Monday, May 14, 2012

How much is too much?

Professional development and experimentation are all very well but my students are fee-paying customers; they’re investing in their futures, they have certain expectations. My students aren’t paying good money to attend my classes to indulge my whims and my attempts to follow the latest fads; they’re not guinea pigs to be experimented on. I’m sure my students want me to improve my teaching, but not at the expense of their learning. Don't get me wrong, I know I need to develop, to try out new things, to challenge myself and my beliefs; some tinkering is no doubt essential. But is it possible that a teacher who experiments too much is as bad as a teacher who takes no interest in professional development at all?  Could they even be putting their students’ progress at greater risk? 


  1. I guess it's a bit like business in a way. You take small risks that won't cost you too much rather than jumping headlong the other way. If these risks turn out to be okay then it's fine. Consider "Pura vida dogme" which is being done for free with students no paying and consenting. Or alternatively my experiments with blogs for students. I did it off my own back as an extra resource. I didn't charge them for the service so they could only gain. the only loss...was my free time!
    I guess not all experimenting can be done out of class though and the danger with only trying small changes is that the evidence can be very anecdotal and subjective. I don't think I've met a single teacher who hasn't justified their methodology with the fact that it works for their students (and of course, as quantum mechanics teaches us ;) observing affects the results.
    I guess the conclusion of that ramble is to make sure you back your experimentation up with evidence.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Chris, I admire the fact that you do things for free in your spare time. That is dedication. But the point I would make is sometimes we fiddle for no reason, sometimes we tinker just for our sakes as teachers (and I am guilty fo this) and not for the students' sake.

    1. I like this line from Rachael Roberts on her blog -
      'However, like most things, I think there probably are ways in which it could be beneficial, and I’m indulging myself by playing with a few ideas!'

      I understand that as looking for improvements, tinkering a little but not completely overhauling a teaching style.
      CPD is such a buzz word and as I have commented elsewhere there is such a negative view of people who have no interest in CPD (dinosaurs.)
      As teachers I think we need to get the balance right and as I said I think too much can be as detrimental as too little.

    2. WE did some experimentation last week during the afternoons. We taught in pairs - one experienced/one less so and each had a free afternoon to come up with a brand new lesson, which was videoed when taught. The students were on side from the start and benefitted from some fresh material. The videos showed whether the students were engaged with the lesson and what, if anything could be better adapted. It worked well, but I wouldn't want to do it all the time.

  3. Thanks for your comments Sue. The key words that you use are students were on side.
    it is fine if the students are forewarned and onside.
    As I said I thing teachers need to be experimental. BuI don't think we should treat our students like guinea pigs.
    Again thanks for the insights.

  4. As you have quoted me above (which is more than fine btw), I thought I'd add my thoughts, and clarify my position. As teachers, I think we generally gradually build up our own personal theory(ies) of learning and teaching, based on our experience and what 'sits' right with us. It's an incremental process, so often might be more about tinkering than wholesale change. A teacher who decides to start using a pure Dogme approach, for instance, is probably already the kind of teacher that has always been more interested in teaching the students than teaching the plan, so it could be seen as a natural progression (though by no means the only natural progression IMO).
    Having said that, I think wholesale change could be equally valid, if we suddenly re-evaluate everything we have done to date, in light of reading something, something happening in the class, a training programme etc.
    However, I definitely agree that if a teacher is zig zagging about trying a new approach every week, that probably implies that he/she hasn't actually developed any underlying theory or principles of his/her own. I think it's vital to always know why you are doing something and what you hope it will achieve- even if what actually happens in the classroom is completely different from what you expected (and indeed different for each student within it)

  5. Hi Rachael,
    thanks for the comment. I actually had two things in my mind when I wrote the original post 1. the teacher who tries new technology each week without giving time for students to see if they like it, to see if it works etc. These teachers remind me of the kid in school who are always into the new great latest band only to move on to the next one when the band become too well known. Secondly the teacher who does things their own way regardless of what is advertised by the school. The students have a right to get what they are paying for not a new fangled approach the teacher has decided on for whatever reason.
    I quoted your blog because that inspires me to tinker and play with my teaching but does not suggest a whole change of approach. I quoted it for the effect it has on me which of course might not be the intended effect. :-)
    Anyway thanks for the comment again.