All entries for June 2016
June 05, 2016
marking – does research help?
Literature Review: How did reading around pedagogy affect my teaching practice? A trainee’s personal reflection.
Feedback within marking
Certainly in terms of my own professional development, reading around effective feedback within marking revealed a lot to me which I had never thought of before, particularly the negative impact that feedback can have. Being a brand new trainee, I assumed that the more feedback the better for the pupils, so had no problem writing swathes of response for each piece of assessed work and spending a lot of my time in the process.
Initially when I first set foot into the world of marking, I wanted to attempt it on my own to see how I would independently respond to a piece of work; the result of which is aforementioned and this of course was unsustainable. I was recommended by colleagues to give lots of praise within my first set of marking as a way to build rapport with the pupils - and it definitely seemed to work, pupils appeared up-beat and engaged in the lesson which followed. Utilising this ‘praise culture’ fitted in well with the school marking policy of ‘two stars and a wish’, a principle used across many schools under various aliases; praise followed by ways to improve.
Being a relatively young teacher who was mistaken as a new year 12 student by year 13s does have its draw backs – you just don’t have the automatic respect which a mature teacher can assume from a class of students. In which case you need to adapt and use your strengths to build respect – this is where praise becomes invaluable and two stars and a wish offered me the opportunity to utilise this tactic. I enjoyed using this method as it gave me scope to praise the students and build rapport whilst also giving me the chance to comment on where they can improve. I assumed this was working well for me without giving it a second thought – I was ticking all of my boxes; praise, improvements and progress.
Praise is an essential tool within a teacher’s arsenal; however what became apparent within reading around my topic was that praise within feedback can have a detrimental impact on a student’s progress; studies have found that students can start to slack and relax when given praise on their work, removing their desire to push themselves further. Discovering this research has really changed my approach to the way I teach and particularly mark, however breaking away from giving lots of praise was something I struggled to do. Worrying I would offend some students about their work was a main concern; my thinking was that giving no written praise could in turn knock their confidence and impact their learning within future lessons.
Working on my new understanding of feedback, I have attempted various techniques to change my marking style; I still feel it is important to feature written praise, however I now use it in far smaller doses. Ultimately what I have taken away from reading around the pedagogy is that whatever principle you are researching, whether it be providing feedback or behaviour management; it should not dictate exactly how you teach but should instead add depth to your style. Use reading to mould your personal approach in a way which best suits you and your personality; the profession is based on all teachers having their own individuality and that is always important to bear in mind in your training year.
June 04, 2016
Trainee teacher 7: Reading around motivation
I chose to focus my research project for my PGCE around the idea of motivation and its relation to goal setting and self-regulated learning. Following observations of students within my second placement school, there was a seeming lack of motivation coming from some students (even those that had chosen to take the subject up at GCSE) and I wanted to see how I could work to turn this around.
Much of the literature around motivation suggested to me that it was a very inward and personal ideal, but that one’s motivation towards a task or topic depends a lot on their interest with it. I saw this as meaning that I should try and create a place where students could be motivated and thus plan lessons that interested every single student. This idea was definitely not a revelation and running youth theatres before starting my PGCE meant I had been thinking of topics that attempted to engage every student for a long time. I realised though, that within school I had the task of engaging, on average, 30 students at a time whilst teaching them something new, facilitating their progression and following a scheme of work that I didn’t always write. Furthermore, I couldn’t always be sure (without asking every-single-one of them, every lesson) whether or not they took an interest in what I was teaching them about or their task. I have found that in Drama, in a way, there is enough creative scope to allow for individual interests in a topic to foster and for students to adapt performances to suit their interests, therefore increasing their motivation. For example, in a recent scheme of work about current affairs – I presented students with a number of ‘local’ (and albeit quite dry) headlines and they created scenes based on these – twisting and adapting them within their groups. Although this took some encouraging, as they realised they were able to adapt them to fit their interests whilst still showing the effect of the main story and characters, the level of effort and engagement within the classroom seemed to rise.
