After many hours stuck hunched over my notepad in a less-than-crowded lecture hall and even more hours spent pouring over very average lesson plans in preparation for prac rounds, I was all done and dusted and ‘ready’ for the classroom. I learned a lot during my time study, but needless to say, I wasn’t really ready. Here are 5 topics I feel are important enough to be courses in their own right and were missing in my ITE.
The systems that make up our language didn’t gain much airtime in my ITE. My English units almost wholly bypassed phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, orthography, and semantics. Learning these language systems is essential as we primary teachers are charged with teaching them to our students who need the knowledge to ensure they become effective readers and writers. As Louisa Moats, one of the leading language specialists in the world, puts it:
“The teacher who understands language and how children are using it is more likely than others to impart clear, accurate and organised information about sounds, words, sentences, and discourse. He or she should be able to respond to student errors with helpful corrections and feedback and aim instructional activities to a purpose. Expert teaching of reading and writing is only possible when the teacher knows not just the meanings conveyed by language, but how language itself works.” (Speech to Print, 2010, p.2)
The Science of Learning and Memory
Hard science wasn’t really a thing in my ITE. Sure, I can understand that a positivist mentality isn’t best for a teacher education course but at least some science is warranted. Learning is often misunderstood. The practices most people undertake aren’t overly effective for learning.
“It turns out that much of what we’ve been doing as teachers and students isn’t serving us well, but some comparatively simple changes could make a big difference”. (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel in Make it Stick, 2014)
Teachers can only benefit from knowing and understanding how memory, forgetting and retention work and how these understandings can be leveraged to maximise memory retention. If we are not taught about memory, forgetting and retention, then how are we ever supposed to make those simple changes which could make a big difference?
The Big 5
In 2000, the National Reading Panel in the USA presented their findings of the largest and most extensive inquiry into the teaching of early reading and how students initially learn to read. The areas noted as crucial for reading instruction were phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary (See this report for details). They recommended these areas be explicitly and systematically taught. Even more compelling is Australia’s own inquiry into the teaching of reading titled Teaching Reading. It found that:
“Findings from the research evidence indicate that all students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. This, coupled with effective support from the child’s home, is critical to success.” (Page 11)
Such findings from huge, evidence-based reports conducted by two national governments should be taken seriously. How to systematically and explicitly teach all 5 keys should be part of ITE.
Contemporary Education Debate
Part of being a professional is taking part in discussion and debate within your chosen profession. You would think that after years in an ITE course I would be savvy to the key debates in education. Not so, and that’s why I think studying the key debates in education is important. I am not an exception. As Greg Ashman writes in his blog post outlining the debate:
“There is a great debate going on in education about what and how we teach. A lot of teachers are unaware of this discussion, even if they notice the specific effects of it.”
Not many teachers know of the debate, yet it affects their work every day. Luckily, I had one very inspirational and passionate ITE teacher who encouraged me to engage on Twitter. If it wasn’t for her passion, I would likely still be blind to it all.
Teaching Methods 101
Teaching methods vary and not all are equal but teachers should be taught how to implement all forms of instruction – both traditional and progressive. Ideally, this course would be taken early in the ITE course because pedagogy is quite subject specific. The teaching method with the most evidence is explicit instruction. It involves directly teaching the content and skills of a subject area using clear and unambiguous language. In response to concerns about low attainment, the US federal government launched Project Follow Through, a very large and expensive study into forms of instruction. The following graph makes clear the finding that explicit forms of instruction were most effective.
Its findings have been replicated many times. Some may not agree with explicit instruction on philosophical or ideological grounds, but its usefulness cannot be denied. Its principles should be taught to all ITE students.