Disruptive Teaching and Learning


When I began training as a teacher, the standard modus was to observe an experienced teacher and essentially copy what they did in the classroom. This may explain why practice was slow to change over years. While we have moved on a bit, training is still a bit like this today. In part this is no wonder since the Teaching Council passed over the opportunity to set specific minimum standards for teaching in its review of Initial Teacher Education.

Consequently the typical approach to class is to teach (usually chalk and talk) for 15 minutes, have hands-on activity for another 15 minutes, followed up by some kind of review.  This is fine – it works, usually – and tends to address well most of the students needs in a class.

Some additional practices have been sought by Inspectors in recent years. For example, it is now expected that teachers will write the learning outcomes for a class on the board at the start of the lesson. This is an idea borrowed either from the UK Ofsted or from a recommendations in AfL (Assessment for Learning). The idea is that the children in the class will know exactly what is happening in class. And if they lose attention, they can always refer back to the outcomes written on the board.  There is some sense in this. There is also some nonsense in it. Some students will figure out very quickly what they have to do and switch off for the rest of class, or worse, stay switched on but bored. (I’ll fill you in on differentiation another time).

Where writing the learning outcomes fails completely is when a teacher, at the end of class, reviews what the children have learned. When asked what they have learned, the students need simply parrot the outcomes written on the board and forget  them once they have walked out of the classroom. There is some value to not writing the outcomes and then testing the children at the end of class by asking them what they learned today.

Showing some evidence of ICT use is also sought by Inspectors. More anon.

So the traditional approach to class remains. Lessons have a definable beginning, middle and end. The Teacher teaches a bit, the students work a bit and then everything is added up at the end.

Then along came ‘disruptive technologies‘. I was sent this link on ‘Embracing Disruptive Teaching’ but it presents on ‘Disruptive Technologies’. For me, Disruptive Teaching is more than the use of technology in the classroom. Disruptive Teaching is using approaches to teaching that may or may not use technology, as we understand it, but which uses different approaches to teaching than the typical chalk and talk-beginning-middle-and-end lesson (though these have not lost their value).

Examples of Disruptive Teaching include the Flipped Classroom where material that is usually presented by the teacher in-class is instead watching in a video or studied before the lesson and what would usually be homework is covered in class.

Another example is using techniques from other subjects to motivate student learning. For example, my Year 2s once presented a mini-drama on the Changing Role of Women in China. This drama was essentially a test of what they had learned themselves about the topic (10 minutes at the start of class; some ‘tidying up’ was needed afterwards but they were only Year 2s!) but also allowed some students to vent their leadership qualities, creative intelligence, allowed the ‘Bodily-Kinesthetics’ (can we call a group after an intelligence?)  to move around and it was all a lot of fun.

For the same group, bringing their History textbook to Geography class when learning about Irish Settlement was quite a disruptive experience but they adapted in the end.

The point of this is to break the mould of always doing the same thing all the time ‘because it works’. Disrupting the traditional approaches to class can enliven a class and change students perspectives of how learning could/should/ought to occur. We cannot lose sight of outcomes – but we can change how we arrive at those outcomes.

Previous generations have been raised on the notion that learning only takes place in the classroom. I have the strong impression that some contemporary writers/bloggers/educationalists see technology as the be-all-and-end-all of 21st century teaching and learning. It can’t be. While every student should learn to use computers, we do many children a disservice if we try to instil the notion that the only future in one where everyone works with or within the ‘computer industry’.

The notion of 21st century teaching and learning has to move beyond its birth to value approaches to teaching that break free of the  chalk-and-talk of the past but which also do not get stuck in the technology mud. 21st century teaching and learning should be disruptive. It should challenge and change how learning outcomes are achieved in class.

One final element of this but it’s for another post, is 21st century teaching and learning should contain some focus on acquiring wisdom from teaching and learning experiences.

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