Reading the literature also made me aware of the importance of self-regulated learning and the impact this can have on a students’ success; essentially, teaching students to take control of their learning is integral to their development. I understood this as applying to the Drama classroom in that I offer more time for pupils to reflect on their own work as well as peer feedback. This means I now ask students in KS3 what they could do to improve in order to encourage self-regulation. I have realised though, that supporting students to become self-regulated learners is quite a long process and not something that can be done immediately. Furthermore, encouraging and facilitating students to become self-regulated learners may have to come from the whole school because, if students are not used to regulating their learning in other lessons, what is to say they will do it in my lesson. I saw an example of this recently when rehearsing with year 11 for their practical exam. Their pieces had been independently devised, with some direction and feedback from their class teacher and myself. The day before her exam a student was, to put it simply, asking me to show her how her monologue should be done and what she should do. I’m not sure whether it was because the panic was setting in, but her and the rest of the group’s efforts to facilitate their own learning and devise and perfect their piece for performance was lacking and they were very much relying on me, as the teacher, to tell them what to do, when to do it, how to do it and whether they were doing right and wrong. I think encouraging self-regulated learning to be a very powerful thing and I hope that in the future, as I teach classes of my own for longer periods, I can attempt to instil it within my lessons more which will work to support students as they progress through education.
The literature suggested that getting students to set themselves a goal would help to foster their independence as self-regulated learners and increase their motivation. I think it is important for students to set themselves goals, to help them understand and focus on what they need to do to improve and regularly do this within my lessons. I understood from the literature the power of feedback against these goals, as a way of checking students are not setting themselves something too easy, or too hard. This is thus something I have tried to do since doing my literature review and hope to continue to do (hopefully getting more efficient at it so that it takes less time). I hope that as students get more feedback against their goals, they will be able to regulate their learning better and set substantial and reachable goals. Whether this goal-setting actually has an impact on their motivation is what my action research projects attempts to consider.
June 03, 2016
Trainee teacher 7: Varying degrees of success
Although I can sometimes grumble and moan about the extra workload of reading research papers, there can be no doubt that I’ve taken ideas and inspiration from the research I’ve written. Over the year so far, I’ve been trying to take ideas from my reading and implement them in classrooms, with varying degrees of success.
From an early stage, my research into theories of effective marking and feedback yielded some ideas that I could implement into my classroom. Reading work by Hattie and Timperley gave me the idea to use displayed success criteria for written tasks in class. This allows students to constantly self-assess their work as they go, and continuously generate next steps at any stage during the lesson. This allows me to use the criteria to also structure my written feedback, saving a lot of time thinking about what next steps are necessary. I recently took this to another level in terms of student engagement with the criteria, by challenging students to mark a sample piece of work before they started working on their own task. I was impressed with the levels of critical engagement with the criteria, and by their willingness to judge whether a piece of work was worthy of meeting a criteria rather than just being present. The feedback was very focused, and they were very demanding of detail (in hindsight, maybe telling them I had produced the work was a bad idea!).
More recently, I have been reading into theories of discovery learning and how to make it effective in the classroom. The overall picture I obtained from my literature review was that discovery learning can yield improved outcomes, but not in all cases. I identified two main factors that can help discovery learning be more effective:
Choose the class carefully. When results were separated out by student ability, a positive effect on higher ability students was observed, often masked in mixed studies by a negative effect on lower ability students. Using this strategy appropriately is an important facet of making it successful. In terms of implementing this, I have primarily used these activities with only one of my classes, where all students are targeted an A or A* grade.
Don’t just leave them on their own! Some studies gave students as young as 7 no guidance, and expected them to be able to learn. There is no way that this would yield effective progress and learning at almost any age As a result, when I have used discovery-style activities, I have always provided scaffolding questions and walked around providing support to ensure that students have the supported environment to allow them to make those discoveries.
The opportunity for discovery learning to produce improved outcomes has been particularly of interest to me, and I have been trying to implement more and more in my lessons where appropriate. Recently, I put on an activity where my students used dice to model radioactive decay. Using the structured worksheet, students were able to work through and calculate a half-life for their radioactive ‘sample’. This then led into a discussion of half-life, with students moving on to look at how it relates to carbon dating in their next lesson.
June 02, 2016
Trainee teacher 6: How beneficial can educational literature really be in such a practical vocation?
As a literature student, reading and researching theories has become second nature to me. However, when I began my PGCE I was sceptical- how beneficial can educational literature really be to me in such a practical vocation?
But I was proved wrong, from the very outset of the course. The reading I have undertaken during this academic year has provided me with many different ways to approach core elements of teaching practice, from behaviour management, to differentiation, to subject-specific pedagogy. This year, reading research has been critical to my subject (English), as a result of the reformation of the GCSE and A-Level specifications. Research is constantly evolving about how to approach these changes, and ways in which teachers can deliver information on the new texts that have been included in the specifications. The articles and journals that I have read always contain practical advice, which make it easy to adopt these ideas into my own practice. I have discovered this year that, as a trainee, I have been exposed to more research material than my colleagues at school have been. This means that I have been able to offer new approaches to teaching to my department, and they have been grateful for the information that I have provided. This has caused me to realise that there is no better way to keep my course material fresh and exciting for students than by researching, and ensuring that my teaching reflects current understanding.
