As long as we were in March, ‘April’ seemed a long way off. I opened my folder this morning to realise that my theoretical account and lesson plan have to be drafted by 11 April, which is now not far away! Time for some serious reading – or should I add, some more serious reading, since I did spend yesterday evening reading and then writing about learning contexts.
However, knowing about learning contexts is not enough – I need enough theory to be able to write a theoretical account. I see my learning has been sneakily ‘constructively aligned’ behind my very back, since I can’t complete the assignment without doing the work, and I have to be actively involved in selecting the reading that will be most useful to me. No spoonfeeding here, folks!
I began by reading John Biggs’ ‘Aligning Teaching for Constructing Learning’. I now know about ILOs (Intended Learning Outcomes), the place of Assessment, and choosing TLAs (Teaching and Learning Activities) that will enable the students to learn what I intend them to learn, and demonstrate it so that I can assess they’ve learnt it. I’ve also learned that it’s good for students to be actively involved in their own learning, rather than passively being fed information, which may not be absorbed and processed as effectively. A student should not be a parrot, nor should they be able to pass an assessment merely by parroting. Further reading on this topic filled me in on a few more details, including Biggs’ notion of ‘backwash’ – the tendency of students to learn what they think they’ll be assessed on. (University College Dublin’s teaching paper, ‘Using Biggs’ Model of Constructive Alignment in Curriculum Design’, cites Biggs (2003) at this point – Teaching for Quality Learning at University.) This is a clever idea, because I know myself from experience that we do tend to mug up what we think we’ll be tested on. At one point in my early professional training, I learned and was able to reproduce pretty accurately, an entire lecture on bibliographic databases. I saw this as tactical exam preparation – if I knew my facts and could parrot them, then I was sure to be able to answer the question – as indeed I did. However, I see that from Biggs’ point of view, it would have been cleverer on the part of the examiners to have forced me to think a bit more, rather than regurgitating what I’d heard in a lecture.
I have a tendency to persist in reading up a subject, when in reality I have probably absorbed what I need to know. I did it again! I’ve read ‘Constructive Alignment – and why it is important to the learning process’ (2004, the third article downloaded from Higher Education Academy Resources), which includes an illuminating concept map about Curriculum Design Process, and a table adapted from Biggs (2003), showing a constructively aligned assessment scheme. However, I also glanced at an abstract for another paper in the Higher Education Academy Resources, which suggests that not all educators concur entirely with Biggs’ theories. Loretta M. Jervis and Les Jervis’ article, ‘What is the Constructivism in Constructive Alignment?) (2005) appears to suggest that constructivism and instructional alignment don’t always sit comfortably together. With more reading to do, I’ve decided not to follow this thread, but simply to note that Biggs’ influential theories clearly aren’t universally accepted in their entirety.
Old habits die hard – I am keeping a note of all reading done, together with their hyperlinks, on my own Resources page on this blog. You can’t keep a good bibliographer down – I am somewhat obsessive in trying to get as detailed and accurate a citation as possible. All in a good cause, though. And in this case, it just illustrates one of the points I’ll making in the lesson I’m planning. You have to be able to cite what you’ve read, and retrieve it again if necessary!