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June 07, 2021
Education Research Conference Review - Monday 14th December 2020. The University of Warwick. Written by Fionnuala Spicer - Primary PGCE student (Early Years Specialism)
On Monday the 14th December, the University of Warwick invited leading academics and teachers across the field of Education to share their research with current primary and secondary Warwick PGCE students. The conference began with an inspirational keynote speech from Jeanie Davies on the intricacies of the ethical teacher and why character matters in the teaching profession. The conference followed with a selection of seminars and workshops from varying professionals drawn from universities and schools across the United Kingdom who engaged our PGCE cohort in their research. The PGCE students including myself self-selected which sessions to attend and many opted for a pick’n’mix approach where we opted in and out of a number in order to hear as many speakers as possible. The research conference complied with the core content framework which details the compliancy for teacher training programmes in their entitlement of all trainee teachers to expose PGCE students to research.
I was particularly encouraged when listening to Jeanie Davies speak on the importance of character in the teaching profession. Jeanie challenged us to reflect on the different interpretations of character education and to consider our position as trainee teachers. I learned from Jeanie that character can be caught through the ethos of a school when it is embedded within school values, but it can also be taught to children through educational experiences which enhance opportunities for character development. Jeanie invited us to reminisce on our own school experiences, including reflecting in three words on an inspirational teacher who made an impact on us. I opted for the words “believed in me” as I remembered a teacher who touched my life and helped me overcome my difficulty in reading. Other PGCE students provided answers which followed on the same topical thread with words such as “’approachable”, “kind”, “caring”, “honest”, with one trainee also stating, “gave me opportunities”. I found this last answer particularly poignant as I hold the belief that education is a powerful tool which can be harnessed to address the inequality which still exists in our society. A highlight from Jeanie’s speech is it provided a moment for us as trainee teachers to reflect inwards and consider our personal motivations for pursuing a career in teaching. Jeanie highlighted the fact that most teachers enter the profession for altruistic reasons, because we want to make a difference, and this is a theme which was acknowledged and supported by many academics throughout the conference. Jeanie reminded us that there are complexities within teaching as teachers are regularly required in all aspects of education to make quick decisions with conflicting demands, many of which do not have a clearly defined right or wrong answer. However, it illustrated to me that engaging in moral matters is embedded within teaching and we therefore have a key role to play in showcasing our ethical knowledge and a moral responsibility to help our students become good people.
The next session I dipped into was Georgina Newton and Dr Holly Heshmati’s session on empowering pre-service teachers to develop personal and professional resilience. I was drawn to this session as I was already aware that teaching has one of the highest turnover rates of any profession and I was eager to explore how I could build my resilience considering this. I learned that resilience is not fixed or innate as it can be learned and strengthened in different contexts. Georgina and Dr Holly emphasised how a resilient teacher displays high professional competency to overcome challenges and shows empathy towards children who struggle at school. The theme of resilience was conveyed through an honest lens as Dr Holly highlighted that it is only realistic to expect students to be resilient if teachers exhibit resilience themselves and build a capacity for resilience. However, I appreciated that the session also acknowledged that each of us has a limit with what we can cope with as although resilience is important, it is essential that teachers are supported and feel able to be vulnerable and confide in others when in need. This was also supported in Professor Des Hewitt’s session as he highlighted how if we want the best for our students, then we need the best for teachers also. This also builds on Jeanie’s keynote speech which exemplified the importance of values, motivation, agency, and empowerment and how it should extend not just for children but to teachers also.
The theme of resilience was particularly relevant in advance of the next session I attended with Becki Coombe on supporting the engagement of disengaged and disaffected learners. This workshop really challenged me as a trainee teacher to not simply see children’s behaviour at face value but to instead consider the root cause. Becki highlighted that students who are disengaged or disaffected in their learning often have additional factors to negotiate such as early childhood trauma, a chaotic home environment, medical needs, and disorders such as ADHD. I learned too that children’s disengagement in learning can also be down to our practice as teachers if we do not differentiate enough or if there is a lack of creativity to sufficiently engage children’s interest. This spoke to me especially as it brought the accountability back on to us as trainee teachers to improve our practice and consider ways in which we can engage these children and help identify underlying life issues which are impacting them. During my first teaching placement, my mentor instilled in me the importance of building a relationship with my students and getting to know them and this was reiterated in this session as a way to help students engage. Becki helped us explore practical ways in which we can give our students quality time outside of the classroom such as leading extracurricular activities because if students feel invested in then they will have a much better experience to learn. Becki highlighted how by us investing in our students and showing them they matter, we are automatically helping place them in the third tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with a sense of belonging.
