In our last workshop on ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy and Testing’, I wanted to focus on critical thinking, comprehension questions, and types of activities we usually give our students in their formal exams.
In each step of the workshop presentation, a point related to teachers’ constraints is raised. Some of the constraints, according to some teachers, are related to students’ limitations, low level of proficiency and lack of motivation to learning. ‘Students are perceived to have numerous problems along with limited abilities, motivation, and/or future prospects’. (Climates of Constraints/restraints on teachers and teaching by Catherine Cornbleth). They think that ‘students are to be offered ‘basics’ and drills, but are not considered ‘ready’ for more meaningful learning and critical thinking’.
Then, throughout the many teachers’ constraints reported during the workshop, I came up with the idea that the crucial constraint is the curriculum coverage. In other words, because the curriculum coverage is the main objective of the Ministry of Education, there is a need for accountability to do it and provide evidence of outcomes. There is even a mandated yearly planning telling teaching what to teach and when to teach without caring of the students’ ability and motivation, and without caring of the teachers’ lack of training, time and material. This pushes teachers to move from one unit to another in ways that compromise real learning, as a result, students do not acquire the target competencies we are expecting in the exit profile. A teacher clearly said that there a need for freedom in teaching instead of ‘emphasizing on formal learning and teacher-directed activities with already defined intentions’. This idea is also reported in the article: ‘Climates of Constraints/Restraints of Teachers and Teaching’ by Catherine Cornbelth when she quoted Jack Nelson and Anna Ochoa from ‘Freedom to Teach is Freedom to Learn’, “The challenge that …while assuring that individual rights of parents, teachers and students to their own beliefs and practices are not abrogated”(1987, p426).
Administrators, teachers, parents and students are obsessed by the curriculum coverage to feel ready for the formal exam. Behind the curriculum coverage, principals want to generate good test scores, both for students and the school’s ranking in locally and nationally. The pressure put upon teachers from the whole society to cover the curriculum and get good scores make them live in a climate of frustration and hindrance since their performance is associated with students’ levels of attainment. Catherine Cornbelth reported in her article, “Students, teachers, administrators, schools and districts may come to be judged as more or less meritorious or desirable depending on their ranking in local, state, or national comparisons”. How can they think of teaching critical thinking skills in a climate of curriculum coverage associated with good test scores constraints? Michele D. Crockett said in the book ‘Reflective Teaching and Social Conditions of Schooling’, “…instead of teaching them critical thinking skills that provide a foundation from which to further their intellectual discovery and enhance their cognitive ability for the rest of their life.”
I would end saying, learning should not be compromised to get through the entire curriculum for the purpose to get students ready for the official exam. More freedom is to be given to teachers to adjust their teaching to the students’ learning style, abilities and interests. Teachers’ initiatives are to be encouraged to teach critical thinking skills that 21st century students are to be equipped with. Stakeholders and decision makers in education are to change if they want to see the change we are all seeking…
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Thank you so much for such an amazing article that enhances critical thinking and at the same time makes me feel relieved for my future teaching.
dear sirAfter having read this article I could understand clearly that we all need be to critical thinkers first then try to tansmit it to our students. honestly i have tried tried to be so and even i have started to show my students how important critical thinking is in life in general. i am following some tutorial on that every dayLalibi souheir :Thank you so much for your amazing article . in deed , we should really th ink about us ing critical thinking in our teach ing. Thanks so much MR LouznadjiSouad:That's an excellent call! Yes, we have to care more 21st skills and filling our students' mind with content sometimes they don't need at all. I do agree with you Sir. I often feel rediculous with some lessons we have to teach, but...Said Sayoud:I see eye to eye with you Mustapha. I guess that teachers should be given more freedom in implementing the different syllabi under the guidance of their supervisors who in turn should also take into account the specifities of the group of teachers they are collaborating with and the cognitive abilities and backgrounds of their learners. Actually, the different curricula should not be designed in a top-bottom manner. The suggestions would better come from teachers and practioneers so that any educational project would have more efficiency and sudsequently this would reach much more success. This remains of course just a modest point of view.Amina:Classic! I like your idea of raising awareness, but teachers have to do efforts if they want to change things. Let's raise teachers' awareness first before stakeholders.H I BADSI:At last,I feel that I have a feedback for the critics and suggestions I have already made during the different seminars we had.Teaching a foreign language should not stuck to a syllabus designed by an official board,but in fact it concerns the pupils'needs,ie to respond to real life motivations.Anonymous:They never take our opinions into consideration when implementing the syllabus;it's high time teachers took part in decisions concerning the pupil's needs; which have a connection with real situations in order to form a good generation ready to face new challengesMohammed:Easy said than done Mr Louznadji. Do you really think that this is the panacea to all our educational problems in teaching a language? This is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, that might be one point, but we still need to do much more than that as the problem is multi-dimentional and cannot be solved in just proposing to give more freedom to the teachers and the students . What about our students' low level which you mentioned in your article and which is at the origin of our woes and sorrows? What can we do to face such a situation? Do we have to carry on telling our vicious lie(s) to each other pretending that everything is plain sailing? What about students' mad keenness on deserting classrooms massively at the end of each term? I personally think that we had better first make an analysis of our students' needs and problems as well as of those of our teachers', then we may try to think of some appropriate, and relevant proposals which we may put forward for execution.
It is time we update the syllabus to meet the needs of learners. It is time to stop treating students as "if they are variants of the same individual". It is time to stop teaching our differentiated classrooms the same lesson in the same way at the same pace!
I believe that the unitary lesson for ALL is odd today. Training teachers to "maximize students' learning by improving the match between a student's individual needs and the syllabus" is fundamental to keep students learning till the end of the year. It also raises teacher's awareness and responsibility to get the best from ALL their students.
So, to me, the best agent for syllabus differentiation is the practitioner, and teachers are able to differentiate the content, the process and the product. Let's believe in teachers' abilities, and they will make the difference.
Phil Silvester CBE -UK
Mere compliance is, in my view, the teacher's and policy-maker's enemy. It is seductively easy to seek massive curriculum coverage with formal exams which provide a narrow source of outcome data. What is the real purpose of these lessons? Shouldn't we be teaching thinking skills, problem-solving and encouraging the learner to be independent?