Thursday, April 30, 2020

3-Minute English YouTube Project: Resources for Teachers (Grammar Lessons)




Hello friends! In this post I'm sharing the latest teaching resources from my 3-Minute English YouTube project. For the past couple of weeks, I've been doing grammar lessons with a focus on subject-verb agreement.

Here are the download links to the PowerPoint slides, pdf lesson notes and the YouTube videos. Feel free to use, share, edit, change - do whatever you like with them for your teaching purposes. No need to ask for my permission! :)

Lesson 1: Articles





To download the pdf lesson notes, go here
To download the PowerPoint slides, go here


Lesson 2: Verb to be



To download the pdf lesson notes, go here
To download the PowerPoint slides, go here


Lesson 3: Four types of verbs



To download the pdf lesson notes, go here
To download the PowerPoint slides, go here


Lesson 4: Verb to do and verb to have


To download the pdf lesson notes, go here
To download the PowerPoint slides, go here


Lesson 5: Action verbs



To download the pdf lesson notes, go here
To download the PowerPoint slides, go here


Previous Lessons on Reading Strategies

If you missed my previous compilations of resources for the lessons on Reading Strategies, you can view them here. Again, you don't need to ask my permission to do whatever you wish with them - provided it's for educational purposes of course. Heheh! :)

Till the next post! -ccj



Tuesday, April 7, 2020

3-Minute English YouTube Project: Resources for Teachers





So, in my desperate attempt to reach out to my students during this COVID-19 quarantine, I've created (drumroll) a brand new YouTube channel! Haha. I call it 3-Minute English: UPSR Tips and Techniques. Nothing fancy - just some awful recordings of my voice talking over some PowerPoint slides (which I aimed to do in not more than 3 minutes - hence the channel's name. But as evidenced by the videos' durations, it's clear that I've failed miserably). I wrote about how I ended up doing this unplanned project in my previous post where I reflected on digital technology and remote teaching.

The videos are horrible, but the slides are okay. They are at least usable. I decided to make them available for all my teacher friends, as they might be able to do much better things with these stuffs.  Also, if I survive this pandemic, I might want to go back to this post in future. Just to look back and reminisce.

Okay, so here they are. I've made six videos on Reading Strategies. I'm sharing here the links to the videos, the related blog posts, and the download links to all the PowerPoint slides. Enjoy!


Reading Strategies Intro

YouTube video:






Reading Strategies: Ep 1 - Visualisation

YouTube video:

Link to the blog post
Link to download the PowerPoint slides


Reading Strategies: Ep 2 - Evaluating & Questioning

YouTube video:


Link to the blog post
Link to download the PowerPoint slides


Reading Strategies: Ep 3 - Questioning

YouTube video:

Link to the blog post
Link to download the PowerPoint slides


Reading Strategies: Ep 4 - Connecting

YouTube video:



Link to the blog post
Link to download the PowerPoint slides


Reading Strategies: Ep 5 - Clarifying (Identifying Main Points & Summarising)

YouTube video:


Link to the blog post
Link to download the PowerPoint slides


The Model Test Paper

Click here to download the Model Test paper


Okay that's it for now. If the virus doesn't get me, and if I'm still sane after a week, I'll try to share more materials from the project in another blog post. In the meantime, try to stay safe, healthy, and alive. Let's pray everything will return to normal soon, whatever 'normal' means.

Hang in there, -ccj



Friday, April 3, 2020

When digital technology is not an option: Some thoughts on remote teaching

Ping Pong and Sora obediently staying at home throughout the MCO period
(photo credit: my sister, Sandy)


Malaysia entered its second phase of Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of COVID-19 on the 1st of April 2020. Schools have been closed for the past 14 days and now will continue to be closed for another 14 days.  Teachers are instructed to conduct remote teaching to help students keep up with lessons. This has evoked diverse responses from teachers. Some see this as an opportunity to hone in on their technological skills and to experiment with different e-learning and digital tools. Some approach it with a lot of apprehensions and anxieties. This is an unprecedented time - a truly challenging time for many.

There are already lots of articles and resources out there which offer advice and tips on how to conduct e-learning effectively. Lots of people have shared digital tools and resources for teachers to utilise during this period, so I'm not going to touch on that. In this post, I feel moved to share some thoughts on remote teaching in situations where digital technology is not an option.

