Teachers' Learning in a Changing World
The old saying, "Teachers will teach the way they have been taught" is very much in evidence in the Thai educational system. Hence, introducing change to educational practices has to start with teachers' learning. When the learning process of teachers and teacher training has been changed, it is assured that the new learning process will be replicated in classrooms. If teacher education is loaded with lecturing, it is very difficult to introduce other kinds of teaching to school learning. If teachers' learning emphasizes memorization or rote learning, it is unlikely that school learning will include high-order thinking. Therefore, every educational reform has to begin with teachers' learning, otherwise classroom learning will not be changed and new learning outcomes will not be achieved.
Problems and Needs
When "The New Math" was introduced to Thai education in the 1970s, it was presented as a new content. It was intended that the new math would make the subject more understandable, and more fun to learn. A good understanding would encourage further learning rather than create a dislike for the subject matter. It was anticipated that if the whole programme succeeded, students should be more competent in numerical operation and more inclined to study science and engineering. With an adequate manpower in science and engineering, the nation's industrial development would prosper.
Teachers were introduced to the programme in a training session. Their role was to carry out the actual teaching of the new subject. They learned about the new subject through traditional practices, starting with theory, rules and example problems. They learned how to find answers to the problem according to some specific paradigm and then used the paradigm to solve similar problems in exercises. Many teachers felt uncertain about the concepts. They were uncommitted and proceeded to present the material as a deliverer without any in-depth understanding. Eventually, nothing was changed except that there was more content to be covered.
The modern math is only one example of many unsuccessful reforms in teaching-learning. In most educational reforms, methods of teaching have not been included in the discussion. More often than not, the topic of learning methods is not only ignored, it is explicitly ridiculed by most reformers who are aiming at a more modern knowledge. It is often said too that to reform learning methods is time-wasting. Tea hers also say that teaching for learning how-to-learn-learn will consume a lot of time. It will be difficult to cover all the content specified by the curriculum if learning uses up too much time on hands-on activities. The less-is-more alternative has not been considered as a possible solution at all in educational reforms where only expanding will bring about progress and development is more. Now is an appropriate time for educators to come down to the heart of educational matters or the learning methods to achieve the less-is-more alternative in all educational reforms.
Teachers need to be trained on how children learn, not only how to solve mathematical problems. They must know how to make learners well understand the New Math and enable them to solve mathematical problems. Moreover, they should be able to help learners to efficiently communicate to other numerical ideas and to make connection with real-life problems in the areas chosen for their eventual career. Training only on subject matter is definitely not going to bring about this expertise. There must be more emphasis on coaching and facilitating techniques. In their normal practices, teachers must see very clearly where each individual learner stands on the learning continuum of that particular development, what problems and difficulties he or she is going to face and what lies ahead on that learning continuum to be walked by the learner. Teachers should be trained to be a master of how to help each and every learn to walk through the learning task. Going through the learning task is a necessary and essential aspect of teacher training but it is not sufficient to make them good and effective teachers.
In a world that changes at an exponential rate, members of such world community have to be very proficient in finding reasonable solutions to the problems that they face by themselves. Furthermore, a solution to one problem can not be totally applicable to other problems, however similar. It is said that there are no two problems that are exactly alike. There are many variables intertwined in every problem and components of all the variable involved have to be carefully studied. Forming solutions by studying and synthesizing the relationship among key variables seems to be very much in need. The ability to identify a meaning from observable and obtained data is the core of human characteristics in such changing society. Hence, inductive thinking has to be instilled in every learner for a productive citizenship in the changing world of tomorrow.
Teachers as a Model
In order to instil inductive thinking in every child, it is imperative to have teachers practising inductive thinking themselves. It is vital that learners have a good model to begin with. It is unfair and unthinkable that teachers should require learners to do what the teachers themselves cannot, let alone to demonstrate. Teacher should teach what they can do and while teaching, they should not simply give out solutions to the learners. Good teaching that nurtures inductive thinking makes the learners walk through the whole process by themselves. At the end, the learners have to access their own thinking to evaluate whether the solution is a rational one.
The best way to train teachers in inductive thinking is to make them learners. In a typical training session, the teachers must go through or walk through the following learning tasks.
- Collecting data;
- Classifying data;
- Establishment relationship;
- Conceptualizing relationship;
- Creating alternatives;
- Accessing alternatives;
- Testing the selected alternative;
- Restoring the workable alternative as knowledge.
The teachers have to do and redo this process of learning until it becomes automatic to them. It should be pointed out that, in order to achieve these learning tasks, various specific and basic skills have to be in evidence. Good data are the product of good observation and listening skills. Creating alternatives requires creative thinking skills. These basic skills have to be applied to real-life problems in order to make a meaningful learning. It is necessary that teachers be training as learners in order to treat students as learners. Once the teacher is the learner, he can be a good model for students as a learner. This practice will undoubtedly lead to a learning individual which is an important ingredient in a learning society, in the ever changing world.
The teaching profession has not been too highly regarded of late. One of the reasons is that professional practices were found wanting in the majority of teachers during the past two decades. There has rarely been any extensive attempt to improve teaching methods. Teaching is viewed as doing the same thing over and over again. The teachers see teaching approaches as private preferences or personality traits, rather than strategies to be compared, analysed and then adapted to suit their own styles. Teachers do not seek improvement for they feel that teacher education has already covered every aspect of teaching. It has not occurred to them that there is always something more to learn and learning keeps them fresh, exciting and energized for the learners.
