Tuesday, May 04, 2010

CORE presentation from Lois Christmas on insights on learner experiences.

Attended to-day’s CORE session presented by Lois Christmas on her Graham Nuttall classroom research trust award . Lois presented on her study of a year 3 to 4 class studying numeracy. She probed the assumptions of how an effective teacher organises a class, provided suggestions as to how to take the pressure off teachers who want to do what they think they have to do, considered teaching as inquiry through a different lens and challenged school leaders to ensure that they allow teachers enough freedom to implement effective learning environments for their students.

A well attended presentation and Lois presented her study well with insightful observations of how children experienced numeracy learning in a primary school classroom. Data was collected mainly through the use of field notes. Photos were taken to assist with stimulating recall with students during one on one interview sessions. A puppet (Mr. Ed.) who took on the role of ‘someone who knew even less than the student’ was used to help illicit responses from children.

The study took place in a NZ classroom which had all the hallmarks of a great learning environment. The class was vibrant, exciting, positive, well organised and student contributions and talk was valued by an excellent teacher. The classroom was also well resourced with games, worksheets, computers etc. to be used as tools to assist the learning of basic numeracy facts.

The organisation of the class was a typical one used in numeracy teaching in NZ where the main objectives is the ‘create new knowledge’ through the learning of strategies and knowledge. Each session begins with a ‘hotspot’ session on the mat which is a whole class session to do learning and review concepts already learnt. Then the class is divided into two groups. As the teacher works with each group, the rest of the class practices, plays games or work in groups. Then the class meets again at the end for a ‘reflective’ session.

One of the findings of Lois’ study is that the teacher has very little time, using the above classroom organisational structure to actually work with individuals or to be able to gauge individual students’ understandings. Flexibility in school leadership to allow teachers to use other classroom organisational structures in tandem with the recommended approach is recommended. In Lois’ study, one student’s misconceptions about place values in adding and subtracting whole numbers was not addressed leading to deeper confusion as the curriculum moved on into more complex numbers.

This study is a good example of how much the private lives/ thought processes of learners are hidden from teachers, even in a classroom which is an exemplar of primary schools in NZ. There is much to learn from this form of research in the vocational education sector, so onwards with our multimodal project.