What makes it work

There are two main factors affecting the use of digital technology in remote teaching and learning, i.e. the teacher factor and the learner factor. Each factor is further influenced by aspects such as digital literacy, tools, and access. Digital literacy for remote teaching and learning refers to one's ability to deploy and manipulate online and offline digital tools to deliver and receive instructions. Tools refers to the availability and suitability of devices, apps, software and platforms for delivering and receiving lesson contents. Access deals with issues of connectivity, i.e. availability of Internet connection and whether or not users can afford them.

In an ideal e-learning or online remote learning situation, we expect all three aspects to function at their optimal levels, both for teachers and also for learners. Teachers should have the digital literacy required to deliver effective instructions through digital platforms, and learners should have the skills necessary to receive instructions and to act upon them. Both teachers and learners should have the tools, devices, apps, or platforms necessary for delivering and receiving lesson contents. It is crucial for both teachers and learners to have access to the Internet, and to be able to afford the cost.

The reality

Many have taken the opportunity offered by this unprecedented period in history to point out how e-learning is de rigueur for education in this 21st century, and that it should be more enforced by schools since a long time ago. Some go as far as suggesting how this pandemic can act as an 'eye-opener', a long-awaited catalyst that can potentially move education from its current traditional physical classroom-based mode to a more predominantly virtual, online mode. There have been a lot of debates going on for and against this argument, but I'm not going to discuss them here in this post. I believe it's important to point out that the decision to move to online teaching and learning during this period is triggered more by necessity and urgency rather than by choice. I know many teachers who would love to do more online teaching, who would love to experiment with more digital tools and e-learning platforms, - but not like this. Not in this manner. Not when everything feels so forced and ad hoc and unplanned and unsupported.

In an ideal online teaching and learning situation, the teacher factor and the learner factor should reciprocate one another. But the reality is often very far from ideal. To provide an illustration, a teacher might have the technological skills necessary for conducting online classes using Zoom, but she can't do it if her students have never heard of Zoom before. Although making an effort to introduce students to Zoom during this time is perhaps possible, not all students in the class might have the tools needed. Those who have the tools might not have Internet connectivity that is strong and stable enough to run the platform properly. Some students have to rely on a mobile device that's shared with seven other members of the family. In many cases it could be the only mobile device that the family owns, the only device that connects the whole family to the world during this quarantine period. Would it be wise to use up the precious Internet quota on a Zoom session with the teacher?

The illustration I offered is just one of the many examples of challenges that need to be faced by teachers in conducting online teaching. There are many more.

But please don't get me wrong. I'm not against e-learning in any way. I have conducted technology-based projects in my own classrooms. I've spent years trying to promote technology-enhanced teaching and learning to my fellow teachers. People close to me would know how passionate I am about educational technology. I appreciate the 'publicity' this pandemic has given to e-learning. I'm inspired by teachers who are doing it so wonderfully, despite the many constraints. I enjoy witnessing the tech-averse to tech-savvy transformations that some of my colleagues are undergoing at this moment.

What prompted me to write this blogpost are comments made on my Facebook page by teachers experiencing situations that are not that far different from what I've described in the illustration above. These are teachers who feel lost for not being able to jump on the bandwagon. Teachers who are enthusiastic about online teaching, but are not able to do so due to limitations faced by their learners. Teachers who feel a pang of envy for their peers who seem to be having the time of their lives using Google Hangout or Schoology or Edmodo with their students.

These teachers are not doing it, not because they don't want to. Not because they're not able to. Most of the time, it's because their students are not able to.

Things to do - first and foremost

So, when digital technology is not an option, what should teachers do? Most of these teachers, as helpless as they are, refuse to treat this movement restriction as a vacation. The pressure that results from seeing other teachers doing it is just too much to bear, not to mention having to deal with added stresses imposed by school administrators eager to "ensure that teachers are doing what they're supposed to do," and to prove that "teaching and learning will go on as usual" despite this crisis.

If you're one of these teachers, I would urge you to, first and foremost, do the following things:

1. To acknowledge that it's not your fault. The last thing a teacher should do is feel guilty about students missing lessons. Nobody wants this to happen. Nobody wants a virus to force schools to shut down. We all want to go back to our classrooms and to see our kids and to teach like we always do.