In order to make the teaching profession more respectable, teachers have to be learners. They have to treat each new group of students as a different group, fresh and unknown. Teachers often perceive new students as being the same as those in the previous group and apply the same practice to them. If teachers are learners, they will study the new group of students in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses, then teach them accordingly. They will increase their teaching knowledge by collecting proven teaching methods for the new group of students and for each individual student. They will exchange knowledge with their colleagues for the benefit of their students and work collaboratively with their peers and the administration.
In assessing learning for professional practices where teachers are learners, one should look for the following evidence.
- more experiential, inductive, hands-on learning;
- more active learning;
- more responsibility transferred to students;
- more emphasis on high-order thinking;
- more choices for students;
- more cooperative, collaborative activities;
- more responsive teaching in heterogeneously grouped classrooms;
- more reflective sessions;
- more varied and cooperative roles for teachers, parents and administrators;
- more qualitative-anecdotal observation in students' assessment;
- more enacting and modelling of democratic practices;
- more inter-disciplinary learning;
- more challenging goals of learning.
It is anticipated that a classroom with these main features will bring about learning how to learn and learning individuals. Teachers who are capable of these practices have to act as learners practising learning rather then coming to class with what they have already known. They have to construct their own knowledge in class in order to model learning how-to-learn and then pass the process on to the learners rather than solutions, facts and theories. These main features also indicate that learning is more child-centred, more experiential, more reflective, more authentic, more holistic, more constructive, more cognitive, more democratic, and, definitely, more challenging. With all of these characteristics, education becomes more developmental.
If this is the kind of education we are looking for, it is necessary that teachers have to walk through this learning process and then practise them later on in their teaching. Professionalism can be achieved by teachers if they practise learning in their teaching.
One of the most important learning outcomes in education is learners' self-esteem. It is most desirable that every learner, at various stages of education, should be able to realize his or her capacity, potentiality and optimum capability in physical, intellectual, social and emotional (moral) developments. An individual who has reached the stage of self-esteem almost always makes a sound and rational decision. He or she always sets a reachable yet challenging goal in his or her endeavour. When the endeavour results in a success, his or her self-concept will increase or widen. Self-confidence will be reinforced and good disciplines will be further developed. On the contrary, if a person always sets an unreachable goal, and ending up in a failure, he or she will be heading toward the stage of despair which is the negative side of personality or spiritual development, and the undesirable outcomes in education.
A sense of success is vital to the development of self-concept, self-esteem and personality. It should be pointed out very clearly that the level of success does not always bring about good feelings about learning nor a true self-esteem. A sense of success begins with a sense of belonging. The learner has to realize that he or she is the one who sets the objective, the learning tasks and the stage for success. The learning must belong to the learners and not to the teachers. The "scaffolding" practice that forces every learner to go along a very definite path of learning will create negative feelings about learning. At the end, the learners will be submissive to the teachers. Good disciplinary practices cannot then be achieved. In fostering a sense of success, teachers have to be responsive to the learners and create several self-assessment activities in learning.
A reflective teacher always fosters a sense of success. He or she begins his or her teaching by learning about each and every learner. He or she encourages and negotiates with the learners to set a challenging learning objective, and to select an appropriate learning task, through his or her knowledge about the learners' capability and constraints. The reflective teacher makes the learners decide for themselves and ensures that the decision is sound and reasonable. He or she asks a lot of questions for the learners to carry out self-assessment. And at the very end of learning, he or she asks for the learners' feeling and makes them feel proud of their achievement. In intellectual development, the reflective teacher asks how the learners think rather than for the correct answer of the problems. The learners' formation of thought is more important than the solution itself. The reflective teacher ends his or her teaching by asking how the learners can make it better.
The reflective teacher is also a learner. He or she always reflects on his or her behaviour by looking at what happens to the learners. Learning about the learners' responses will help the reflective teacher select more effective behaviour for some particular purposes that suits particular learners. The reflective teacher constructs his or her knowledge through the process of observation for data collection and classification, creating a relationship among data and making a generalization on the obtained relationship with new situations for validation. To make teachers more reflective, a series of self-assessment sessions have to be conducted, beginning with an analysis of the learners, or the students. Teachers have to be trained or retrained on how to make their teaching more effective and successful. At the end, a sense of success in teaching has to be reinforced to make the teachers proud of their achievement.
It should be seen that reflective teachers are necessary and essential in an education which is geared towards human development. Education in the form of passing on information, facts and specific knowledge does not need reflective teachers. Reflective teachers are very important in a democratic education because the learners' liberty is always respected. In learning it is defined that the learners have to construct knowledge and the learners are growing individuals. Constructive process is a process of development and learning is a process of reconstruction of nature. It will be fair and just to require all teachers to be reflective, only if educational practices specify the empowering of human resources or emphasize that learning is a reconstruction of nature. Otherwise, retraining of teachers to be more reflective will not be cost-effective.
In presenting this paper, it is anticipated that more views and discussions will be expressed on the following premises:
- Should we make students' learning and teaching the heart or core of all educational reforms? It is undeniable that management should be reformed. However, the direction of management reform should be toward the above-mentioned features of teaching/learning in order to attain sustainable human resource development.
- Should we reform our educational system through teachers' learning?Should we use construction of knowledge by the learner as our model for teachers' learning? Is there any other form of teachers' learning that will bring about a learning society in the ever changing world?
- Should we request SEAMES to coordinate with all Centres/Coordinators to find ways and means to increase teachers' learning in their programmes?