What if research debunks your own findings as a classroom teacher? Do you cease to use the strategies that you’ve come to know and trust?

owl teacher b4 and after

Reading this article was a little like proofreading my own work. It has saved me time that I do not have this week… I’ll leave you in Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s hands. Let me know what you think.:

The Bunk of Debunking Learning Styles

(you will need to register to read the article – it’s free)

Are boys’ brains different from girls’ brains?

Where would you stand on the following statements?

  • People react differently to girl and boy babies (agree/disagree)
  • One year olds don’t distinguish between boys’ and girls’ toys (agree/disagree)
  • Five year old girls play with both boys’ and girls’ toys alike (agree/disagree)
  • Environments bias boys’ and girls’ behaviour (agree/disagree)

This is an interesting scientific exploration by Lise Eliot of the differences between boys and girls that breaks down damaging gender stereotypes – Pink Brain Blue Brain

Click on photo below to view the video. You can watch the whole 40 min or jump to sections that interest you.

Pink brian blue brain







Teaching does not equal learning

quality_teacherThe Australian Professional Standards for Teachers clearly states in Standard 1. Know students and how they learn, that teachers must take steps to meets students’ needs. The proficient teacher, it reads, should “structure teaching programs using research and collegial advice about how students learn.”

Before I go any further, I do hope we all agree that the same teaching method does not work for all learners, that learners learn in different ways and that teachers should employ a variety of methods in teaching, learning and assessment. AGREED?

Learning styles are just one category that can be used in conjunction with other strategies and learner attributes such as prior knowledge, motivation, aptitude and confidence to assist in developing and facilitating relevant, interesting, fun, engaging and motivational learning experiences.

Learning should be a holistic experience engaging the learner in all facets; I always ask my students to remember just four things when engaged in reflection and learning – see, hear, feel and think. Many have used these simple examples and have developed excellent reflective skills that have in turn improved writing and listening skills. 

Learning should be a process by which the learner can investigate, participate, interact, reflect and create. Learning is not about transmitting pre-existing ideas but of creating knowledge that can be integrated into the prior knowledge and experience of the learner. In order to do this successfully the learner must be explicitly taught how to learn and a positive learning culture must be established and maintained. The learning ambience must be safe, supportive and accepting of all; a place that allows learners to thrive and facilitators to open doors.

Relationships are a key part of the learning process. I always ensure to give students ample opportunity to feedbackWhat students say their thoughts and ideas at the end of each semester or teaching stint (right). Through this simple task, that could be quite confronting for some teachers, I have been able to develop further as an educator while simultaneously receiving positive and affirming comments. I spend much time planning and devising the learning experiences and I have high expectations of my students. More times than not they step up to the challenge.

For me to be successful in developing and implementing the learning activities I feel I need to really know my students. One way to do this is to watch and learn from them, especially over the first few classes. I also run quick sessions to discover how they like to learn and one of the strategies I use is Learning Styles traits. It is not however, the only tool I use, a good dose of listening and sharing my own story also works a treat in getting the students to share their own experiences. Trust after all is the first step in building a relationship. More importantly, discovering learning styles is not intended to pigeon hole or label students as this or that type but rather, the discovery leads to a conversation and learning opportunity not only to develop their preference but to offer strategies that can assist learners to expand their learning repertoire and adapt to different situations.

Teachers do not necessarily have to do more work but instead we need to change our approach. Our role as educators is to facilitate learning, not to deliver content and hope for the best. Forming relationships, really ‘knowing’ our students is part of the learning process, as are setting goals, self-assessment and peer assessment. Just because we teach doesn’t mean they learn.

While I recognise that it is important to have research support our claims, there is also validity in our own experiences, and that of colleagues. Our experiences should not be dismissed simply because the research does not support it. I don’t think we should abandon Learning styles altogether as the concept isn’t necessarily incorrect, maybe it just needs to be fully reviewed.

Top tips for a positive classroom

  1. happyKnow your students – really know; find out what makes them tick, walk in their shoes, remember that they are just smaller version of you, with similar feelings and really they just want to feel that you care enough about them to make a difference.
  2. Recognise their individual differences and take action; make it your mission to find out how they learn, what they like to do and arm them with strategies so they can experience success. Teach them how to learn and the rest will fall into place.
  3. Be clear on your expectations of work and behaviour; say it, write it, show it, do it
  4. Establish a relationship; don’t think you have to be their best mate, certainly not, you are their teacher, but let them know you care enough to ask how they are travelling, to follow up, to give praise where praise is due and to explain how they can do better for next time.
  5. Encourage them; to be their best, set them high standards but not so high they cannot reach them, scaffold their learning so they can. Ensure everyone leaves with a sense of achievement.
  6. Believe in them; believe they not only can learn BUT they will learn. Now put in place the steps they need to do so, challenge them, question them, learn from them. Watch, listen, learn, they are very good at letting you know what they need so pay attention.
  7. Make learning relevant; find a link between what it is you want them to know and do and their own lives as 21st Century learners. ICT takes care of the facts, your task is to bring the ‘humanity’ to class.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Teaching strategies that work for boys

boy_visualI believe that boys’ behaviour is linked to the way we teach. Good teaching will ultimately deliver good behaviour. Whenever you can, I encourage you to negotiate the curriculum with boys; make it about them. In fact I’m going to also say that whatever you do with the boys can only but benefit the girls as well.