2. To accept that it's beyond your control. No matter how advanced the technology you're using for your remote teaching, no matter how impressive your skills, the truth is that many students have already missed a lot of lessons, and many will definitely miss a lot more. This is not something that anyone can control - not with technology, not with anything.

3. To realise that there's no such thing as "teaching and learning will go on as usual." There's nothing usual about what we're currently experiencing. Everything in our world is very unusual right now. People who can claim that they're doing everything "as usual despite the pandemic" are either lying, or are in denial, or have no idea what's going on.

4. To stop thinking of yourself as a bad teacher. Not being able to do what others are doing doesn't make you a bad teacher. The fact that you're thinking about this and are feeling guilty for things beyond your control is proof enough that you're indeed a good teacher who cares a lot about your students and your responsibilities as a teacher.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Using digital technologies in low-resource ELT context: A narrative beginning

Yes, I'm back to the classroom! Time surely flies. I must say my MPhil experience has impacted me a lot, especially my research project. I can't stop thinking about the experiences of the teachers I worked with in the project - their success stories and struggles of using technology to teach language in their own unique contexts, and what these mean for them personally and professionally.

I've been doing lots of readings and deep reflections lately, and I feel the urge to put my thoughts in writing so I can get back to them when I need to. In this post, I'd like to share what I call as - to borrow Clandinin's (2013) term - the 'narrative beginning.' I plan to make this a series of posts on using digital technologies in low-resource ELT context, where I'll try to share my reflections from my readings as well as observations, conversations with teachers and students, and experiences as an EL teacher in this school where I'm currently teaching in (more on my present context in the next post). 

But for now, let's begin from the beginning - where it all started. 



Developing a 'relationship' with technology

When I attended university for my undergraduate study in the late 1990’s, I found myself struggling to complete my class assignments as everything needed to be typewritten. By working as a part-time shop assistant, I was able to collect enough money to purchase a nice, electric typewriter which I used to type all of my university papers. The challenge, however, was when it came to graphs, tables and charts. The electric typewriter was wonderful, but the functions were limited – the task was beyond what it was able to do. I was not allowed to submit hand-drawn tables and charts. For the whole first semester of my undergraduate study, my solution to this problem was to pay the printing shop to convert my hand-drawn tables and charts into an acceptable format for submission.

Printing in shops were expensive, and I did not want to spend any more of my fast-depleting student allowances and shop assistant’s salary on printing graphs and charts. I realised that I needed to do something; that I needed to learn how to use the computer properly. I took classes, spent a lot of time at cyber cafes, and mingled with people who were more tech-savvy than I was. Eventually, I was able to master sufficient technology skills to enable me to go through the rest of my study with less difficulty than before. I sold my faithful electric typewriter and worked harder to collect more money so I could buy a second-hand laptop to type my assignments and to draw graphs, tables and charts using the word processor. I also learned how to use the Internet and to explore ways to utilise the wealth of information that I could access from the World Wide Web to my academic advantage.



A snapshot of Stephen Hawking's thesis, which I took at an exhibition at Cambridge University Library a few months ago. Reminded me of my own typewritten undergraduate essays  during my personal 'pre-digital epoch.' Haha

Saturday, June 8, 2019

English-Medium Education: What is best for Malaysian students?

My friends at Dialog Pendidikan have started a discussion on the topic of English-medium education recently. You can check out their blog post here and their Facebook post here. They would love to gather opinions and thoughts from as many people as possible, so please join in the discussion!

Join in the dialogue here




As an EL teacher, of course I want my students to know the importance of English and my life-long mission is for every children in my country to have the opportunity to learn the language well. And I can totally understand MoE's stand on this matter and why they come up with initiatives such as the Dual Language Programme (DLP) - which, supposedly is an 'improvised version' of the former Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam Bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI) (Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English).

Also, as a school teacher, I believe the question: "what is best for Malaysian students?" is not only pertinent, but also the most important one - for me at least. In this post, I'd like to share some of my thoughts from the perspective of a classroom practitioner, and also as a student studying research in bilingual / multilingual education.


