|Primary Teacher Education in Action: A Peep into the TTC Classrooms at the National Teacher Training College, Lesotho (CIE, 2002, 42 p.)|
|Chapter 3: Findings|
Five lessons covering three topics on the educational foundations course were observed. These were in the areas of teaching and learning materials, early learning specialization and educational research. The first two topics were taught by Mrs. G and the last by Mr. H.
The objectives of the lessons observed were found in the course outlines of the curriculum document. For example, Module 6 of the educational foundations course has as one of the objectives: students will be able to: demonstrate the ability to prepare and use relevant teaching aids effectively. Module 2 indicates that students will be able to describe the meaning, nature, and types of educational research methods and demonstrate their understanding of research methods through application and analysis (National Teacher Training College, p.60 and 62 respectively). One of the lecturers made reference to the objectives and/or modules during her teaching. In a way the lecturer was demonstrating to the students the importance of ensuring that students know about the relevance of the lesson being taught.
3.4.2 Lessons 1 and 2: Teaching and Learning Materials
The two lessons that were observed under this topic were the theory and practical aspects of teaching and learning materials. For the first lesson, the lecturer had distributed two handouts prior to the lesson. In her introduction Mrs. G. referred the students to the two handouts on the topic. It can therefore be expected that the students were familiar with the content of the lesson.
This lesson, which was highly interactive, focused on numerous ways that can be explored for storing teaching and learning materials in typical Lesotho primary school environments. The lesson featured questions posed by Mrs. G. herself. The responses provided by students showed that the content of the lesson or perhaps the primary school situation was very familiar to them or indeed still very fresh in their minds. Mrs. G asked questions such as: What can we do to protect our teaching aids from damage - think about agents that cause damage such as dampness, heat, direct sunlight, mice, rats etc. In fact, many of the questions asked directly led students to possible answers. Students too had an opportunity to ask questions on the aspects of the lesson that needed clarity.
However, the activity that followed did not seem to follow directly from the topic of the lesson. There was therefore a discrepancy observed, which seemed to be negligence or lack of systematically relating aspects of the same topic on the part of the lecturer. Specifically, students were asked to sit in groups of five and to construct teaching and learning materials. At the same time the tutor shared with the students a few hints on what to bear in mind in developing materials That is, the lesson neither focused on the storage of teaching and learning materials nor was there logic in discussing storage prior to constructing materials. Thus, failure to capture specific issues at the relevant time of teaching a particular concept tends to show inconsistency and/or illogical ways of presenting a topic to students.
This lesson, although designed as groupwork, lacked the input and or close supervision by the tutor herself. Instead of guiding the activity by way of observing the group activities, the students were left on their own from after the first 20 minutes of the lesson up to the end of the period. It seemed doubtful that the students would be in a position to relate the construction of materials to suitable storage for each of the different types of teaching and learning materials that they might have constructed. Such a connection calls for the lecturer who is prepared to observe the activity and who, in the end would discuss the product of group work with the purpose of relating it to the storage topic.
Although the kind of knowledge that was being transmitted seemed to be on helping student teachers learn to construct teaching and learning materials themselves, they did not have an opportunity to interact with others about their work. For example, they did not discuss the materials constructed nor did they discuss how and in which lessons they would use those materials. This would have been an opportune moment to allow students and the lecturer to critique the outcome of the work as groups presented their work. This way, assessment would have been a challenge for all students and the lecturer herself.
3.4.3 Lesson 3: Early Learning Specialisation: Home and School Relations
The lesson on home and school relations was the only lesson observed in this MUSTER sub-study in which the tutor not only made reference to the module and objectives of the course, but also elaborated on what was contained in the module. She actually spelt out the objectives of the module as they appear in the documented curriculum. For example, Mrs. G indicated that the objective of the module is to equip the student teachers with ways of handling early primary classes 1-3 learners and that its basic aim is to provide an in-depth understanding of pupils' personalities in order to enhance their all-round development. It was therefore in this lesson where student teachers actually had the opportunity to relate the lesson to one of the objectives of the course.
At the start of the lesson, it appeared to be student-centred. In the first instance, they were involved by way of inviting them to visualize the first days of primary schooling in order to relate the topic of the day to the real school situation. However, the lecturer tended to elaborate on a number of issues submitted by the students instead of perhaps allowing students to discuss such issues. In doing so, students' knowledge would have been enriched by the type of information that was being discussed. Most importantly, the lecturer would be providing the students with an opportunity to critique each other and in that way help them achieve one of the major goals of the DEP programme, which calls for such strategies in the teaching of the various courses.
In the second instance, the lesson shifted to being teacher-centred. After the student teachers' contributions, which were supplemented by the tutor's input, the lesson moved to the tutor providing extensive explanation on a number of issues. These included researching learners' family backgrounds, the age during which children are admitted into standard 1, relationship between school and home, and parents' expectations. Thus a lesson that could have been mainly student-centred shifted to becoming purely tutor-centred, forcing students to listen more than participate.
