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Train to help students learn

Anthony Griffith

Train to help students learn

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DEVELOP A PASSION for learning; if you do, youwill never cease to grow.
Teachers, as classroom practitioners, are trained for a very critical rolein student learning and,by extension, in student performance. The mission of the teacher is to help students to learn/succeed by developing their cognitive and critical thinking skills and abilities in processingand internalizing new knowledge andpersonal experiences.
The professional preparation of teachersis designed to prepare them for this task, andthe process has evolvedas we learn more about how students learn and how the brain functions.  
Current thinking in teacher education places the focus on the student and learning as opposedto the teacher and teaching. The class is seen as a dynamic “learning group” and the school asa “community of  learners” where students in groups of various configurations and sizes are actively engaged, individuallyand collaboratively, ina variety of learning activities and experiences from which they buildand construct theirown knowledgeand understanding.  
Here, students havethe opportunity to (i) investigate phenomena, events and issues, (ii) analyze, synthesize and evaluate information,(iii) arrive at conclusions, (iv)  generate solutionsto problems, (v) think independently, and(vi) be creative.
The teacher education programmes at both Erdiston and Cave Hillare underpinned by these conceptions and aim to graduate teachers whocan create and functionin today’s classroom   learning environments.
As such, these programmes represent bona fide professional training programmes that address the principles of best pedagogical practice, though they need to be critically reviewed on a more regular basis.
My own concern about the current programme relates to the length ofthe practical teaching component.  The current trend worldwide is for longer periods of practice teaching, with suggestions ranging from 24 weeksup to one full year.
This duration is considered critical in providing adequate opportunity for teachersto integrate educational theory with actual classroom practice to overcome old habits and attitudes and focus on the critical concerns of active learning. – Moore, 2003.
Research also indicates that teachers consistently rate the practicum as the most beneficial and worthwhile segment of their training experience.
In Barbados, however, the practicum varies between ten and 20 weeks. This is clearly inadequate – and coming, as it does, mainly during the second term of the school year, the exercise also faces several disruptions due to events such as speech days,school sports, Black History Week, andpublic holidays.
Clearly, both the duration and the timingof the exercise appear quite unsatisfactory and steps need to be urgently taken by Erdiston,UWI and the Ministryof Education to revisitthe practical teaching component of the programme and bringit more in line withresearch findings.
Whatever the natureof the programme, however, we must accept that all graduates maynot be equally committed to teaching and not all classrooms are organized in ways that stimulate learning. Too many classrooms in our schools are quite drab and uninspiring, with bare walls and nomental stimulation.
 There is also toomuch that inhibits creativity: (a) students being told all day long what to do, (b) activitiesall predetermined bythe teacher, (c) no differentiated curriculum that addresses theneeds of different typesof learners.
Even the arrangement of desks and chairs in orderly rows is artificial and meaningless, since learning does not occurin neat, orderly ways.
Should all teachersbe trained before entering the classroom?  There is, actually, a school of thought that says a blanket requirement for pre-training programmes is not necessarily more effective or efficient.
An alternative approach, in fact, promotes the hiring of untrained teachers. This comes, however, with the strict provisos that teachers are hired on probation and immediately and concurrently enrolledin a training programme. This arrangement enables and requires teachersto directly apply and demonstrate the pedagogical skills, behaviours andattitudes to whichthey are  being exposed during their training.
These beginning teachers would also have access, on the job, to an active and ongoing mentorship programmeat their school in order to guide and enhance their professional development.  
These teachers would, in this context, undergo both formative assessment and a process of clinical supervision in order to effectively guide  their progress. Additionally, an extension of the practicum, for up to one year, would be entirely feasiblesince the teachers areon probation.    
This approach hasbeen adopted by several jurisdictions in the United States, including the Cincinnati Initiative for Teacher Education – a five-year teacher-preparation programme.
There is much out there that is new and exciting in teacher education.
• This is the final article in the series.