I found this session particularly useful also as it opened my eyes to how teachers should aim to contribute to a positive learning environment by conveying expectations, setting clear boundaries, remaining consistent and embodying the ‘glass half full’ mindset. Becki revealed to us how we should “catch students being good” and pay just as much attention to positive behaviour as we would negative, to build rapport and provide students with stability. Becki highlighted how a good sense of humour will carry us far in our role as teachers and that a “teacher look” is an essential in any teacher’s toolbox! The focus on being present and available to our students really stood out to me as it linked to Jeanie’s prior session on how we can support children’s character and be a stabilising presence in children’s lives. A lesson that I will apply from this session in my future practice is to treat each lesson like a story - each lesson should have a beginning, middle and end but everyone desires the happy ending at the end of the story. Therefore, I will ensure that the ending of each lesson is a positive experience for my students so that they leave happy and willing to continue engaging in learning.
However, the session also highlighted some of the problematic issues in practice as it raised the importance of not limiting resources or provision which have been recommended for children to help them cope in the classroom such as time out cards. However, Becki highlighted the underlying tension as there is often a tendency to cap these at a certain amount when instead any adjustments used as a mechanism to support students in their learning should be wholeheartedly utilised, welcomed and embraced without limit.
Other sessions I also popped into included Sue Johnston-Wilder’s seminar on addressing maths anxiety in our students and ourselves. The session revealed the sense of fear that is typically centred around maths and which permeates many students’ mindsets. However, it was positive to note that we as trainee teachers can play a pivotal role in changing that trajectory and we can move students on from a place of helplessness to one of confidence in maths. This theme of confidence was also drawn upon in Professor Des Hewitt’s session which focused on the ways in which research can make sense of primary and early years settings. The session supported much of what was also conveyed in Becki’s session with an integral focus placed on the importance of us knowing our students and understanding their learning journeys. This session reaffirmed what I learned in Becki’s session as Des conveyed how through understanding children’s personal circumstances, we can help them overcome obstacles in their learning. In this session we were asked to also reflect on teachers who were memorable from our school experiences and most of the answers centred on teachers who were funny, caring, passionate and who helped us through difficult times in our lives. Therefore, there was a sense that it is the pastoral element of nurturing teachers which keeps students going. Professor Des Hewitt’s session was also a particular highlight for me personally from the research conference as it promoted social justice in the way in which it advocated for inclusion and challenged us as trainees to consider what defines an inclusive school which avoids discrimination. We were encouraged in the session to choose an aspect from the ten principles of inclusive leadership which we felt had particular significance for us. I selected aspect four which stated how inclusive leaders acknowledge and value diversity and champion a culture of tolerance and diversity. However, I felt it important to note that whilst I agree that we must champion a culture of diversity, there are complexities within the language of ‘tolerance’ which demand acknowledgement as diversity should not be just ‘tolerated’ but wholeheartedly embraced, welcomed, recognised and valued. I appreciated how the session placed a focus on looking for the ability in people and seeing that talents can be expressed in a multitude of ways such as through art, music or social dimensions rather than from a wholly academic perspective.
To conclude, as a result of attending the research conference it has become clear that there are implications for trainee teachers which require acknowledgement. The fear surrounding Ofsted and the culture of compliance was drawn upon in different sessions and the problematic issues were built on further with the recognition that professionalism in education is often determined as compliance and by measurable aspects such as attendance or punctuality. There was a mutual understanding within the research that there is at times a disconnect between what universities say is good practice in schools and then what happens in the classroom. Another problematic issue raised from the research is how there is limited training for teachers on moral development in schools which has the potential to impact on practice and how students learn about character. The research conference was a worthwhile event as it prompted us as trainee teachers to think beyond practice and explore how as teachers we need to act in good sense and pass this on to our students also to prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead. The speakers provided us with the opportunity to consider the complexities behind student’s behaviour, motivation, life circumstances and this is particularly useful as it will carve us into kinder, better trainee teachers. The research conference has equipped us as trainee teachers to understand research, engage in research and to recognise its value. The research conference also provided a physical example of the advantage in universities and schools collaborating to help each other in enriching teachers’ practice, student’s learning and in fulfilment of the moral commitment to contribute to the wider professional community. The research conference has made me appreciate my entitlement to work in a research rich environment and to teach in a way which is informed by the latest research for the benefit of my students and wider school community.