Teaching other subjects in English

The principles that underlie the implementation of Dual Language Programme (DLP) seems to borrow from a lot of popular language teaching and learning models such as the one-way and two-way dual language program currently gaining popularity in the United States, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) - widely used in the UK, Language Immersion - reported to be very successful in Canada, and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). I don't have an insider's knowledge of the background research that has led to the implementation of our Malaysia's DLP, but I suspect some, if not all, of these models must have had influenced the decisions made by the policy makers.

From bilingual / multilingual education point of view, teaching curriculum content in English and the use of English as a medium of instruction are two different concepts, though in public discussions these two concepts are often used interchangeably. I think to answer the question of what is best for Malaysian children in terms of language learning, a practitioner needs to understand the nuanced differences among these many different models.  Just to provide an example, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) operates based on the underlying principle that "all teachers are language teachers" (The Bullock Report - A Language for Life, 1975). Marsh (1994) defines CLIL as "situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language." CLIL lesson is neither a language lesson or a subject lesson transmitted in a foreign language. In CLIL, both language learning and the learning of the subject are given equal importance. Teachers who teach CLIL are specially trained teachers - often referred to as CLIL teachers - and they're well-versed in the teaching of both the language and the subject.

Our DLP employs current subject teachers (Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology, Design and Technology) to teach the subject in English. Under the DLP, learners use textbooks and learning materials in English, and all classroom instructions are to be delivered in English. The teachers are not specially-trained DLP teachers, although they do receive trainings on how to conduct lessons under the DLP and how to use materials provided by the MoE. The teachers are not supposed to teach language skills and content. The focus is on the teaching of the subject - and DLP hopes that through the language immersion provided by classroom instructions and interactions as well as engagements with learning materials written in English, students would be able to acquire a certain level of English language proficiency.

These strike more resonance to English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) rather than CLIL. The British Council in their 2014 report on the global widespread of English as a medium of instruction defined EMI as "the use of the English language to teach academic subjects in countries or jurisdictions where the first language (L1) of the majority of the population is not English" (Dearden, 2014, p. 2).  According to the report:
  1. In many countries the educational infrastructure does not support quality EMI provision: there is a shortage of linguistically qualified teachers; there are no stated expectations of English language proficiency; there appear to be few organisational or pedagogical guidelines which might lead to effective EMI teaching and learning; there is little or no EMI content in initial teacher education (teacher preparation) programmes and continuing professional development (in-service) courses. (Dearden, 2014, p. 2)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Happy Teacher's Day!

May 16 is the official date for Teacher's Day celebration in Malaysia. This year I want to do something special, since I'm celebrating this all by myself far away from my home country. I made this little video - my version of Kami Guru Malaysia.

Sorry, I know it's far from perfect - saya budak baru belajar! :)

Saya Guru Malaysia
Apa yang saya janji
Tunai tetap saya tunaikan




I also miss receiving presents from students! :D



Happy Teacher's Day everyone! Till the next -ccj, 6:02, Cambridge



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Tale of Two Classrooms: Bawah Kolong and Construction Container

I was awakened at around 2 a.m. and as usual couldn't go back to sleep. First thing I did was to look at my phone. Saw this Tweet from the Minister.




Now, I very seldom respond to or interact with politicians' social media posts - but I can't resist this one. This Tweet stirred something deep within. My first reaction was: what took people so long to realise that this should be the utmost priority from Day 1?


First Thing First

I acknowledge that the ministry has a lot of things on its plate, but I believe taking care of basic necessities should be instinctive. We have been spending too much time arguing about other things which - important as they are - can actually wait. 

I don't mean to direct this at the current ministry. Problems with dilapidated schools have been going on for years - for as long as I can remember, for much longer than I have existed. Believe me, I know. 

I'm a Sabahan. I don't just teach in Sabah - I was born in Sabah. I grew up in Sabah. I received my primary and secondary education in government schools in Sabah. I know what dilapidated schools mean. I don't just know what it means - I know how it feels like to be in one. I've been a student in dilapidated schools. I've been a teacher in dilapidated schools!

I'm actually quite amused that issues with dilapidated schools don't seem to get as much buzz as, say, issues with ESL teachers' language proficiency or streaming or assessments or whether or not Science and Mathematics should be taught in English. I acknowledge that these are important issues, but so are issues with dilapidated schools. 


