nedjelja, 3. veljače 2013.

Teaching without textbooks

Last year i started blogging on different platform and one of my first posts was about teaching ethics without textbooks. Back then i just got started with this approach and i was developing the idea, so now i get the chance to share what i've learned from this experience so far.
To begin, i would like you to read this post on a link provided here.

Same as i felt back in October 2012, i feel now. It really is way better to approach Ethics in such manner that students engage in discussions, rather than just read or reinterpret what others said. Philosophical practice approach proved to be very useful here. Within it, the method of socratic dialogue shows best results. Lately, i've started to use philosophical cafe practice in classroom. The main idea here is to let my students choose for themselves which topic they want to discuss. Sure, they seem to have some difficulties in keeping the discussion going untill the end of the class, but this is where i come in. As soon as i notice they are having some trouble, i jump in with a question or statement, and the discussion goes on. This might occur few times during the class, it depends on students or on topic of discussion, but it is the point where you see how interesting this role change really is. Students are no longer just students, they are teachers as well. And teacher becomes mere facilitator, directing - not the knowledge students have, but the topic on which they should discuss. 

Socratic dialogue is very useful when you have specific topic in mind. Surely, as a teacher you should have annual plan and program of what you would teach in given subject. Similar to that, you should prepare for all your classes and do the research on topic you want to teach. If the topic is general and already known to your students, then you can begin with specific questions which will problematize it. If the topic is new to your students, then a short introduction is enough for them to grasp the possible views and to form an opinion. From that point on, directed questioning is all that matters. As you set your goals, questions should be directed in that way. Sometimes, i don't even tell a single statements during entire class, all i do is ask questions and students get to do the answering. While doing so, they should always be reminded to use arguments and if possible, also concepts. This type of discussion becomes extremely important for grading them.

Also, flipped classroom is new and interesting approach one can use with ease. With a little help of technology, we can do wonders nowadays. I prefer to use videos as sort of homework assignments. I usually pick videos on Youtube, or make my own videos (using iPad apps and posting them online), send the links to my students with additional tasks/questions to answer. This approach can be used both individually or in group and it works well, because they already watch videos everyday for fun, so it doesn't hurt to watch some for homework for change. I usually pick short videos, which they can understand, mostly animated short films which deal with a topic related to our subject. When i make videos, i make sure they get the most important facts in combination with examples, photos and directed motion, pointing out the most important connections. 

I've been asked a lot of times, by my colleagues, how do you grade your students then? One thing is interesting with this kind of approach - it's that there isn't a single student who will tell you during oral exam "I don't know". When they use textbooks, most teachers expect their students to repeat what's already written there. Based on correctness of repeated material, students are evaluated (in Croatia, numerically, where 1 is the worst and 5 is the best grade). I find that there are many other ways in which i can grade students. It gets difficult when i have students who don't function well with this approach, because they are used to 'textbook - repeat' system for so many years. And they tell me 'Please, just tell me what to write down, i will write it down and repeat it for you on exam'. So, how to deal with those who were taught WHAT to think, instead of HOW to think? They just need time and you have to work with them gradually. Short, individual assignments are best way to grade them as often as possible. Yes, they will still have trouble with oral exams, because they aren't used to express their own opinion, but they will do the assignments as you tell them to and maybe a bit worse grade in oral exam won't look so bad with the rest good grades for all other achievements. With time, they will get the courage and liberty to express what they think, just like the rest of the class. And as for the rest, the ones who were doing well since the beginning, it's really easy to grade them, because they respond with reasoning, arguments and sense. When repeating the textbook material on exams, students are nervous that they will get something wrong and fail the exam because of that. But after my first oral exam, where they weren't quite sure what to expect, i didn't see a single nervous student standing in front of me when it comes to exams or any other grading related situation. I asked them once, how come that they aren't nervous, and one of my best students answered - Because i trust my reasoning.

Zoran Kojcic

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