Return of the fun factor

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Undertaking research into how my students learn has made me a better teacher, says Graham Anderson

Although I am no longer in the prime of youth, which is a euphemistic way of concealing 28 years of FE teaching, I volunteered to become a participating tutor in the transforming learning cultures project almost four years ago.

An unexpected consequence of undertaking such research is that I have become a better teacher, or practitioner as we like to say in the research world. There could be a number of explanations for this. The project takes a cultural view of learning, that is to say that the participants' values, attitudes and experiences are as likely to influence learning as purely internal cognitive abilities.

The core of my timetable is with students whose school experiences have been less than positive. I now try much harder to listen to what students are saying about their learning.

I learnt that being in control is a very important aspect of learning for many students. There is also a strong desire to have fun, and having fun does not diminish effective learning. My classrooms are a little more chaotic and sometimes I yearn to be back in full control. But I realised that if students try to learn in my way all the time, they are less likely to succeed.

The project also encouraged us to keep reflective logs. This meant that for the first time in nearly 30 years of teaching I had the chance to stand back and think about my practice and student learning. As the saying goes, "We know more than we can say", and opportunities for reflection allow refinement in the way we encourage students to learn.

Of course, our research has not taken place in a vacuum, and other influences have been suffused with the research experience. But I have emerged much more focused on learning than teaching.

I do not want to diminish the role teachers have in developing effective models of learning. The research opportunity has convinced me that teacher learning (studying our role) must be at the centre of attempts to bring about a better understanding of the processes of teaching and learning.

Teachers have a pivotal role to play in learning. The examination of our own unique dispositions, preferences and prejudices may illuminate practice much more than we expect. Balance this understanding with a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of learner conditions and a powerful synergy emerges.

It may fly in the face of accepted wisdom, but I thoroughly believe that teachers are best placed to unlock the potential of their students. There are no magic bullets, no formulas, no grail and no policies that are as effective as teacher learning. The opportunity to read, think and write about issues at the core of my working life is added value that I can share with my students.

Graham Anderson is a lecturer at City college, Coventry

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