Human Instinct

I'm not going to quote any research - no amount of so-called 'research findings' can replace real human experience. These are pictures of me with my Year 5 in one of our out-of-class lessons.




I posted these on Facebook and I got comments like:

"Wow, Cynthia. You're such an inspiring teacher!"
"This is 21st century education."
"You should be an adiwira."

I was like - whaat??? You know, I didn't bring my students outside because I thought it was cool and trendy. Being a great-teacher-who-inspires was the last thing on my mind at that time. 21st century education??? Adiwira??? Hahahahahahahahahaha! 

Please. I appreciate the compliments, but actually I was just trying my very best not to pass out.

It was after recess - I had 56 kids in my class. The classroom was a container. You know, the kind of container used as temporary makeshift offices in construction sites. The kids just came back from playing outside - they were bouncy and sweaty and smelly. The classroom (container) was hot and stuffy and unventilated. I was dizzy and suffocating and oxygen-deprived. 

Okay, kids! Let's do something different today. Let's have our lesson outside!
Yay!!! I love you teacher!!! You're the best teacher everrrr!!!

I was just trying my very best not to pass out. It wasn't greatness. It wasn't inspiring. It was basic human instinct. It was me at my weakest. It was my biological mechanism's natural reaction. It was survival.

My Latest Book - 2019 Edition

Just a quick one to announce the latest edition of my book. Have a good day! -ccj

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Measurement versus Mobilisation? : Exploring Ways to Understand Teacher Knowledge


I have been sharing my thoughts and reflections on this topic on three blog posts so far :D And I think it's getting clearer to me where these whole things are heading. If you're interested, you can check out my previous posts:


In the first post, I tried to explore the concept of narrative inquiry and discuss briefly the 'tensions' between narrative thinking and the traditional, so-called more 'scientific-grounded' 'grand narrative.' In the second post, I went deeper into what narrative inquiry is about and tried to see if we can explore the potential for it to be a tool for self-reflective, self-determined professional development for teachers. The third post might seem a bit off-tangent, but it's still related. I shared my passion on teacher knowledge and technology integration, and suggested narrative inquiry as a possible alternative approach to analyse the development of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) of teachers. 

What I'm hoping to do in this post is to gather my thoughts in a more organised manner - to explore the reasons why I believe narrative inquiry is the way to go when discussing teacher knowledge and teacher professional development in general - and specifically technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK). I'm revisiting the 'tensions' described by Clandinin & Connelly (2000) and will try to contextualise them within the scope of teacher knowledge, teacher professional development and of course, TPACK.

Exploring the Value of Experiences

While discussing the conceptualisation of the TPACK framework for application in teacher professional development, Mishra & Koehler (2006) drew on Dewey’s philosophy on experience and stated that “every experience should prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper, more expansive quality” (p. 1040). Though not explicitly addressed in the paper, Mishra & Koehler’s reference to experience implied a focus on the development (rather than the numerical measurement) of teacher knowledge.

In discussing narrative as a strategy of inquiry in research, Clandinin & Connelly (2000) also drew on John Dewey in addition to Mark Johnson and Alasdair Macintyre as their main sources of influence. As mentioned in my previous posts (see above), change is central to a narrative, and certainty is not a goal (p. 7). Hence, narrative is not a quest to find a definite answer to a question. Rather, it is a journey or an attempt to understand change and the factors that surround it.

Clandinin & Connelly described a “tension” between what they refer to as the ‘grand narrative’ and narrative inquiry. The ‘grand narrative’ is an idea of research that subscribes to Thorndike’s ideal of “observation and numerical presentation of behaviour” that has emerged as ‘the’ way in educational research (p. 22). Challenging this so-called “unquestioned way of looking at things” by proposing the alternative approach of narrative inquiry (p. 22), Clandinin & Connelly were faced with oppositions that they described as follows: “We thought they were slightly intransigent and unwilling to change, whereas they, with the weight of opinion on their side, probably saw us as esoteric and unwilling to compromise” (p. 29).

