Home' Teacher : October 2010 Contents LOOKING INTO PRACTICE 21
the students' point of view, though, it's all
about following a procedure or recipe.
As Beale explains, her first step towards
turning this around for her students is to
question herself as to the purpose of her
classroom experiments. She realises that she
needs to provide her students with a need to
know, and does this by asking them to con-
duct a demonstration for each other. To do
this, they have to know and observe so that
they can instruct. This is risky, but Beale
takes the risk because she believes she can
do better for her students.
Handing over intellectual control to
her students by allowing them to discuss
the safety aspects of the experiment, then
to choose their own safety equipment and
finally to conduct the demonstrations for
the class is a significant change for Beale.
To her relief the students dis cuss safety
appropriately a nd choose the cor rect safety
equipment without prompting. This shows
Beale several things: her students can
make good decisions , they u nderstand
safety concerns, a nd they take ow nership
of safety. She doesn't need to tell them to
put on their safety glasses after her talk
on safety; they do it because they know
they need to.
By thus sharing intellectual control,
Beale realises she needs to step back, be the
observer and not the director, and avoid
stepping in to confirm or correct.
The impact of withholding judgement
can be profound: students offer responses
that teachers mightn't otherwise hear.
Too often, we nod when a student gives
a response or correct it to make it better.
When we withhold judgement, however,
even for correct responses, we hear the
many different views students have. This
gives us insights into the types and scope of
various students' understanding. Knowing
what to do with all these responses becomes
the teaching rather than teaching by telling.
The impact on students of having their ideas
challenged is far greater than being told the
Beale turns her practice on its head, at
some risk, but the benefits outweigh her
concerns about trying new strategies. She
finds that when her students demonstrate
the experiment to others they're able to
focus on the task, observe carefully the
chemical reactions taking place and make
links to the theory.
By stepping back and letting her students
have some control of their learning, Beale is
able to step forward in her ow n practice and
give her students the purpose they needed
in the experimental work for real learning
to take place. More importantly, she real-
ises that for students to learn when doing
experiments they need to be thinking rather
than merely doing. T
Stephen Keast is a science education
lecturer in the Faculty of Educ ation at
Mon a sh Unive rsity. His research and
teaching interests are based on under-
standing and developing teacher profes-
sion al wisdom, and its disse min ation to
teachers through effective professional
development. He was a secondary school
teacher for 15 years.
Rebecc a Coope r is a researcher in the Fac-
ulty of Education at Monash University.
She has published on the links betwee n the
goals of teacher education and the chal-
lenges of teaching pre-ser vice teachers.
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