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Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflection 11 : Achieving Professional Growth (16 November 2010)

The focus of tonight’s tutorial is on professional development of teachers.
Professional development is, “the professional growth a teacher achieves as a result of gaining increased experience and examining his or her teaching systematically” ( Glatthorn, 1995, p.41). As teachers, we need to continually grow professionally in order to be in tune with what is happening around the world. Since the implementation of TLLM, there has been a significant increase in the level of support that teachers are receiving in their professional development. In the PERI’s Report, there is also an emphasis on investing in a quality teaching force with professional development as an on-going process for all teachers to ensure that they have not only the basic teaching skills, but also a good grasp of curriculum content as well as a sound mastery of a variety of pedagogies and assessment practices.
A good education system depends on high quality teachers who constantly seek to improve their practice. In view of this, MOE has introduced various schemes and new initiatives to support and enhance the quality of teachers. New initiatives such as Professional Development Packages, Masters and Doctoral Study Leave and Teachers’ Work Attachment have been well received by teachers. In MOE Work Plan Seminar 2009, Education Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen stressed the importance of teachers seeing themselves as drivers of their own professionalism, setting up networks of professional learning communities (PLCs), coming together to share and exchange ideas on learning and teaching, engage in research, or simply meet up with colleagues who share common interests (MOE, 2009).

This quest for professional excellence is very much in line with the vision that DGE spoke about teachers wanting to Lead, Care and Inspire. In order for teachers to reach a higher level of professional competence and standing, PLCs was piloted in 50 schools in 2009 and by 2012, all schools will have a network of PLCs.      

PLC is another staff development team approach where teachers come together to work  collaboratively to focus on their learning rather than teaching until it becomes deeply embedded in the culture of the school. Through collaborative learning teachers are encouraged to collectively undertake activities and reflection that will enhance the curriculum and learning tasks for students in order to constantly improve students’ performance. The 3 guiding principles of PLC are:
1.      Ensuring that students learn
2.      A culture of collaboration
3.      A focus on results
Three crucial questions that drive the work of those within a professional learning community are:
  • What do we want each student to learn?
  • How will we know when each student has learned it?
  • How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
To consolidate our understanding of the three crucial questions and its application, we were asked to find the sum of all the interior angles in polygons of different shapes and sizes. In this activity, we learnt that in order for the open-ended approach to be effective the anchor-task, which is finding the interior angles of any n-sided polygons, must be rich enough for students to explore all possible ways  of giving a variety of responses. This would include both the anticipated and non-anticipated responses from the students too. Through class discussion and observation, the teacher would be able to gauge levels of mastery among students so that appropriate scaffolding for further teaching for understanding could be carried out. This ‘petalised’ lesson brought out the essence of what Learning More in TLLM is all about:

P -  When deciding on the most appropriate pedagogy, we need to take into consideration students’ readiness levels, their learning style and their existing knowledge. Readiness level refers to students’ “preparedness to work with a prescribed set of knowledge, understanding and skills” (Tomlinson & Edison, 2003). We then use the prior knowledge our students have as a starting point to guide us in our lesson planning. This will enable us to pitch our lessons appropriately so that students understand what we intent to teach them. As a result we will not make the lessons or tasks too easy or too difficult where students are either not challenged or may feel frustrated. It is important that we design appropriate tasks that will stretch our students’ thinking as well as to help them achieve deeper understanding.     

E – We can design meaningful Experience of Learning for our students by:
(a)   teaching for meaning and understanding of ‘big ideas’
In this task, students are to conclude that a polygon can be decomposed to form triangles and using their prior knowledge on angle properties of a triangle they will be able to find the interior angles in the polygon.
(b)   enabling them to learn by constructing knowledge
Students to induce that to find any n-sided polygons, they can get (n - 2) triangles and the sum of interior angles of n-sided polygon is (n - 2) x 180°.   
(c)    allowing time for them to reflect, explore and make connection
Students to be given time to test their assumptions such as, making use of specific angles (90°) and angles at a point (360°) to calculate the interior angles of any n-sided polygons. As they explore on the “What if” students reflect on their mathematical ideas and thinking. As they make refinement to this thinking they will develop greater depth of understanding of the subject. 

T  Tone of learning is one that is conducive, productive and purposeful. This is made possible when the teacher used language to provide affirmation of the students’ effort. When students feel positive about themselves, their peers, their classmates and teachers, they are motivated and will stay on task. Students will view learning tasks as pleasant and stimulating, hence are effectively engaged.

A – In this particular activity, there is ample opportunity for the teacher to assess students’ learning. The teacher can conduct informal assessment through:
(a)   observing students learning behaviour
(b)   listening to students’ discussion with classmates
(c)    checking their verbal responses
(d)   the level of mastery
LLearning content refers to what students learn. It comprises knowledge, skills and values. Learning content is meaningful and relevant when students have the opportunity to engage in authentic real-world learning and the content is relevant to them.    

S – Learning contents or tasks must be student-centred focusing on students’engagement. When successfully engaged, a student will demonstrate positive attitude as well as having the desire to enhance and increase his or her mastery and understanding of a subject.

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