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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.
May 31, 2016
Trainee teacher 4: I'd be lying if I told you that it came naturally
In the beginning:
I’d be lying if I told you that the thought of reading around teaching pedagogy heightened my excitement to a state of euphoria. I’d also be lying if I told you that it came naturally, was easy and was something I looked forward to whilst also trying to balance writing assignments, lesson plans, reflections and oh yes, actually teaching in the classroom.
Initially this reading felt unfocused, for without much teaching experience my reading was undirected and without context. It felt like starting on journey with no end or meaning; nothing made any sense nor did it have any relation to my practice, for I did not yet have a practice. Bombarded with reading lists, and suggested reading I was overwhelmed not only by the work but also by the enormity of such a mind field of knowledge.
Little by little:
Like most things in life, it became apparent to me that in order to embark on what seemed like an impossible task, it would be easier to start at the beginning… with my subject’s pedagogy. Rather than looking at specific areas of teaching like behaviour, I started to read into the pedagogy of my subject. This was far more accessible for me, for whilst I could not yet connect to teaching pedagogy as a whole, I could connect to my subject thus a door into the pedagogy behind it.
Towards the end:
I am now over half way through my PGCE year and my reading has become a lot more natural. I am now able to seek advice from pedagogy, and I am able to understand the theory behind it. As my teaching practice has evolved, my passion has been drawn towards behaviour management. With the experience I have gained from both the classroom and my PG assignments, I am able to read more efficiently and focused. Not only has the reading become easier, but guess what… I actually enjoy it!
My advice to you:
Don’t be put off by the recommended reading lists: these are there to guide you through not only the entirety of your PGCE year but also your entire career as a teacher.
Start with your subject: by reading about your subject pedagogy you can ease your way into the minefield of teaching theory, using your existing subject knowledge as a foundation.
Don’t just read books: Look at blogs, articles and other media sources. The Guardian education section has some great reads which aren’t too lengthy and are very accessible.
Check out the references: When you get more confident, check out the references in existing reports, journals and books. These will guide you to the next level of reading.
Keep going: Teaching isn’t easy, and the hoops you have to jump through don’t make it any easier. However there is a wealth of support and knowledge out there. Even when you are struggling, google it! You will realise you’re not alone, and that this will get easier.
Talk: Ask your colleagues, chances are they may have read something which has helped them and could also help you.
May 30, 2016
Trainee teacher blog 3: Reading books on behaviour management
One of the biggest fears for someone just entering the teaching profession is often around behaviour management in the classroom. Some of the thoughts that may enter your mind are ‘Will the students listen to me? ‘How will I deal with bad behaviour?’ and ‘What should I do if I can’t control the class?’. As a trainee, it can be quite overwhelming when you realise that the profession you are about to enter requires you to stand in front of 25 young people for 6 hours a day and help them to learn. There are many horror stories floating around the internet and also through word of mouth which can very easily discourage even the strongest willed people from this career.
I was one of the people who thought I would struggle with behaviour management but by the time I started teaching, I had covered a wide range of topics related to classroom management at university and through independent learning. My first lesson was totally different to how I had envisaged it. Although students were participating in the activities there was a lot of low level disruption throughout the lesson, such as talking amongst friends and tapping the desk continuously. A lot of planning had gone into that lesson, ensuring that the work during the 1 hour period was accessible to all students and low level disruption can be very distracting, especially for a trainee teacher. It can also be very difficult to manage without the right knowledge. It can be frustrating when you have spent 3+ hours to plan a lesson and the students find more amusement in discussing what happened during the lunch break than what you have to teach them. In this instance, reading definitely helped with my classroom management.
One of the first books I read when I entered the profession was ‘Getting the buggers to behave’ by Sue Cowley. This is a simple and easy-to-read book that breaks down some of the most common behavioural issues that a classroom teacher may face. These issues range from students shouting out answers when not being questioned to students getting out of their seats and walking around the classroom. Sue Cowley outlines some effective techniques that can be used to create a positive learning environment within the classroom such as use of body language, tone of voice and language. After reading the book I began putting what I had read into my practice and I saw noticeable differences quite quickly. I started by using assertive body languagewhich involved standing up with my shoulders pulled back and my hands open and visible, as well as utilising the classroom space to exercise my control of the lesson. Simple techniques such as greeting every child at the door upon entering and leaving worked a treat and are now part of my daily routines.
