Piloting the ESSR: Teachers Give FeedbackAugust 28, 2019
This post follows a simple pattern: we asked our teachers several questions and let them answer one at a time. This blog is what we got back.
What do you think about the project itself and about piloting the lesson plan? In your opinion, is this kind of cooperation in piloting the lesson plans among teachers useful for developing new teaching strategies?
The project brings attention to an interesting and often controversial topic in an interesting way. Teachers often try to avoid these topics during their classes (I think it is mainly because of insufficient methodical support and materials). The project deals with these topics through various themes across time, and it is not focused on a strictly chronological perspective, which I see as a benefit. Also, it is really beneficial that we worked with topics that are not common in the Slovak school curriculum. Regarding the piloting itself, it is crucial for lesson plans to meet all educational criteria and objectives. It is important in this kind of international cooperation to create lesson plans that fit the needs of all students from any countries. It is often necessary to clarify the contexts that are well known in the home country but not in other countries. Cooperation between several teachers can bring new ideas for the most suitable methodological approaches.
I consider the project itself to be very useful for the teacher’s pedagogical practice as well as for the students. Most teachers face difficulties in preparing lessons plans that focus on the period from 1945-1989. The main problem for them is motivating the students; more precisely, figuring out how to catch students’ attention and how to motivate them to actively engage during the class. The whole process of piloting the lesson plans has helped me to understand how differently teaching can look. Regarding testing itself, it is necessary because each group of students is specific and their reactions vary, so we had the opportunity to compare which lesson plans were more and less effective.
My impression from the project is very positive. Testing the lesson plans in cooperation with several other teachers has its advantages. If the materials themselves are to be used the classroom teaching, recommendations and experiences from teachers are crucial to their creation.
Looking at the lesson plans that you tested, which ones did you have the fewest and the most problems with? What were the problems?
I tested lesson plans from Bosnia and from Bulgaria. The Bulgarian lesson plan, after the addition of some information and context, was well prepared and provided a good platform for teaching. With the Bosnian lesson plan, the problems were mainly due to the unclear thematic focus and relatively extensive thematic content. From my perspective (described in detail in the questionnaires), this lesson plan needed a clearer specification of objectives, and also, given the nature of the project, it should have focused on the period of socialism. This submitted lesson proposal did not stick to the project topic and aims.
The Czech lesson plan focused on elections was the easiest one for me. From the very beginning when I started to study this lesson plan I got very excited about it. This lesson plan also worked for my students. Working with individual sources was interesting, and the questions opened space for a stimulating discussion. The only factor I had a problem with was time. This lesson was so interesting for students that it would have required 2 lessons to fully appreciate it. The second lesson plan I tested was the Bosnian one, and I had a hard time testing it. Time factor played a key role in this issue. There were more activities than I could do within 45 minutes. It was mainly because I had to introduce to the students the issues of Yugoslav history, which Slovak history lessons do not pay much attention to. For each section, students asked for additional explanation on the topic, which took time.
The only problems I faced were during the preparation phase, especially with preparing the materials themselves. For example: I had to look for the photos again (I needed a better quality to print them), I had to rewrite the text in a more suitable way for my students, I needed to prepare a presentation with pictures, etc. This was the only problem I encountered during testing the lesson plans. It was easier to teach the topics that were closer to me. Some of the lesson plans had more activities than the others, and because of this, it was more difficult to go through the whole plan in 45 min, but I do not see this as a negative aspect. On the contrary, it was a perfect opportunity for a choice and some adjustment by the teacher. It is always better to have more things ready to be used for a class than less, given that each class works differently.
What were the students’ reactions to foreign model lessons?
The students’ responses were positive. The lesson plans were an enriching extension of the ordinary teaching process. Cooperating on the project and having the opportunity to test foreign lesson plans was also an enrichment for me and a verification of my teaching competencies.
The students’ responses to testing the foreign lesson plans were very positive. They clearly stated that they would welcome the incorporation this method of teaching history in each thematic unit, in a range of at least one class per one unit. Students mainly appreciated the independent work, the possibility for discussion, the diversity of sources, and ability to bring the topics into the present.
The students’ responses were positive. The Bulgarian and Bosnian lesson plans were mainly interesting for students because the history of these two countries is not incorporated into the slovak history curriculum, so this information was new to them — they had many questions.
Based on your experience with this project, what kind of cooperation and project would you welcome in the future? What educational materials and teaching tools would you like to see produced?
The possibility to immediately use any additional learning materials in the classroom is limited by the requirements of the state educational programs and the time frame given for the subject of history. Still, the teacher can use part of the time on topics that he or she considers to be important and thus go beyond the stated framework. In this context, I consider the preparation of pedagogical materials to be useful. In the future, it would be useful to consider preparing workshops for teachers, even workshops for teachers from various countries, so that they could have opportunities to share their experiences and approaches in the classroom; it would also be an opportunity to make new contacts. In addition to photographic, visual, and written materials, it would be appropriate to enrich the lessons with audiovisual material, or some form of feedback from students – e.g. in the form of a short project with a similar thematic focus to address a similar topic in his country. I would gladly work on similar projects in the future.
Despite the fact that I’ve been a part of projects like this before, this is the first time that the project focused on work with sources and provided teacher with complete manuals of how to proceed. I do highly appreciate questions that I received with each section, because these questions led students to think and discuss more. This is how I see and understand a quality project that doesn’t just push theory onto the teacher, but instead presents practical procedures and methods. This mode of cooperation between the authors of the project and the teachers seems to be most effective to me. I think that publishing the lesson plans would be very helpful for the teachers, also because of the demanding nature of these topics.
The project was interesting and I would welcome the same again, but I would also appreciate the production of educational materials including the use of film, audio sources, and also tasks focused on students’ work, like research and creation, which would then be made publicly available to all teachers.