Friday, 25 January 2013

Driving Mr David - The Triple Teaching Engine

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the theory part of my driving school experience has come to an end. It was a pretty intensive few weeks (hence the lack of recent posts on the blog) with 2 hours of class after work and plenty of home study to do. The course was divided into three parts (trafik, first aid, and motor), each with a different teacher. As  a teacher myself, I couldn’t help but cast a critical eye over how they did things and that’s what I will share in this post.

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Motorised learning - Image by Julien Bertrand via Wikimedia commons

Each teacher, of course, had a different approach. There was, however, one trait they shared - they all started by explaining why their particular lesson was the most important part of the course… The traffic teacher pointed out that recognising traffic signs was the driving equivalent of being literate and also that knowing and following the rules of the road would keep us safe. The first aid teacher emphasised that what she would teach us could save lives and not only in the vent of a traffic accident but in other daily life situations as well. The motor teacher took a more immediate practical stance reminding us that the section of the written test he would prepare us for was the most difficult so we should pay careful attention.

In a way, they all had a point but, sitting on the student side of the classroom, it all seemed a little over-stated. As a ‘conversation and skills’ teacher, I have on occasion lectured my students on how important my lessons are, how they offer a chance to really use the language and express themselves… Having had a student’s reaction to that kind of teacher talk, I now think I will refrain in the future!

Onto individual analysis: I have already shared some thoughts on the first teacher, who went over the rules of the road, traffic signs and road safety. In short, he did a good job of presenting the topics and reviewing them but there was a severe lack of interaction of any kind, not even any introductions on the first day.

The first aid teacher somehow managed to be even less interactive. Despite her claims about how important her lesson was, she whipped through the topics very quickly and each day, we finished the lessons (scheduled for two hours) anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes early (and that was with late starts and over-long tea breaks as well). All of this led to students not really taking the lesson seriously and it was no surprise that this was the most sparsely attended part of the course with only 4 or 5 students out of 12 present most days. The only practical part of the course came when we were asked one by one to perform CPR on a dummy. “You’re pushing on the chest too hard” was the only feedback given, ignoring the fact that the dummy was on a soft stretcher positioned at waist height rather than on a hard ground surface as would be the case should this skill ever be needed. No practical examples meant a lot of the explanations about stopping bleeding and treating broken bones went over my head and the heads of the other students as well.

After that experience, I expected the motor lessons to be even worse - most likely, out-of-date examples of engines from older cars and lots of technical questions that serve little practical use I though. I was right too!However, there was a crucial difference that made this part of the course better than the others - the teacher.

First of all, he asked us about ourselves at the start of the first lesson - our names, occupations, where we were from and why we wanted to learn to drive. After two weeks, my course mates were surprised to learn that I was not Turkish but foreign (shocking that we hadn’t learned basic things about each other but also reassuring that when I had spoken up in class in previous weeks my use of my second language hadn’t obviously marked me out as a yabanc─▒). I also found out that one of the younger people in the class was training to be an English teacher, which opened up a whole avenue of tea break chats that hadn’t been there before (of course, we could have found this out ourselves but, with little to no interaction in the previous weeks, most people had spent the breaks looking at their phones).

Learning about how a car engine works was also quite complicated and a lot of the students, myself included, were apprehensive about it. The teacher did his best to put our minds at ease by giving us plenty of hints and strategies for the test, pointing out that the multi-choice answer was often obvious as long as you know the basic parts of an engine. He also used some very good daily life metaphors such as comparing the fuel ignition to a stove or the fuel filter to a coffee filter, which facilitated easier understanding.

This teacher was also the only one to give us work to do in class. This provided a nice way to break up the lesson and also to give immediate feedback about what we had understood both to ourselves and the teacher.

One more thing I liked was his willingness to seek feedback. During tea breaks, he would ask me, as an educator, what I thought of his teaching style. He also had a survey ready on the final day about the course and himself as a teacher. I told him that whatever I felt I would do differently was not that important but the fact that he was interested in asking students’ opinions and improving himself was. His colleagues could do with following his lead…

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