefore, enables students to think critically and creatively about a topic. It’s not obvious how to implement daily review effectively – and if you are a primary teacher, it’s not at all obvious how daily review might differ across subjects. It’s a complex topic: What should review look like in each subject? Is Maths review different to Science review? Should it be individual or group-based? What should be included and how do I work this out? Should it include what was covered yesterday/last week/last month and how much of each? How long should it go for? 5 mins/ 10 mins/ 20 mins? What’s the best way for students to do review – pen and paper? Will age of the students impact how it is done?
A lot of new teachers make the mistake of not consistently implementing review in their lessons, and when they do, it might not be as effective as it could be. I think this has a lot to do with preservice teachers: 1) not truly understanding its purpose, and 2) not knowing how to implement it properly (I’m speaking from personal experience here). Daily review is an example of a particular aspect of teaching that is universal; it’s a core, basic aspect of classroom teaching applied across all lessons and all pedagogical approaches. It’s a great example of what teachers should be focussing on during their preservice training.
Focus on building content and pedagogical content knowledge
Preservice training should also focus on strengthening the content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge of preservice teachers. Many studies have highlighted the trouble preservice and in-service primary teachers have with some pretty basic concepts. For example, only 18% of in-service teachers, and 9% of preservice teachers, correctly identified the word box as having 4 speech sounds. Strengthening content knowledge is pretty straightforward: give preservice teachers lectures and stuff to read and then test them (it’s not quite that simple, but you get my point: they need to read).
Building pedagogical content knowledge is just as important. All primary teachers know how to add 6/10 + 3/5, but teaching students how to do this is another thing entirely. Suppose a child adds 6/10 to 3/5 and writes 9/15. What should the teacher do then? It’s not straightforward and knowing how to proceed is key. A teacher needs the pedagogical content knowledge to: 1) anticipate the error and understand why it might occur, 2) choose the correct model(s) to help explain the concept, and 3) have a rough idea of how to approach the error and teach. Stephen Norton, an academic at Griffith University, teaches his preservice teachers to do exactly that. The following is an excerpt from this fascinating paper on the work Norton does to build PCK – it is a response from one of his preservice teachers to the 6/10 + 3/5 = 9/15 example described. It’s powerful stuff and I believe it should be a focus in preservice training everywhere; not just in mathematics, but in all subjects.
Importantly, building strong PCK will have a very real impact on the ability of new teachers to teach responsively within a lesson. Teachers do not have time to stop and consider what they are seeing in front of them; they must act quickly. PCK will help new teachers make better decisions for better learning right at the point of feedback, just as AfL always intended.
As far as possible, focus on behaviour management for tough classrooms
Lastly, preservice training should focus on equipping teachers with sound knowledge in how to manage difficult behaviour. I will caveat this point by acknowledging that school leadership has a profound impact on student behaviour, and therefore there is only so much teachers can do within the framework set by school leaders, but nevertheless, training can only help. Australia has a behaviour problem so new teachers are likely to encounter some pretty difficult classes. It’s easy to get lost in the romantic dream of becoming a schoolteacher. It can be quite shocking to discover how tough it can be once you finally begin teaching a class(es) full time. Teachers need to be prepared. Not just because teacher wellbeing depends on it, but also because tough classrooms that lack good behaviour management risk poor progress before instruction even takes place.
Most misbehaviour reported by teachers – low-level disruption, namely talking out of turn and hindering other children – is amendable by the teacher. Relatively minor behaviour problems may seem trivial, but they are ultimately time-wasting, irritating and exhausting. Preservice training must encourage teachers to avoid explanatory fictions of problems with the child or problems in the home, no matter how valid they could be, in favour of possible causes and solutions within the classroom. After all, it does not matter if Jesse is poor and exhibits trait extroversion, what happens in the class is all the teacher can control. We must help preservice teachers realise that all classroom behaviour of this type is learnt and that changes in classroom behaviours can be manipulated through strong modelling, by providing opportunities for practice, and by handing out purposeful rewards and judicious consequences (see here and here).
Severe behaviour is an entirely different ball game. This is where strong school leadership really matters. Teachers who work in tough schools will tell you that there are some behaviours that are almost impossible to manage without significant levels of support from school leadership. If they are not managed by strong leaders and consistent teachers, then severe behaviour can cause major learning and social-emotional problems in the classroom. Preservice teachers should have some background in what leaders can and should do to protect classes from constant high-level disruption, emotional stress and possible violence (for teacher, students and perpetrator). After all, they are going to be future school leaders themselves.
My three focus areas are not meant to be exhaustive. I’ve written about them because I believe all three of these areas were overlooked as unimportant, perhaps because they are ‘too obvious’. But they are core to what we do as teachers. Without them, I really struggled (and, naturally, continue to in many ways). I’m only 2.5 years in. I’ve had to do the reading since graduating and man oh man it would have helped if I began reading sooner. I only wish others could have it a little easier (flipped learning ain’t going to cut it).