Mixing methods


08 August 2020

Gimmicks have been part of Steven Kolber’s teaching arsenal since day one.

Observe the Year 8, 10 and 11 teacher of English, history and English as an Additional Language/Dialect in three classes at Brunswick Secondary College in Victoria and he’ll be using a different method in each one.

“I’ve always been chasing the next, newest shiny thing in teaching practices. One year, I even taught in a gamified way – students were in teams, earned rewards and I had a grand narrative for the class,” says Kolber.

“All the things I learned from gimmicks I still use. I establish strong relationships with students, with what they know and need to know and find a wide range of approaches and tools.”

Kolber also runs an intensive one-on-one literacy support program for students at the inner-city college, which has 92 teachers and 978 students.

“I have a relatively democratic view of education. Students are empowered to have their own, voice, choice and exploration of the content we’re doing.
I’m there to support that,” he says.

Lights, camera, action

One of the key tools in Kolber’s kitbag is video, especially for flipped learning and instruction. He was among the globe’s top 100 educators leading flipped K-12 learning in 2018. His YouTube channel, Mr Kolber’s Teaching, helped. It has 1070 subscribers, with 350,000 views across 420 videos.

The teacher of a decade has set up an instructional design lab at Brunswick Secondary for his peers to make videos and podcasts. “There’s a piece of glass that serves as a whiteboard you can teach directly onto, film and flip it so you’re writing the right way around and kids can see you draw on the board. It has a green screen to videotape teaching in front of PowerPoint presentations,” he says.

Kolber coached his peers in the maths department to revamp their content, and the psychology faculty followed suit.

“They split up a unit of work that they said usually took six weeks and were able to deliver it in one week. One teacher would do a section for the high achievers, another would do the same activity but at a lower level. They recorded it and watched it to give each other feedback.”

Kolber says the teachers produced about 15 videos, which they showed classes in place of a single teacher delivering 15 activities for 25 different students. This allowed the students to work at their own level, receive greater teacher attention and model excellent teaching practice within the faculty.

“It wasn’t me doing it. It was other people taking on the idea I’d been banging on about,” he says.

An active voice

It’s clear there are plenty of people willing to listen to Kolber’s ideas.

He’s a regular contributor on the Teachers’ Education Review podcast, hosts about eight Melbourne TeachMeets a year and volunteers in Cambodia with Teachers Without Borders.

He’s a sub-branch union representative of his school, vice-president of the inner-city region and a Victorian Branch Councillor, representing his region at state level as an elected member of the union.

Kolber also models continuous learning; he started with a double degree in teaching and arts.

“As other students dropped out of that course, it made me realise I was excited about learning for the rest of my life and (the opportunity) to communicate that passion to young people.”

Since then, he’s notched up a Masters of TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language), a Diploma of Teaching ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and a Graduate Diploma in Educational Research.

By Margaret Paton

This article was originally published in The Australian Educator, Winter 2020