It is good teaching? Positioning your practice activity

It is good teaching? Positioning your practice activity

One of my favourite activities called “Is It?”  I’ve used this activity with all age groups, Prep- Adult and is a great introductory lesson to a new topic after you have provided some initial content.  It allows you to see how the thinking and comprehension is developing as a whole group.  Often I use this activity at the beginning of a unit, and then again midway, to see the development and processes of thinking around how the content is being understood and applied- of course being applied to a bigger picture question.

Presently, I have applied this activity to both my Critical Theory and Pedagogy class (Secondary) and my Art Pedagogy class (Secondary) this semester to achieve the main outcomes of:

  1. Positioning conceptual awareness of a group
  2. Introduction to discursive practice (I was new to working with these students)
  3. Applying critical thinking skills individually, small group and as a whole group
  4. My ability to assess informally where the group’s understandings, experiences and analysis skills are at, before I teach the rest of the course.

While my pedagogic practice is often situated in developing collaboration through substantive discourses, from experience I know it takes time to establish and develop a value for the participants, and is greatly based on the skills of the group.  This was my first semester working with this group of 3rd Year Pre-Service Teachers (PSTs).  It was important for me to get an understanding of the group, and for them to understand how I work, and my values on teaching and learning.  I firmly believe if we want our PSTs to practice collaboration, critical thinking or higher levels of thinking and discussion, then we need to model it by doing.  Clearly, my approach is to provide opportunities for PSTs to unpack big picture ideas around pedagogy and their understandings in relation to what they experience in school practice, so they can start to formulate where their own philosophies are aligned- and this takes practice.  One of the major assignments toward the end of semster will be to present their philosophy statement as a teacher and develop a Praxis of Inquiry.  So for me, this is the first stepping stone, a constructivist approach, to developing a position around articulating good practice.

Activity IS IT?

Simply, this activity is structured around a concept or discussion point.  So my examples were:

  1. Is this good teaching? (Critical Theory)
  2. Is it Creativity? (Arts Pedagogy subject)

For both concepts, students formed small groups and were presented with a few sentences from education theorists who describe a variety of education qualities and practice.  Students were required to unpack the statement in their small group, and decide where they would place their statement along a continuum of “Is it?” to “Is not?” which was on the board.  Then, a member of their group would explain and justify their reasoning for its positioning to the whole class.

You can see in the image below, that we used qualifiers of: “Is good teaching practice” “Average Practice” “Is not good teaching practice” for describing the continuum.  As the groups presented their statements and filled the continuum, they started to demonstrate skills of:

  • building bigger picture awareness of the concepts around education practice and values
  • comparing and contrasting ideas with others
  • building upon ideas within the whole group
  • being flexible to move positions of thought.

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How did I assess the learning of this group?

As part of my experience as a consultant/facilitator and classroom practitioner for developing Philosophy or Socratic dialogue in school, there are key learning outcomes that indicate learning is occurring, regardless of age group.  In particular I was listening to each small group build on ideas and justify their reasoning based on each of their personal experiences.  My role then was to facilitate the larger thinking of the class with prompts, modelling the language to connect ideas and linking thoughts- this was not explicit as an expectation, but it helps students to get in the flow of substantive discourse.

While this was a preliminary exercise and I didn’t have the opportunity to teach for explicit discursive conventions due to the course unit having a prescribed curriculum, I still applied my own pedagogic approach to learning the content in general.  In particular I wanted to see what the PSTs know and don’t know about meta-language around education theory and practice and the nature of collaborative discourse.

Specifically I was looking for key phrases which would be similar to: I think, I believe, one idea I have about that is…, I agree however, Maybe this idea could go here…and so on.


I look forward to seeing how their thinking develops in our next discourse session later in the semester, and whether these activities affect their thinking for their assessment.

Have you tried this activity before, what alternatives do you have for this, please share.

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