The 'Tensions'

In the context of teacher professional development, I would argue that the narrative inquiry strategy is a more pertinent approach than the ‘grand narrative’. I will discuss the impetus for adopting narrative inquiry over the ‘grand narrative’ by analysing the five ‘tensions’ listed by Clandinin & Connelly (2000), i.e. temporality, people, action, certainty and context.

Temporality

When discussing temporality, narrative thinking looks at an event as having a past, a present and an implied future (p. 29). Applying this to the context of a teacher’s professional development, we know that the teacher’s experience does not start and stop at the training session. The teacher brings with her a past experience that shapes how she conceptualises the knowledge she learns at the present training, and her plans for transferring the knowledge she has acquired into practice after the training is over, i.e. in the future. In their earlier work, Clandinin & Connelly encapsulated this time-bound nature through their notion of “personal practical knowledge”, i.e. a particular way for a teacher to reconstruct “the past and the intentions of the future to deal with the exigencies of a present situation” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988, p. 25).

The ‘grand narrative’, on the other hand, characterises events and things “in and of themselves”, and appear to have a “timeless sense about them” (p. 30). This is the assumption mainly adopted by approaches that seek to measure whether a teacher’s knowledge has reached a certain ‘level’ or ‘standard’ as a result of a training session. This is problematic, because as discussed in my previous posts, teacher knowledge is not static or stagnant. It is personal, practical, tacit, systematic, and dynamic (Borg, 2015). Therefore, my contention is that examining teacher knowledge should require an approach that is not impersonal, rigid or devoid of context.

People

People are central to narrative inquiry. Clandinin & Connelly (2000) emphasised that “people, at any point in time, are in a process of personal change” (p. 30). Narrative thinking takes into account the histories and experiences of people. In the context of research on teacher professional development, a narrative inquirer is interested in “understanding teachers as knowers: knowers of themselves, of their situations, of children, of subject matter, of teaching, of learning” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1999, p. 1). This strikes a resonance with the underlying principles of the TPACK framework, which seeks to understand the interplay among the three components of technology, subject matter and pedagogy as well as the affordances and constraints that they represent.

The ‘grand narrative’s’ focus on scientific observation and numerical measurements makes it an “essentially people-free notion” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 30). Inquiries on teacher professional development that adopted this approach would be more interested in measuring the effectiveness of a training programme without taking into account the personal experiences of the teachers involved. Narrative histories and personal experiences would be seen as irrelevant or merely anecdotal. This view goes against the notion of teachers as holders of knowledge. For me, it seems to be taking the most important variable out of the equation.

Action

In narrative inquiry, action is understood as a “narrative sign” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 30). Any action should be interpreted as expressions of narrative histories (p. 31). Interpretations of narrative histories give significant meaning to an action. In the context of research on teacher professional development, a narrative inquirer would interpret a teacher’s practice, either inside or outside the classroom, in relation to his personal histories and contextual experiences. Every single action and decision would be traced back to the teacher’s context as well as past and present experiences.

The ‘grand narrative’ perspective will treat an action as a direct evidence of something. For example, performance is a direct evidence of cognitive level. In the context of teacher professional development, this would mean interpreting teacher’s practices in the classroom as either a sign of competence or incompetence, or as evidence of the levels of skills in certain pedagogical approaches. This would often be measured using instruments consisting of checklists or description of standards. Although quite a common practice in many research on teacher professional development (e.g. Rohaan, Taconis & Jochem, 2012; K├Ânig & Pflanzl, 2016; Lin & Rowland, 2016), I would like to propose a more personalised way of examining teacher knowledge. Analysing teacher knowledge and learning experiences in this manner reduces teachers to “merely a filtering variable or a factor to be considered as either an impediment or a catalyst for the achievement of objectives” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 28). There are contextually-bound and historically-driven reasons for every action taken by teachers as professionals in the classroom, and I propose that we take these reasons into considerations when analysing the development of teacher knowledge through professional development activities.

There are contextually-bound and historically-driven reasons for every action taken by teachers as professionals in the classroom, and I propose that we take these reasons into considerations when analysing the development of teacher knowledge through professional development activities

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Teacher Knowledge & Technology Integration: Measuring the Immeasurable?


