|The MUSTER Synthesis Report - Researching Teacher Education: New Perspectives on Practice, Performance and Policy (CIE, 2003, 237 p.)|
|CHAPTER 5: THE CURRICULUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION|
The curriculum documents often list a range of student-centred, interactive and participatory methods - demonstrations, group work, role play, fieldtrips, project work - but observations in three of the African sites revealed a predominantly teacher-centred transmission mode. Teaching 'subject content' resembled traditional high school methods: the tutor would present information orally, using the board or textbook, interspersed with (tutor) questions and (student) answers; only occasionally were attempts made to develop a class discussion. The levels of cognitive demand seemed low; in places students' poor language skills inhibited debates. In English and maths students might do individual exercises; in science experiments were usually demonstrated by the tutor, probably because of shortage of both time and equipment. In most places, at least some tutors used group work of some kind, with varied levels of effectiveness, as few tutors were clear about what they wanted to achieve through groups.
What was striking was that quite similar styles of teaching predominated in 'methods' lessons, although there tended to be more student activity, and more group work. But in the main, trainees were told about how to handle primary classes, and occasionally shown, as when the tutor did a demonstration lesson, or showed a video, but very seldom did they actually experience the kind of student-centred methods that were preached. We did see students perform a couple of role-plays about primary teaching, but these reproduced the teacher-led methods of their own experience; they were not opportunities for students to try out new approaches.
Trinidad and Tobago proved a partial exception to the rule, though it should be noted that the lecturers observed were a self-selected group and probably represent the most innovative ones.
Box 5.4.: Examples of Good practice in Trinidad Colleges
Literary Studies. Mr. M. said he wanted to make literature relevant to the real life circumstances of the trainees. He gave a university-type lecture to nearly 200 students on a short story by a local writer. His lively, idiosyncratic style encouraged student responses and through a shared exploration of the text he modelled ways of responding to literature. The notes he dictated included observations by students. Only one reference was made to primary school teaching.
Maths. Ms. A. deliberately tried to model teaching strategies she expected her students to use. In a lesson on ratio taught to 35 students, she used a learning cycle approach to concept development, incorporating varied appropriate materials. Strategies included whole group, individual and pair work. Summaries helped pull ideas together and discussion sessions were used for students to clarify concepts. Students were encouraged to analyse the lesson in pedagogic terms and identify the methods used.
Science. Ms. J. taught 44 students a double session on 'Matter'. She used everyday materials in her teaching and tried to provide situations that would help trainees to understand science and to identify their misconceptions. After the tutor had elicited their prior knowledge through discussion, concrete examples and text, students in groups classified substances into solids, liquids and gases, and reported back giving reasons for the classification, which the tutor summarised on the board.
The concept of gas/volume relationships was explored with the help of more concrete examples, backed by probing questions from the tutor. This was reinforced by a 'fun' role play in which the students in 3 groups enacted the different properties of gases, liquids and solids. More groupwork followed on how kinetic theory could explain changes in state caused by temperature, and much discussion ensured before the results were presented. The tutor summarised and discussed some issues still unresolved. This was a highly successful lesson, well-structured in terms of pace and variety of activity, where learning was reinforced by a number of strategies. The methods used were transferable to school classrooms.
(George, Worrell et al, 2000)
It is ironic that the pedagogy of teacher education courses themselves should be so neglected, and that teacher educators so seldom apply their espoused theories to their own practice. Several reasons may be adduced for this situation. Firstly, in some places large numbers made interactive work more difficult, but not impossible, as there were isolated examples in both Lesotho and Trinidad and Tobago of tutors handling large groups in participatory ways. Lack of resources was certainly a factor, particularly in Malawi. The exam pressure and the consequent need to cover the syllabus, were clearly important in both Malawi and Ghana. The Ghanaian tutors said that because of the overcrowded syllabus, extra curricular activities and the looming exams, there was simply no time to engage in activities requiring extensive exploratory work by students. In addition, Ghanaian tutors did not set students collaborative work for fear it would lead to 'copying' in the exam (Akyeampong, Ampiah et al 2000).
Our overall evidence, however, suggests deeper elements. In part, there seemed a kind of collusion between tutors and trainees, who knew little else from their schooling, to maintain the transmission mode. The surveys support this, showing students often found project work 'difficult' and groupwork 'less useful' Students reportedly demanded notes, and where books are in short supply, this makes sense both for the exams and for later reference. NQTs said they often relied on college notes in their teaching.
Finally, interviews with tutors reveal that in many cases the transmission mode is the one they feel most comfortable and confident with. Few have fully internalised the constructivist, student-centred approach to learning, and even those who want to move in this direction find themselves constrained by the current college system and ethos. It was notable that in Malawi the Student Teacher Handbooks were used by tutors as adjuncts to a transmission mode rather than starting points for a more learner-centred approach. Most tutors regard the students as 'empty vessels', and do not recognise or value their prior experiences. Insights from theories of adult learning - mentioned in the Malawi Trainers' book - are ignored (Rogers 1996).