As I’ve mentioned before, part of dipping my toe into the blogosphere has been trying to keep up with some of the education blogs that are out there. Today I’m going to talk about one of the ideas that has come up recently on Frank Noschese‘s blog called pseudoteaching. This whole topic stemmed from Dan Meyer‘s discussions of the concept of pseudocontext in maths problems, where students would be solving problems that appear to relate to real world contexts but actually bear frustratingly little resemblance to how you might solve the problem in real life. Frank and John Burk (who both came up with the term) describe pseudoteaching like this:
“Pseudoteaching is something you realize you’re doing after you’ve attempted a lesson which from the outset looks like it should result in student learning, but upon further reflection, you realize that the very lesson itself was flawed and involved minimal learning.”
So the way that I understand it is that pseudoteaching is where the teacher feels like they’re teaching effectively and the student feels like they’re really learning, but neither is actually happening. Hence the name “Clayton’s learning” – for those in Australia who remember the ad, this is because it’s the learning you have when you’re not actually learning anything!
And so of course it makes me wonder if I’m guilty of leading my students down the garden path in this way. I can think of a few times in the last couple of months when I was doing some lecturing in our summer session, where I’ve come away thinking that I explained things well and the feedback was initially positive. But then we’d get to the next lecture and it was like they hadn’t even turned up for the last lecture, so all that effort was more or less wasted because it had effectively gone in one ear and out the other.
Sometimes I think that chemistry (and science in general) is especially vulnerable to pseudoteaching because sometimes the concepts are so abstract that it’s hard to find something concrete to make the learning stick, or it can be difficult to relate this new information to the students’ prior experience (i.e. making the learning meaningful). It’s also difficult because we often like to include a whiz-bang demonstration to grab the students’ attention or inspire their curiosity, but it often ends up being the only thing they remember as they didn’t really learn the why behind it. It seems to me that special care needs to be taken to ensure that the demonstration is the means to an end and not the end in itself.
I think that pseudoteaching is often hard to avoid, because it’s only afterward that you realise that it happened and you either just have to try and rethink things for next time or use that knowledge to patch things up in the next lesson. I suppose it’s the sort of thing that comes with experience, as well as the ability to critically analyse a lesson and (hopefully) pick these things up in advance. Are there any examples of pseudoteaching you can think of in your own experience, as either a student or as a teacher? Keen to hear your thoughts.