The more you know, the more you know you don't know. ~Aristotle


13 years ago, I was a newly-minted ESL teacher in a beautiful primary school by the sea in Kunak, Sabah, Malaysia. I was young, enthusiastic and eager - but I was also naive, clueless and inexperienced. I couldn't wait to apply everything that I learned from my years of education at the teachers' training college in my classroom. I wanted to teach, I wanted to touch hearts, I wanted to change my students' lives.

One of the areas that I'm super passionate about is technology integration in the language classroom. I'm not much of a tech-geek, but I do love experimenting with different types of tools and softwares to enhance pupils' engagement and increase their motivations to learn. But it was hard. Harder than I thought.

Looking back, I think I managed to apply only a fraction of what I learned about technology integration and language learning from my pre-service training. My teacher education was of course useful; it provided the foundation that I needed to start off properly. But as an in-service teacher, I had to continue developing my craft by un-learning and re-learning a lot of things. I attended lots of teacher trainings, seminars, and conferences on educational technology. I learned from books, from the Internet, and from conversations with my colleagues. But most of all, I learned from experiences - through countless experiments, trials and errors, success and failures, fixes and mistakes.

Throughout the years, I have formed my own belief system, my own principles, my own epistemology about educational technology and language pedagogy. I have developed my teacher knowledge on the subject. And this knowledge is not static. It is dynamic and ever-changing. My knowledge grows and evolves as I learn more things, and as I move from one school to another, from one context to another.

But throughout the years, I have given very little thought on how all the knowledge that I acquired through the many professional development activities and self-directed learning that I engaged in were mobilised and transferred to my professional practice in the classroom. How can I best describe the construction of my teacher knowledge? What happened in the transition process, between the learning and the actual practice? Would understanding of the affordances and constraints of technology use in language teaching help me learn how I learn as a teacher, and thus inform me about the types of professional development best suited for me?

I believe this is an area worthy of further reflections and explorations.

Learning to Know, Knowing to Learn

Teacher knowledge is a research area under the overarching field of teacher cognition. Borg (2003, 2005, 2015) defined teacher cognition as teachers thinking, knowledge and beliefs; and how they are related to practices in the classroom. The impetus for research on teacher cognition is the notion that teachers play an important role in determining what is going on in the classroom as active and thinking decision-makers (Borg, 2015). Borg also asserted that understanding of teacher cognition is central to the process of understanding teaching.

The term 'teacher knowledge' emerged in the 1980's, especially through the seminal work of Shulman (1986) on pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Shulman described PCK as "the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organised, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instructions" (p. 8). According to Borg, Shulman's PCK had the largest impact on scholarships and research on teacher cognition, displacing the term 'teacher thinking' and remains the dominant concept today.

Teacher Knowledge and Technology Integration

One of the most recent contributions to the field of teacher knowledge is Mishra & Koehler’s (2006) technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) framework, which was referred to as a “model of technology integration in teaching and learning” (p. 1029). The TPACK framework incorporates a technological knowledge domain into Shulman’s (1986) concept of PCK. It describes the interplay among knowledge of pedagogy, content and knowledge as crucial for meaningful technology integration in the classroom.

Mishra & Koehler argued that technology, pedagogy, and content “exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium” and that productive technology integration needs to consider the three domains “not in isolation, but rather within the complex relationships in the system” (p. 1029). They proposed the adoption of the TPACK framework in restructuring professional development to help teachers develop “nuanced understandings” of the dynamic equilibrium among technology, pedagogy and content which is essential for meaningful technology integration in the classroom (p. 1030).

According to Mishra & Koehler, the traditional methods of training for technology integration such as workshops and courses are no longer pertinent in helping teachers become “intelligent users of technology for pedagogy” (p. 1032). They listed factors such as “the rapid rate of technology change,” “inappropriate design of software,” “the situated nature of learning” and “an emphasis on what, not how” as the reasons why “competencies and checklists of things that teachers need to know is inherently problematic,” and therefore should no longer be applied in technology integration training for teachers (pp. 1032-1033). Mishra & Koehler advocated the ‘learning-technology-by-design’ approach which adopts the TPACK framework in technology integration professional development for teachers. This approach enables teachers to be engaged in “authentic design activities around education technology” which “compelled them to seriously study the complex relationships between technology and education” (p. 1038).


Technology, pedagogy and content exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium (Mishra & Koehler, 2006)


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