Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Tag: teachers (page 1 of 1)

Pseudoteaching and the Edutainer

I recently came across Frank Noschese and John Burk‘s collection of posts on Pseudoteaching. In Frank and John’s words:

What is pseudoteaching? This term was inspired by Dan Meyer’s pseudocontext, which sought to find examples of textbook problems that on the surface seemed to be about real world problems and situations, but actually were about make believe contexts that had little connection to the real world, other than the photographs that framed the problems. After reading many of Dan’s pseudocontext posts, John Burk and I had the idea of pseudoteaching [PT] which we have defined as:

Pseudoteaching is something you realize you’re doing after you’ve attempted a lesson which from the outset looks like it should result in student learning, but upon further reflection, you realize that the very lesson itself was flawed and involved minimal learning.

We hope that though discussion, we’ll be able to clarify and refine this definition even further. The key idea of pseudoteaching is that it looks like good teaching. In class, students feel like they are learning, and any observer who saw a teacher in the middle of pseudteaching would feel like he’s watching a great lesson. The only problem is, very little learning is taking place. We hope pseudoteaching will become a valuable lens for critically examining our own teaching, and that the idea will spread to other teachers as well.


How does this apply to presenters?

Most presenters will tell you that their primary job is to teach new ideas, but it’s not. The primary job of a presenter is to be asked to present again (because if you don’t get to present again, you don’t get to share your message). The secondary job of a presenter is to teach. If the primary job of a presenter were actually to teach, they would use methods of presenting that might actually result in learning, rather than just entertainment.

Here are some quick checks you can use to tell if the presenter you have is actually teaching.

  • Do they use formative assessment during their workshop, and then modify their workshop in response to the results?
  • Do they ask questions that provoke thinking… and then expect everyone to respond to those questions?
  • Do they give opportunities for teachers to collaborate and discuss during their session?
  • Do they attempt to uncover and address incomplete models1 related to what they are teaching?
  • Do they check to see if teachers can apply what they have learned?

If not, you are probably listening to an edutainer.


1. My colleague, Scott Bruss, introduced me to the idea of using the phrase incomplete model instead of misconception. A misconception implies that something can easily be addressed by presenting the conception. An incomplete model suggests that in order to help a learner develop a complete model, you need to know what model they are currently using.

I did professional development all wrong

Last year, I presented a lot on the need to improve mathematics instruction. I had pictures, I had questions, I had effective arguments, and my audience was engaged. I could present like the best of them on some of the ways that we can improve mathematics instruction. What I did not have was effective teaching.

The role of someone involved in professional development for teachers is to help the audience, teachers, improve their practice. It may be that they take part of what you do and use it, and it may be that they attempt to copy your method exactly. The problem is that the typical presentation does little to improve someone’s practice. It may inspire them, it may anger them (I’ve done both), and it may provide some helpful tips, but effective change in practice does not come from someone presenting on their practice. The best you can hope for from a presentation is small, temporary, surface level changes.

Improving one’s practice requires thinking. It requires time spent looking at the context of one’s school, on the way that one approaches one’s own teaching, and on what other practices one can incorporate into one’s own pedagogy. It requires discussion so that the learner can take the ideas they are assimilating and seek clarification and direction.

So instead of spending the entire time I present talking, I give participants much more opportunity to talk. Instead of participants sitting around listening, I give them opportunities to do. The last few workshops I’ve done have been more about conversations. They’ve involved rich, mathematical problem solving activities. They’ve involved teachers having insights, and sharing those insights, often things that never would have occurred to me. I’ve learned much more from my workshop participants than when I was a presenter.

I spent an afternoon talking with my colleagues about computational thinking, how computational thinking really is mathematical thinking, and how if our students get opportunities to program, then they are doing mathematics. My colleagues were working on a particularly challenging problem, and one of them stopped and said, "Okay, I get it. Solving problems is hard. I can see why the kids struggle with this stuff." This kind of insight, not directly related to my objectives, was probably the most valuable insight to come out of that workshop. It never would have happened had I not given participants a chance to think and to do.

Are teachers overpaid?

Two authors of a controversial paper from the Heritage Foundation suggest that teachers are overpaid for their efforts. Here is my response.

The US economy dropped by 15.6% in 2009 for a total loss of $2, 342, 400, 000, 000. The people responsible for this disaster to the economy almost all received million dollar bonuses for their efforts.

From this I can deduce that the relationship between compensation for one’s "work" and what one does, or knows how to do, is not as straight forward as the authors of this paper claim.

All compensation is political. We choose to compensate some people differently than others for historical reasons, for political reasons, and obviously for economic reasons, but to ignore the historical and political aspects of compensation is to make a grave error in one’s research.

Thoughts? Do you think teachers are overpaid?



What do your student interactions look like?

Here is what my teacher and student interactions looked like when I first start teaching.  Notice a problem?

Teacher in Centre

The first problem was that I was overworked because I was doing ALL of the work in the classroom.  The second problem was that I could only ever help one student at a time, and when I wasn’t in the middle of helping a student, they weren’t doing anything because they were waiting to be helped. Sounds like a pretty unproductive classroom if all but one of your students is off-task at any given moment.

The next thing I tried was reversing the arrows, and putting the onus on the students to ask questions when they had them.  This looks something like this.

Students asking all the questions

It’s slightly better than the first scenario because sometimes the students won’t ask questions (even if they need to) and you won’t feel so busy, but it still means that all of the interactions in the classroom have to go through YOU.  It also results in less student engagement as they wait for their turn to ask YOU a question.

I thought about this problem, and rearranged my classes into groups.

Teacher helps groups

The problem here is the same as the first example, except that I help 3 more students in my first round than before, and I get through the whole class faster.  It was a bit better, and one of the things I noticed from this trial helped me design a better plan.  Students naturally helped each other after I had left, so that I often could make sure that some of the people from each group got the concept, and then they would help the other students from their groups understand.  It has a flaw, which also happens in the technique I tried next.

Teacher distributing work

The basic premise here is, teach three students, they teach three students, and so on, until everyone understands.  Quite often I’ve noticed that one student will help 4 or 5, or that a single student will be helped multiple times, etc… but basically you are distributing the work through the class. However the flaw I discovered with this technique is that I am still at the start of the process.  Remove me, such as when a substitute teacher is in charge of the class, and no one can get any work done because the students don’t know where to start.

This is a little bit better.

Now at least the students will ask each other for help, and even occasionally other groups and the amount of effort you have to put into running this classroom is less.  Replace the teacher, and it will almost work.  It has other flaws, such as if two members of a group are absent on the same day, you have to rework your groups, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but stable groups during the year work a bit better.  I know I’ve heard advice about switching up the groups, etc… but let’s be honest, how often do YOU switch up who you work with?  About once a year right?  So do the students really need practice working with different people?  I’m less convinced than I used to be. This classroom has its own issues and I’m not convinced that it is really ideal either, but it is a good place to start, especially if you lack the technology to do what I suggest next.

Here is the classroom I have been building over this year, and plan to continue building for next year.

The first advantage of such a classroom is that I am no longer a central figure, and that I can be replaced in this diagram by a substitute teacher and everything will still work.  The second advantage is that the students no longer have a single contact for resources.  They are each nodes in an interconnected class and have the ability to self-direct their learning.  The services in the centre are there to connect the students and allow a far greater variety of resources and ideas to be shared within the classroom.

As an exercise for yourself, try and create a diagram of your classroom interactions.  Which classroom structure do you think works best?