The explanations given by Mrs. G benefited from the practical examples she gave. For example, she emphasized playing and singing as possible ways of helping children learn and indicated that they (children) could play out concepts such as division by playing roles of parents and children when sharing things at home. In doing so, she illuminated methods and/or activities that fully engage children and which are by nature child-centred. At some point she referred students to the psychology lesson on motivation that they had sometime in the past and linked this to what they were learning in the lesson. Much as we are inclined to agree that injecting a concept at the point that might help the students see the relevance to what is being taught to what was learned in other lessons, it helps more if the students were asked to discuss the relationship themselves. This would have been one way of assessing the extent to which students remember or are able to link related ideas.
3.4.4 Lesson 4 and 5: Educational Research
The educational research lessons observed were on choosing a topic of study and on literature review. The educational research topic and the objectives for the module, as already pointed out, are from the curriculum document.
The educational research lessons observed tended to be teacher-centred. The one on literature review was more heavily teacher-centred one than the one on selecting a research topic. Typically, the tutor gave extensive explanations on a particular concept. For example the lesson covered the following sub-topics: purpose for reviewing literature, drawing a research proposal, methodology indicating subjects, instruments and procedures, sampling techniques and the meaning of data. This instructional method created a situation whereby students were not only bound to listen but also had to take copious notes at the same time. This was aggravated by the habit of the lecturer to dictate to students what to write on the chalkboard, in few instances where individual student teachers were instructed to put something on the chalkboard themselves. Most worrying about the extensive explanations was the introduction of too many concepts in one lesson.
This is yet another situation whereby in analysing the lessons observed, we see that a practical lesson is taught theoretically. For example, although one of the lessons observed was meant to be practical, the number of issues the students were supposed to work on were too many. In this particular lesson, students were to come up with a topic, identify a problem statement and then define two variables: dependent and independent variables.
The entire approach and the amount of content covered suggest a highly ambitious style of teaching educational research. The sub-topics covered could be taught adequately over a one-year period. Instilling in students the value of investigation is an aspect of education that could start as early as at the primary school level. However, and perhaps because the lesson was aimed at teaching the content of educational research and not so much how inquiry could be introduced in the primary school, the areas considered to be researchable were targeted at student teachers undertaking research themselves, although related to primary schooling. Topic such as the effect of free primary education in teaching and learning in the primary schools and one on the effectiveness of teacher education curriculum in preparing teachers for inclusion in primary school have some relevance to primary schooling. However, as already pointed out, none of the topics mentioned seemed to say anything about teaching young children to engage in inquiry themselves. Thus, the educational research lessons observed were not anywhere close to the primary school classroom in which young students could be taught investigation skills. The educational research lessons observed were therefore basically aimed at upgrading students' content knowledge.
Although most of the teaching was lecturing, there were instances where student teachers had the opportunity to interact. This was particularly true during the lesson in which they discussed research areas and variables. However, like most of his colleagues, the lecturer did not stay to supervise the group discussions. Mr. H therefore, failed to model group work as a skill that student teachers could use in their own classrooms.
Regarding checking student understanding, he tended to ask questions such as What do you think methodology means? What do you mean by methodology? Such questions were asked prior to him providing an explanation.
Failure to connect previous lessons with the one being taught was observed during Mr. H's lesson. For example, the lesson on literature review had ended abruptly because time had run out. However, the next lesson that followed this one started with students being divided into groups to work on identifying a topic and defining a variable. There was no attempt to wind up the previous lesson.
A picture that emerges from the way lessons were introduced in educational foundations indicates that, to a large extent, reference to the previous lesson or a brief introduction were the common features of starting a lesson in this course. However, there were some differences observed. In one lesson, introduction appeared more like a business way of going about the class activity. The lecturer started by greeting students and immediately expressing concern that the group was behind others in terms of the content covered and that in order to be at par with other groups the lesson required students taking notes. The pressure here seems to be catching up with others, regardless of the circumstances that might have led to the situation of being behind other groups on the topics covered.
The two education lecturers both had a groupwork activity. Neither lecturer stayed for the practical stages. This was the time for tutors to return to their offices leaving students to either continue with the lesson or also leave without completing the task. This practice is a poor model of what group work entails and the opportunity actually to demonstrate it gets missed.
The use of teaching and learning materials by the educational foundations tutors is subject to a number of questions. For example, as opposed to challenging the students to use as much as possible text and/or reference materials that appear in the curriculum as documented, tutors tended to use handouts and the chalkboard. A typical and rather sad situation was whereby students were reminded that there is a huge collection of relevant materials in the library on a topic that was being taught, yet students were encouraged to take copious notes by the same tutor. Both the prescribed and the reference books, Doing your research project(Bell 1992) and Introduction to research in education (1990) respectively were available. This situation whereby students are not given the opportunity for independent study or for use of prescribed materials, might be attributed to the transmission mode of teaching in some of the educational foundations lessons.
Finally, in concluding lessons the educational foundation lecturers failed to demonstrate to their student teachers how lessons are brought to a close. As already pointed out, on two occasions students were left on their own up to the end of a lesson. On one occasion the tutor could not conclude the lesson as time had run out while in another a brief summary was given at the end of the lesson. In other words, there is no clear pattern of how lessons are concluded for students to learn from.