There is a countless amount of literature on behaviour management available to read for new teachers. My advice to new teachers would be to start with simple techniques that you can repeat and embed into a routine. When trying out a new technique it is important that time is allowed for the technique to settle in with the students before trying something else. Adults do not warm to change and students even less so. Be patient with students and get to know your class before trying to fix what may not be broken to begin with.
May 29, 2016
Trainee teacher 2: How has reading around pedagogy affected my teaching practice?
How has reading around pedagogy affected my teaching practice?
After being set our initial university assignment exploring the ‘implications of current theories of Cognitive Development in teaching and learning’, I was dubious about what effect theorists who died decades ago could have on my day to day practice in the classroom.
The importance of research-led practice had been drummed into us, but even after writing my initial assignment on the work of Piaget and Vygotsky, I was unsure where they fitted into my educational experience, or how I was supposed to use their theories. Part of the issue was, it seemed to me, that they were summarising the obvious. Piaget’s description of the development of children (Muijs 2012) and Vygotsky’s points on supporting or ‘scaffolding’ students to get to the next level of understanding (Gray and Macblain 2012) all seemed to be common sense, except coined in elaborate terminology.
I couldn’t be sure whether my perception of these theorists was because their points seemed obvious, or whether because, and I think more likely, they were so fundamental in shaping modern education, theory and research that their ideas have become ingrained in the education system and those of us immersed in it.
Despite my initial, somewhat uninspiring, encounter with pedagogy my engagement with pedagogy and research was far from complete. I was concerned by what I initially deemed to be the restrictive nature of the theories. Piaget suggested specific ages at which children develop, but was that still the case almost four decades after his death? Was behaviourism (Skinner, 1974) the only way to develop effective behaviour for learning in the classroom? Did I need to include all of Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Gardner, 2004) in every lesson?
Then, however, the light bulb moment occurred, in which I connected with a piece of pedagogy. I realised my misconception was that pedagogy was a script, an idea that one subscribed to unconditionally and acted upon unquestioningly. In fact pedagogical theories could be used as a device, developing my understanding of the way students learn. Once understood they act as an informed base from which to experiment and explore different ways of teaching and learning, not a straightjacket dictating the direction of my practice and my development as an educator.
The first piece of pedagogy which inspired me to recognise the versatility and power of research-based practice was Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956). Initially created by Benjamin Bloom and a cohort of educationalists, its intention was to categorise different levels of thought, enabling them to be quantified and therefore compared and tracked. I originally used Bloom’s Taxonomy to structure my lessons, demonstrating to students how we were going to make progress and ensuring I had progressive levels of challenge throughout. Moreover, I soon realised the flexibility of the taxonomy as a tool to develop students’ critical thinking skills and encourage their own independent learning skills. I have since experimented with a variety of ways to do this, including creating Bloom’s question cards, which can be used by students to challenge themselves or each other to develop higher levels of thinking.
The realisation that pedagogy wasn’t restricted to its original form and purpose, that instead it could be used as a platform to explore different teaching techniques and ideas and that a variety of ideas can be synthesised to create new and exciting investigative techniques in the classroom, was a turning point in my cynicism against pedagogy. I am currently exploring a variety of cooperative learning techniques, creating a pick and mix of ideas and theories that I think will work for my students, in my classrooms, for my style of teaching. This is not to say that I’m ‘improving’ pedagogical theories, but rather exploring how they can work for me, as a way of ironing out some of the difficulties I face with some of my classes.
And in my opinion, this is the most effective way to use pedagogy. Initially it should be used as a base to develop understanding, but after that you have to make it work for you; test it out, create resources, synthesize ideas until you find the best fit for you. Pedagogy is not effective until it is understood and treated as a vehicle for exploration, not a rulebook.