Saturday, July 17, 2010

Asking the students what they think

This week I’ve been at my Mum’s in England. I’ve been travelling around on public transport and seeing students who used to go to my old school. This got me thinking about how I viewed my own teachers when I was at school, over 30 years ago. I’ve also been continuing to read the Bill and Ochan Powell book Making the Difference. In Chapter 4 of this book Bill and Ochan quote a survey carried out by Jean Ruddock - asking students what qualities in their teachers they thought would lead to an increase in student learning. This is what the students said:

1. Teachers should enjoy teaching the subject – and pass on this enthusiasm to the students. This enthusiasm comes from a deep knowledge of the curriculum and the belief that this content is important for students to learn. The teachers’ enthusiasm is seen by students as being more important than the actual content.

2. Teachers should enjoy teaching young people and create a climate that is supportive and encourages risk taking.

3. Lessons should be interesting and should be connected and relevant to life beyond school.

4. Teachers should be willing to have a laugh, but at the same time should know how to maintain order.

5. Teachers should be fair. This is a difficult one as fairness could be defined by students as equality (treating everyone the same) or it could be defined by them as equity (treating everyone according to their needs). One interesting thing to come out of the report is how the students defined unfair treatment. Most of the time they meant unreasonable instead of unfair and this implied they did not understand the reasons for decisions that were made. Often a teacher can be seen as fair just by explaining the reason for a situation to the students.

6. Teachers should be easy to talk to. This calls for teachers to have well developed listening skills and for them to be trustworthy as well as being able to give sound advice.

7. Teachers should not shout – this is often seen as threatening and inhibits risk taking, creativity and higher level thinking.

8. Teachers should not make comparisons between schools, classes, students or siblings as this can undermine self-esteem and achievement. A negative self-image leads to failure in school.

9. Teachers should explain things without making students feel small.

10. Teachers should not give up on their students – having high expectations are extremely powerful. If we aim too low this sends a message to students that they are not capable or that we don’t care.

When I reflect back on my own time at school, I can easily identify the teachers who enthused and motivated me. I’m sure, for example, that I went on to study Geography directly as a result of the love of this subject by my A’Level Geography teacher who was always going off to different parts of the world on field trips and who would bring back and share with us her slides and photos. This probably influenced me to become a bit of a globe-trotter as an international teacher myself, and in turn may well have been the reason why my son, who is now at university studying Geography himself, became interested in the subject.

Bill and Ochan make another important point. Many teachers, when asked to recall a particularly successful lesson or teaching experience, tend to recall lessons from their own childhood rather than recent ones by their colleagues. This is a worrying finding as it indicates how isolated many teachers are in their own rooms – they may plan collaboratively, but often the actual teaching goes on in isolation in many classes. Teachers, therefore, often lack recent examples of pedagogical excellence.

In my own teaching I’m extremely lucky. As an IT teacher who is responsible for integrating IT into the curriculum I’m never teaching alone. Either the class teacher brings his or her class to the lab and I work with them there, or else I go to their classrooms and do the IT there. This has been one way of professionally developing the teachers with IT of course, but I have learnt so much as well from going into the classes and seeing what the teachers are doing and how they are doing it. Our aim is to co-plan, co-teach and co-assess all the units of inquiry. We are not there yet, but we have made a good start.

Photo Credit:  Chinese Class by cleverCl@i®ê>


  1. It is hard for teachers to see beyond their classrooms. I know in my first years of teaching I modeled excellent teachers that I had. I think that teachers who read blogs and are involved in online communities where they talk to other teachers gives them an advantage. They get to connect with others read about what is working and what isn't, as a result there views on teaching and learning are broader.

  2. I guess the best way to get over this isolation in teaching phenomenon, in spite of all the collaborative parole and vibes that have come to stay thanks to technology in general and to social utilities in particular, is to encourage teachers to sit in their colleagues' classes to see what they do.

  3. I guess the best way to get over this isolation in teaching phenomenon, in spite of all the collaborative parole and vibes that have come to stay thanks to technology in general and to social utilities in particular, is to encourage teachers to sit in their colleagues' classes to see what they do.

  4. Absolutely - but that means release time to free them up to do that, and there are also costs because someone else has to cover their class. I've been thinking a lot about teacher isolation and will be blogging about this some more later.

  5. This is so interesting, thanks for sharing!
    I used to have a Maths teacher in high school. I was never particularly good at Maths, in fact, I was quite bad. When I had her, I was enthused by the subject, I worked so hard on it. It helped me understand and develop a passion for Maths. I still carry that in me. I taught Maths in Berlin, and still love to teach it now I'm a classroom teacher. My students always seem to do very well in my class in Maths, and the ones who used to dislike Maths or struggle with it, started to love it too.

    My old school used to have a subject teacher system even in the primary grades. The justification was that the teacher is supposed to be enthusiastic about the subject! I wonder if they had a good point!?