Teaching People To Think Outside the Box
A Method of Instruction
My School Experience
Being taught just enough
Too often during my education, I felt like my teachers were pushing to meet goals. I was being taught in a way that tried to loosely appeal to everyone and it was being taught just enough. Enough that I could regurgitate the bullet points or process steps that achieved the marks. Enough to form paragraphs consisting of 3 sections for English GCSE. Enough that learning answers to all of the previous exam questions, so that when some that are the same (or similar) appear, I can remember what the mark scheme expects.
Enough that it sinks in just deep enough that I never really have to understand it to pass the tests.
I can apply this blanket of being taught just enough to pass the exam, to every subject I took at school, with the exceptions of Foreign Languages and Design & Technology.
How the teacher delivers the lesson is crucial
The other problem I had with the way I was taught relates more to the people I was being taught alongside. Far too often, a teacher will explain something in what seems to be a sensible way and all of the class gets the point of the lesson. All except one. That poor kid is sat there trying desperately to understand, raising and re-raising their hand to check their interpretation is right.
If they haven’t understood, most teachers will first repeat themselves, hoping that the kid just missed a key word or two. When that doesn’t work, they might try to put it into practice — a simple scenario in which you can see how the point can be applied — the rest of the class really understands now. The kid who doesn’t get it feels even more lost. This cycle continues until either: the teacher is frustrated, the kid feels embarrassed and confused, and the rest of the class is bored; or they say they understand it.
Foreign Languages and D&T
What makes them so special?
You simply can’t pass an exam where you’re expected to have a conversation with a teacher in an entirely foreign language without understanding how to use the language to say what you mean. And you simply can’t design and make a product for D&T if you don’t understand and practise the methods you’ve been taught.
From this we can infer that Languages and D&T must be being taught in ways that make us understand and enable us to effectively apply the subject matter to real life practice. But what do they have in common? At first glance they seem to be on almost opposite ends of the spectrum.
Languages require an understanding of how to use different types of words (verbs, adjectives, nouns, conjunctions, etc.) to form correct sentences. Furthermore these linguistic tools must be learned in two parts: how to use them and what they each specifically mean.
D&T requires an understanding of how to use different types of tools (saws, drills, lathes, forges, etc.) to create products. Again, these tools must be understood to know how to use them and what specifically they can be used for.
So a subject requiring tools must be a good thing. If we can understand what our tools are for and how to use them then we should know how to complete the tasks at hand.
What about the way they are taught?
When learning a language you slowly build up a vocabulary, often adding in batches of topically similar words and phrases, alongside learning the grammatical structures that exist.
- To learn new vocabulary, you are first told the word in the new language — you hear it. Then it is written on the board — you see it.
- Next you are given its meaning — you hear it, then see it. You are given any other relevant information.
- You then practise saying it — you do it.
- After this, you may be tested by being asked to use the word in a sentence — you repeat it until you know it.
This acronym breaks down that teaching process into 4 distinct sections.
- Demonstrate: Introduce the new material (this can give both visual and audio cues, but often one more than the other).
- Repeat: Often in a different way to the Demo (try to balance the audio/visual cues).
- Imitate: Guide the student in doing it themselves (kinaesthetic cues).
- Practice: Makes perfect! (repetition enhances understanding).
You’re probably thinking that I’m about to apply this to D&T, and you’re absolutely right!
- We learn how to use a new tool, by first watching the teacher demonstrate what it does. We see a saw cutting through a piece of wood. The angle of cut is mentioned and its importance stressed.
- The teacher then talks through what they did to cut the piece of wood, asking students to answer questions about the important points (like the angle made between the saw’s blade and the wood).
- The students take their saws and practise cutting through their own piece wood.
- They are encouraged to make lots of cuts, checking their own technique is correct.
Why do we teach other subjects differently?
Something that I think is key to remember when reading this is that teachers definitely aren’t the problem.
The education system governing them is.
Why? The teachers are reviewed on their progress, which is only measured by test scores and potentially an Ofsted visit. With teaching and learning being quantified by the people producing the examinations, huge pressures are forced on teachers to improve their A* — C grade percentage, while the examination boards moderate all of their grade boundaries to allow finite proportions of the exam entrants to achieve each grade.
The government is demanding teachers to improve the average grades of all students.
The exam boards are changing the grade boundaries to maintain a normal grade distribution.
The exam boards are blocking the government in appearing to improve average intelligence by restricting grade boundary change, so that there is some integrity in what they are doing — providing a comparison between different year groups.
The government is blocking itself by expecting changes to be made to a system that is purposefully rigid — leading teachers to take shortcuts.
What we can do
In the short term, the best course of action would be to incorporate the DRIP method into as many lesson plans as possible to engage all students, regardless of their best learning stimulus. By asking the right sort of questions to provoke more thought and enhance understanding, students should be better equipped to adapt their knowledge to understand a situation, rather than repeat the same blanket statement — independent of context.
To see any long term change, the curriculum — and the way it is tested — needs to be re-designed to help produce a culture of self-improvement, as opposed to batch producing ‘fact-spitting’ robots.
How do we ask questions to inspire and encourage self-learning?
It’s very important to ask the right questions at the right times.
There are 5 main types of question that can each be used to promote discussion or further thought; all of which leads to our goal of deeper understanding. These are:
- Rhetorical: This type of question is effective to gather attention at the beginning of a lesson or to maintain interest throughout. It doesn’t require an answer but, when queried, it’s better if not left unanswered.
- Overhead: This type of question is asked of the entire class, with an individual to be chosen to answer after asking. This technique causes everyone to begin formulating an answer. Often this spawns discussion.
- Direct: Ask a question of one person, whose name you call before asking. Direct questions are especially effective when you suspect someone’s attention is wandering.
- Relay: You accept a question from someone, then turn it over to another individual to answer. This is very effective in aiding participation and discussion. Bear in mind that you must be able to answer the question if it goes unanswered.
- Reverse: You accept a question from someone and reword it or add an additional statement, then turn it back to whomever asked the original question. Once again, you must ensure you know the answer.
Often it can help to add questions directly into a lesson plan. By specifying the type of question you plan to ask, you can help build the structure of the lesson around the learning aims, helping improve the relevance of the lesson — along with the flow.
I want to see the new generation flourish. With teachers using DRIP to help improve the depth of understanding and asking the right kind of questions to inspire further learning, great advancements can easily be made. The potential is there, so perhaps we’re not so far away from brilliance.