May 24, 2021
What is your teaching philosophy? How has this originated and can you evaluate how your educational touchstones will impact on the teacher you aspire to be?
My teaching philosophy strongly believes that, the core requirement of a student and the key mission of an educator is the wielding of knowledge by love. The importance of love in teaching are continuously been talk about in both Western and Eastern culture. According to Hooks (2003), Love in education empowers the recognition between the educator and the learner. Moreover, what I believe is in order for a person to be a successful educator, they need to love what they do in principle, as well as love what they do every day - Teaching.
It is through love that one can form a real and true connection with the receiver of knowledge. If love is allowed to create an open channel of communication right from the start, the reward will be throughout the entire journey and beyond. Through love, the teacher can show that they truly care about the student and therefore make them pay more attention to the lesson and the knowledge from this particular teacher. I believe that this will create a bond that will last well beyond the academic term, and therefore the lessons taught will have a better chance of retention as well.
Contrary to a lot of opinion, I believe that a “friendly” teacher can go a long way in connecting with the students. Exchanging smiles, genuine greetings and concern, enquire about extra-curricular and other activities in order to widen the scope of the relationship with the students. I fully understand that this approach suits my natural personality and I can connect to my students on a much deeper and broader level. The trust factor increases and also the willingness to accept the knowledge from me are increased.
Teaching is a selfless way of giving out the knowledge and the experience to student. On another hand, teaching has always being my passion. James(1996) mentioned that teaching without passion is only knowledge delivery and tantamount to rote or mechanical skill. Hence, I strongly agree the significance of teaching with passion. Indeed, it is a very raw and basic emotion come from our heart that allows the student to be notice and detect easily. At the same time, hopefully to get reward of a passionate learner, James(1996). As an educator, we have to accept that there are countless ways for us to show our passion, whether it is for the technical aspects of the daily lesson, or the application of the subject in everyday life after the learner left school in the future, or maybe just passion through an interest in getting to know the student individually and creating a deeper personal bond. Most important, it is educator’s responsibility to continually keep the passion, presenting the enthusiasm and build the maximum interest for all learners of my subject.
Hooks, B.(2003).Teaching community: a pedagogy of hope. New York, NY: Routledge.
James, W.(1996). Teaching with a passion. American economist. Education connection. Winter 1996. Page199-200. https://watermark.silverchair.com
May 17, 2021
What is your teaching philosophy? How has this originated and can you evaluate how your educational touchstones will impact upon the teacher you aspire to be?
At the heart of my teaching philosophy is my belief that education should be a holistic and enjoyable experience, that inspires students to become lifelong learners. The Jubilee Centre states that "To flourish is not only to be happy, but to fulfil one’s potential" (A Framework for Character Education in Schools, 2020). The school environment should be supportive and caring whilst providing opportunities that ignite students' curiosity and challenge them, so that they not only succeed academically but discover their full potential and flourish as individuals.
This view has definitely been shaped by my experience at my senior school, Malvern College. I was able to try my hand at a huge number of co-curricular activities, be engaged by memorable academic lessons and be part of a close-knit boarding community. My teachers motivated and challenged me, whilst explaining that the fear of failure should never be something that restricts you. I am a firm believer in the power of a growth mindset. Dweck explains that people with a growth mindset "believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training." (Dweck, 2012) I find this way of thinking incredibly empowering. It steers away from self-criticism and reveals that strength lies in potential.
No matter the quality of teaching, I understand that learning is incredibly difficult if the student is unhappy. I started boarding school at the age of eight and struggled with homesickness. Because of this, I now believe that pastoral care is actually more important than academic. Without the necessary support, it is very difficult for a child to flourish academically, socially or creatively. I would like my classroom to be an open, trusting space in which pupils feel comfortable.
I will be specialising in English and I find studying language and literature such a fascinating way to unpick human interactions and identities. I want to demonstrate how sensitivity and a critical eye towards texts can help students in their understanding of themselves, other people, and the world around them. I feel this is especially pertinent in an international setting, where students are encouraged to be culturally sensitive and globally-minded. Whilst at university I participated in a Global Leadership Experience with Common Purpose, in Mumbai. Much of the experience was centred around the idea of better understanding Cultural Intelligence. We studied Middleton's theory of Core and Flex (Middleton, 2014) to unpick the extent we can adjust our behaviour to interact with other cultures. Despite the fact this analogy was devised for global leaders, I believe this global and social self-awareness should be taught to everyone. It is something that can be nourished through studying literature and language, being curious about others and critical of our own preconceptions.