Whenever I have encountered a problem in my teaching practice, I have turned to research to help to resolve those issues. Although teaching can at times see like a solitary career, there is a huge network of support to be found in educational research and theory: whatever setback you are currently facing, the likelihood is a preceding practitioner has experienced it before, and has documented the remedy for it! The wealth of knowledge you can find is reassuring, and although there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ technique to apply to the classroom, there will be several approaches you can take until you find one which works for you. During my first term, pace was an aspect of teaching which I struggled with, and my reading of educational theory provided me with techniques to try in order to improve this, such as the benefits of incorporating timers into lessons, and creating timed challenges for students, which simultaneously increases their engagement.
One key question that every practitioner needs to ask themselves during researching is: how will this theory benefit my teaching and, above all, the learning of my students? Placing research into action can be motivating for both teacher and learners who take enjoyment in adopting new strategies and refreshing the classroom environment. Reading research also encourages teachers to maintain self-reflectivity, as you must evaluate how well the theory worked in practice, how your students responded and above all, how it helped or hindered the progress that was made during your lesson. By immersing yourself in research throughout your teaching career, you remain a learner- and this allows teachers to relate to their students, maintaining understanding relationships. I hope that reading research will remain as beneficial to me throughout my teaching practice as it has been to me in this first year.
June 01, 2016
Trainee teacher 5: surely there’s no place for research in PE?
How did reading research affect my teaching practice?
Physical Education (PE) is just a time for pupils to run off some energy and have a play, surely there’s no place for research in the subject?
Over time, PE has evolved to become a holistic subject that engages both the mind and body and places emphasis on not only physical literacy but also the development of life skills leading pupils to adopt informed, healthy lifestyles. Though the public’s perception of the subject varies dependent on their own experiences - I can confirm that research has a very important place within PE. The development of pedagogy to name but one aspect of the profession. Throughout my teacher training year, research has been pivotal to my improvement as a teacher; shaping my practice and informing me of a variety of ways in which I can lead my pupils to make good progress whilst also achieving high levels of engagement.
Research is continually being developed about the pedagogy of PE, advancing the way in which we teach. From Mosston and Ashworth’s Spectrum of Productive and Reproductive teaching styles and the more traditional “Motor Learning Theory” type lesson (where drills are delivered before a game is played), to the more student-centred explorative game-based, competitive focused models such as Bunker and Thorpe’s “Teaching Games for Understanding” and Siedentop’s “Sport Education”. The reading that I have undertaken during this PGCE year has opened my eyes to the spectrum of PE pedagogy that exists and has given me a great insight into how these can be embedded within PE. Their detail and case studies have meant that I have easily been able to implement this within my own practice. Having a range of styles within, what I like to call, my “tool box of teaching” enables to me to select styles that are most appropriate to the pupils I am teaching but also to be experimental, take risks and try out new ideas.
As a result of my reading, I have seen my own “socialisation” be reformed during my journey to become a PE teacher. Socialisation is the process of how I, or any individual, is influenced to become a participating member within the teaching field (Lawson’s Occupational Socialization Theory is a very interesting read on this!) Throughout my schooling I was exposed to command style PE teaching, where all decisions are made by the teacher, and as a result of this saw this as the way to teach PE. Through exploring research and applying this to my practice I have shifted to predominantly adopting student centred teaching styles, where my responsibility lies in scaffolding, differentiating and facilitating, the pupils are empowered. This has had a great and positive impact on my teaching, especially with my higher ability groups where my mentor encouraged me when I adopted the use of the “Teaching Games for Understanding” model as an innovative, engaging style of teaching- which I then shared with the whole department.
Obviously, you cannot expect that research will work in your environment in the same way that is reported- but taking risks and experimenting can lead to a refreshing, stimulating learning environment. Reflection is a big part of being a teacher and by asking yourself about the success of approaches, comparing this to the literature, considering pupil response and progress you can come to your own conclusions on what works and what doesn’t. But I have learnt that one approach does not fit all and to therefore test methods with a variety of pupils- they’re all different! For me, I intend to continue to engage with research around the pedagogy of PE, to continually add to my tool box in order to positively benefit my teaching career beyond my training year.