We’ve come a long way from the days when teachers merely pushed content from the textbooks to their students. Today, it’s about mastering both the art and the science of teaching. For Principal Master Teacher Charles Chew, the key lies in bridging research and practice.
Charles is well-versed in the interplay between the science of teaching – the pedagogy – and the art of teaching. His secret lies in using research to inform his teaching practice and to develop himself as a professional.
Teachers as Learning Experts
The challenge for teachers today, says Charles, is to become learning experts. That means having deep subject mastery. But that’s just a starting point.
To be learning experts, teachers need to keep growing in their knowledge of both the subject and a wide repertoire of teaching strategies.
“Master the craft of teaching,” advises Charles, who has over 20 years of experience in teaching and education research. But this is not enough for this “chief pedagogue”. “You still need to have an art of teaching, which is unique to each of us.”
His vision is for every teacher to be a “π professional”, referring to the need for a strong theory–practice nexus. The horizontal stroke of the mathematical symbol represents the link between the two vertical strokes, which stand for teaching scholarship and research scholarship. Both are needed.
Transformative Professional Development
Charles’ answer to mastering the art of teaching is professional development (PD), specifically “job-embedded research”. “PD is getting more job-embedded,” he says, noting how PD today has taken a new direction.
All teachers can engage in such practice-embedded research as a form of PD. Charles suggests that “creative collection” of data in the course of teaching, such as the use of post-it notes, can be used for research that informs our practice.
This requires teachers to be reflective practitioners. Reflection after each workshop – and sharing of those reflections with a community of learners – is as important as the learning experience itself.
“It’s not just attending a workshop. You need to reflect, if not it won’t lead to new comprehension.”
Charles points out that PD not only shapes what you do but also who you are – your very identity as a teacher.
“Learning begets identity, and identity begets learning. Being precedes doing, and doing shapes the being,” he says. “As you talk to your students, you construct understanding of the subject and learn about yourself at the same time.”
Learners in a Digital Age
A teacher has to be an expert in the subject. This hasn’t changed despite the changing education landscape. What has changed, though, is the profile of learners.
With information readily available on the Internet, students no longer come to class as the proverbial blank slates. But what they have are “bits and pieces” of information.
The teacher’s role, says Charles, is to enable students to connect these fragments of information into structured concepts and principles. “You have to facilitate students in connecting all that they know in a meaningful manner to achieve deep understanding.”
Teaching for deep understanding starts from the learner – what they know and are interested in. The teacher is always asking: How can knowledge be transformed into deep understanding?
“The teacher must have the ability to transform the deep insights into simpler terms, to make it comprehensible, to bring about deep understanding in such a way that students are inspired to find out more on their own.”
A New SPIN on Learning
Charles explains how the use of learner-centred methods that are informed by research can help students achieve deep understanding. He recommends a simple and effective way to give learning a new “SPIN”.
“SPIN is a learner-centred approach that focuses on the Strength Prior knowledge, Interests and Needs of the learners.” This helps students to connect what they know and to structure their understanding.
Facilitate students in connecting all that they know…to achieve deep understanding.
Teachers can further make learning “FREE”, says Charles. “Make learning meaningfully Fun to engage their emotions, make it Relevant to their daily lives, Evoke their imagination to foster curiosity, and Engage their various senses so that learning can be experiential.”
Methods like SPIN and FREE not only help to connect students’ knowledge, but also to connect teachers to students. Because even in the digital age, inspiring teaching begins face to face. “Some students will learn because of the teachers.”
As pedagogical models change with the changing profile of learners, teachers have to continually construct new knowledge and connect it to their teaching practice. It is no wonder that Charles thinks PD is the answer for the modern teacher.
For Charles, effective PD for teachers should result in changed practice. “They must have conceptual change in understanding and it must also lead to change in practice.” This will transform your teaching and their learning.
Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W., & Gertzog, W. A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Science Education, 66(2), 211–227.
Starkey, L. (2009). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 16(2), 233–244.