I aspire to be a teacher who facilitates a supportive learning environment in which students can be curious, critical, and challenge themselves and others, with a view to becoming independent learners and confident and compassionate adults.
Dweck, C (2012). Mindset : How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. London: Constable & Robinson.
University of Birmingham Jubilee Centre (2020). A Framework For Character Education In Schools. [Online]. (https://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/character-education/Framework%20for%20Character%20Education.pdf). (Accessed 26 October 2020.
Middleton, J. (2014) Cultural Intelligence: The Competitive Edge for Leaders Crossing Boundaries. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. [Online]. (https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/warw/detail.action?docID=1683525) ProQuest Ebook Central. (Accessed 16 August 2020).
May 10, 2021
What is your teaching philosophy? How has this originated and can you evaluate how your educational touchstones will impact upon the teacher you aspire to be?
Learning is a lifetime activity. Although the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies through our experiences happens on a daily basis to people across all age groups, teachers are entitled to teach these pivotal skills of life to students in classroom settings. Teachers, in my teaching philosophy, do not merely reserve or transmit knowledge, but they ideally ‘adopt the mantle of guide, chief designer, cultural developer and leader of a classroom with a nuanced pedagogical practice.’ (Doucet 2019, p.74) Broader and more social approaches should be taken to learning when perceiving a student as a whole, as stated in Principle 1 of Teaching and Learning Research Programme’s Ten Principles (2012). Accumulation of critical skills such as foundational literacies and competencies is essential for our young people to flourish as active individuals thriving in the world of the 21st-century. (World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Education 2015)
In the context of teaching as a profession, developing expertise in the Japanese language has been crucial for me in providing a holistic approach with students. It was a life-changing encounter with my English teacher in Junior High School which triggered my further steps into the educational field. Not only was her advanced knowledge of English beneficial in improving students’ language skills, but I had also witnessed her as a diligent learner alongside students who need to make constant efforts to secure high standards of knowledge. This teacher transformed my concept of learning from receptive to productive. Using this newfound skills, I have joined Japanese Mother tongue and Heritage language Education and Research Association of Thailand (JMHERAT) to meet Japanese teachers from other international schools in Thailand regularly to improve the language skills and discuss the relevant topics and issues at their workshops.
My previous experience in studying Anthropology at university has also influenced the concept of learning to acknowledge the importance of national culture and its role, particularly in learning languages. To reflect this, I have implemented various cultural activities in my classes including, but not limited to singing Japanese songs and exploring Japanese food which noticeably improved the students’ engagement but also their interest for Japanese culture. This resulted in better knowledge retention. Having known a connection between authenticity and students’ motivation in language learning (Pinner 2019), I have intentionally adopted authenticity by using my original texts and genuine props from Japan in the class. With this technique, it is easier for students to imagine the situation in which the language will be used in a realistic context. My goal is to encourage students to observe the world from a global perspective while simultaneously engaging them with worldliness.
Equal opportunities should be offered to students regardless of individual learning abilities. When writing and reading time approached, one of my students showed signs of restlessness and irritability in the class. I urgently consulted the specialist in school and tailored lesson materials to support his writing and reading skills providing the Japanese Hiragana chart with large picture cards and the original Hiragana dictionary. This kinaesthethic approach to learning incorporates writing and reading skills effectively and beneficially as a part of a comprehensive approach. It is my intention to demonstrate through teaching that both teachers and students are on the same learning journey where individual efforts, interaction, and cooperation are crucial to achieving a goal.
Doucet, A. (2019). Teaching Life: Our Calling, Our Choices, Our Challenges. New York: Routledge.
Pinner, R. (2019). Authenticity and Teacher-Student Motivational Synergy: A Narrative of Language Teaching. Oxon, New York: Routledge.
Teaching and Learning Research Programme: Ten Principles (2012) [Online](URL http://reflectiveteaching.co.uk/books-and-resources/rts5/part1/ch4/).
World Economic Forum: New Vision for Education Unlocking the Potential of Technology. (2015) [Online].(URL http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEFUSA_NewVisionforEducation_Report2015.pdf). Cologny/Geneva. (Accessed 12 August 2020).
March 08, 2021
What is your teaching philosophy? How has this originated and can you evaluate how your educational touchstones will impact upon the teacher you aspire to be?
The essence of my teaching philosophy is to foster students’ competence beliefs through healthy and personal relationships. I trust that students do well and are more willing to learn when learning is personalised.