You will be surprised at how closely the negotiation is with the actual curriculum you intended to deliver anyhow. Discuss assessment with them; come to an agreement which suits both the expectation of the course they are about to undertake and their needs. Give them choices on how they might like to present their learning. This gives them the opportunity to shine using their strengths. Create the environment in which they might come to understand more deeply the learning intended.

“Boys are impressed by what they see or feel more than what they hear.” Shea (1964) Use their own experiences and set up environments to engage them more deeply. Here are a few ideas from colleagues and from my own classes that work.

Power of One (Year 6 boys) Consider the strength of this introduction to South Africa and Apartheid: The teacher divides the room with a thick strip of white tape. Twenty-five boys occupy one-third of the room, two-thirds of the room, by only five. These five are the ‘chosen ones’. For a day the ‘chosen ones’ are given special privileges: they are treated to lollies, use the toilets closest to the classrooms, leave the room first, go to specialist classes before the oppressed twenty-five. The underprivileged ones are not to speak in class, can only play in a small grassed area, must use the toilets in the far end of the courtyard about 50-60 metres away and may only exit the room from the back door. The ‘chosen ones’ were given permission to throw their rubbish on the ground and simply by pointing, signal their wish for the underprivileged to pick it up. The 25 must obey.

This behaviour might seem harsh but the teacher assured me that they made it as difficult for this group as was possible without jeopardizing their safety. A number of parents called the school, not to complain, but to congratulate the teacher on his efforts in establishing the setting for the novel with such realism that their boys would not stop talking at home. The conversation in the classroom the next day was amazing.

“Was it fair?” the teacher asked.

“Certainly not!” The oppressed group responded.

“Yes” replied the ‘chosen ones’.

“Would you want to swap?”

“Yes!” came the roar from the 25.

“No!” said the ‘chosen ones’.

And on it went…a wonderful first hand experience of oppression and power.

boy_learning_geographyTropical Rainforests (Yr 8 boys) My daughter actually told me this story…but it’s great for boys. It is amazing what a couple of humidifiers and some tropical fruits to share can do to set the scene for a geography unit on tropical rainforests.

Michelangelo and the Sistine Ceiling (Yr 7 boys) It is always great to have boys imitate life, especially those of famous artists. It certainly gets their attention when one mentions their sexual orientation but getting them to lie under their tables armed with pencils, (not paints, mums tend to not like them having paint all over their uniforms!), and have some paper already attached to the bottom for them to draw on. I have since found that this is not accurate and that Michelangelo probably leaned backwards while standing to paint the Sistine Chapel, but it worked for a while, much taller desks might be invaluable for future sessions!!

Vincent Van Gogh (Yr 9 boys) Even 15 year olds enjoyed the introductory picture book story read to them from the teacher’s chair as they sat or lie on the ground. Their next task was to coordinate a human chronological timeline featuring the different episodes in the artists’ life and times. Then we moved to completing a mind map of what we had retained followed by a journey into cyber space. This was an excellent way to introduce the artist and his work and their literacy skills were advanced simply by using the words and simple phrases they had used to build their mind maps, the discussion and stories they had heard and then the interaction they had with the websites. Their essays were wonderfully personal and full on emotions. Needless to say they were very proud of their achievements and it wasn’t hard at all.

Italian Region’s Project (Yr 7 boys) Why not encourage the boys by setting up a travel unit, asking them to complete forms, interview them using your colleagues as the government officials. Boys tend to get quite motivated knowing that someone who does not teach them the language can actually understand them. Once successfully completing the interview, issue passports which act as the criteria sheets for all the different sections of the assessed tasks. The boys collect each assessment as they complete the tasks and return is anticipated with the final date stamp. It is a wonderful way to engage them and make them accountable for holding onto their passport. If they lose it the cycle begins again. We have yet to lose one!

The Dadaists (Yr 12 boys) The Year 12 History teacher invites the Year 11 Studio Arts class to discuss Dadaism with her class. What does one do apart from panic because this is your first year at the school and she has been there forever and probably knows a lot more about History than you do!

Answer: send her class outside while your class sets the scene. In one corner we have a couple with a dictionary, at the back another couple set up with easels and paint, some more cut newspaper headlines and throw them into a hat, another few are perched on top of the desk ready to make a stand, throw in a couple of harlequins and suits and the scene is set. Call in her class when you’re ready and ACTION!

I am always on the look out for more great ideas. Why not share some of yours with us? It can only benefit our boys after all.