Growing up, I questioned everything. However, my curiosity was often met with impatience and hostility as it was seen as disturbance in classes of 40 children. Feeling distant from my teachers and my learning, I became anxious and despised going to school. Studying abroad in England at 15 was certainly challenging, but it broadened my horizons. I felt a closer connection to my teachers and enjoyed a freedom to discuss academic or personal issues. I became more confident in my abilities and performed much better.
At university, I explored the psychological underpinnings of child development and education. One of the greatest takeaways from my Masters programme was the importance of competence beliefs in children — self-perceptions about their own capabilities (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2006). Literature shows that the higher children’s self-perceived ability, the greater their motivation and the better their academic achievement (e.g. Wigfield & Eccles, 2001; Urdan & Schoenfelder, 2006; Guay, Marsh, & Bovin, 2003; Freiberger, Steinmayr, & Spinath 2012). In retrospect, I performed better when I viewed myself as more capable because I felt understood and cared for. Positive relationships between teachers and students often lead to better performance (Bernstein-Yamashir & Noam, 2013). Students show higher attendance rates and test scores, and improved engagement and motivation in a personalised, respectful and safe learning environment with strong teacher support (Klem & Connell, 2004).
Teaching back at home, I try my best to show my students that they are listened to despite the large class size. For example, I start my lessons off with Show and Tell or a “Mood Check” where students take turns vocalising their thoughts or sharing something dear to their hearts. This way, the whole class gets to know more about each other and an opportunity to be heard outside of the curriculum. Their participation has been pleasantly encouraging. Each student has also prepared, per my instruction, a notebook of their choice to use as their journal where they pen their thoughts without worrying about being assessed. Some students have told me about their weekend plans, and others have shared more personal concerns about their family and life outside of school. Their sharing, verbal and written, has opened up windows for conversation. The more I know my students, the easier classroom management has become.
As I move further into the term, I have enjoyed the benefits of assigning tasks that students can relate to. As part of a poetry module, I had my Primary 5s write limericks and cinquains about themselves, their class, or their learning. This task was well received; students showed strong understanding of the taught poetic structures afterwards. For Primary 3, in preparation of their mid-term tests, I asked students to think of one question they thought might come up in their test. I envisioned it to be a short and simple activity, but it turned out to be a practice test paper compiled solely from their input. We went through these review questions together and they were a lot more engaged than usual as they enjoyed the fruits of their labour.
Bernstein-Yamashiro, B. and Noam, G.G., 2013. Teacher-student relationships: A growing field of study. New Directions for Youth Development
Guay, F., Marsh, H. W. and Boivin, M., 2003. Academic self-concept and academic achievement: developmental perspectives on their causal ordering. Journal of educational psychology, 95(1), pp.124-136.
Freiberger, V., Steinmayr, R. and Spinath, B., 2012. Competence beliefs and perceived ability evaluations: How do they contribute to intrinsic motivation and achievement?. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(4), pp.518-522.
Klem, A.M. and Connell, J.P., 2004., Relationships matter: Linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement. Journal of school health, 74, pp.262-273.
Urdan, T. and Schoenfelder, E., 2006. Classroom effects on student motivation: Goal structures, social relationships, and competence beliefs. Journal of School Psychology, 44(5), pp.331-349.
Wigfield, A. and Eccles, J. S., 2000. Expectancy–Value Theory of Achievement Motivation. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), pp.68-81.
Zimmerman, B.J, and Schunk, D.H., 2006. Competence and control beliefs: Distinguishing the means and ends. Handbook of educational psychology, 2, pp.349-367.
March 01, 2021
Teachers plan lessons according to the curriculum and to suit the needs of the students; the planning of assessments should be no different. Bartlett states (2015, p.59) that “assessment of each activity should be part of the planning process and needs to be seamless and focused”. Assessments need to be relevant and authentic to serve our students' needs best. Callison (1998, p.1) claims that “Authentic assessment is an evaluation process that involves multiple forms of performance measurement reflecting the student's learning, achievement, motivation, and attitudes on instructional-proceedings. Examples of authentic assessment techniques include performance assessment, portfolios, and self-assessment”. According to Callison, in order to create authentic assessments that encourage student growth, it is first essential that we take the time to get to know our students. If we do not know our students, it will not be easy to measure what is relevant and meaningful.
Creating a positive classroom environment, where students are encouraged and collaborative relationships are formed, is the first step for making significant and appropriate assessments that inform the teacher and the student and allow for maximum growth. School assessments should assess the process, not the final task. If assessments are authentic, students will be motivated learners and take ownership and pride in their learning, thus taking opportunities to develop the 21st-century learning skills that are so important to learn. I believe that, building positive relationships and creating meaningful and authentic assessments is crucial for the success of our students. As educators, we must ensure that we take any opportunities to learn and reflect upon our practice, to do what is best for our students.
Black and Wiliam (2012, p.2) claim "assessment in education must, first and foremost, serve the purpose of supporting learning". In my teaching, I have used many diagnostic assessments in the past in order to support learning. For example, I have used running records, journals, writing prompts, KWL charts, pre-unit tests, among others. However, the best types of assessments that I have encountered have been meaningful projects that were student led. In these instances, students were collaborative and motivated to succeed because they were passionate about what they were learning. Therefore, in the process, they were academically driven. Whenever possible, I aim for formative and summative assessments to either overlap or integrate, providing it is meaningful and relevant to both myself and my students. If formative and summative assessments are integrated, the criticisms surrounding summative assessments disappear as they can be informative and can help instil confidence in students, while also meeting other objectives.
Self-assessment, in my perspective, is one of the best ways for students to truly take ownership of their learning, and this can also be integrated into formative and summative assessments. With continued effort and understanding, blending formative and summative assessments is something all educators should consider, as it will positively impact both their teaching practice and the students they teach.
We can motivate students to take control of their learning and engage in the reflection process, formative assessments will transform the assessment process from a process that only gives relevant information to teachers, to a process that also gives relevant information to students. Again, all this needs to be done through the development of positive working relationships alongside safe and comfortable learning environments so students can thrive and meet and exceed their potential.
Bartlett, J. (2015) Outstanding Assessment for the Classroom. 1st ed. London.
Black, P & Wiliam, D. (2012). Edited by: John Gardner. Assessment and Learning. 2nd Edition. Chapter 2: "Assessment for Learning in the Classroom" Publishing Company: SAGE Publications Ltd City: London.
Callison, D. (1998). Authentic Assessment. School Library Media Activities Monthly 14, no. 5. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/edchoice/SLMQ_AuthenticAssessment_InfoPower.pdf
April 27, 2020
The end of term was fast approaching and I was, like most, in need of a break. I was so pleased with my progress this term and was very much looking forward to being that one step closer to finishing the course. Then the morning of 22nd March came, my formal observation with my Head of Department. I had avoided having a formal observation with my Head of Department for the past couple of weeks because I wanted to focus on my areas of development and show some improvement.
The lesson came and pretty much everything went wrong. I was settling the class when I realised I was in the wrong classroom and another teacher was lining her class up outside. The starter task took 20 minutes instead of the designated 10, not good when you have decided to include a whole host of activities within the lesson. The students did not seem their usual, engaged selves and I was faced with 30 distant looking faces staring at me. Let me confirm here, these faces were not that of students who were gripped and mesmerized by my teaching, more disengaged and most likely thinking about what they were having for lunch that day from the school canteen. The activities were unappealing and you could see that the students were not impressed as they dismissively wafted the worksheets I gave them and looked at me as if to say “Miss, why are we doing this?” At this point, I received several echoes of “Miss, what do we have to do again?” It is fair to say at this point, I knew things were not going great and I wanted to run out of the classroom; I have never wanted a fire alarm to have go off, anything to leave the lesson. I could picture my Head of Department highlighting the boxes on my observation form, and I just knew that this was not going to be the result I had hoped for. After delivering my verbal feedback she slid the form across the desk; I felt embarrassed and disappointed. I folded the form up and placed it in my bag with the plan to shred it as soon as I got home.
That evening, I was sorting my planner out and I found the observation sheet inside it. I was thinking about the lesson and the bemused faces of my students throughout. I was frustrated that a lesson on Civil Rights with a class usually so involved was so flat. Then I thought about the planning process. Usually, I plan my lessons with the focus in mind and then decide on tasks I know my students will respond to. I didn’t do that on this occasion, I planned to please my observer and ultimately, I planned with ‘outstanding’ in mind, not my students; I had taken a step backwards. Recently, I had changed how I planned which meant that my lessons were more engaging for my students and they were central to the planning process, unfortunately the observer did not see the students at their best because I had prevented that from happening. If I had thought about the tasks properly, I would have known that they would not have bought the best out of my students. However, despite taking a step backwards here, I decided to use this lesson to move forwards. Yes, you could argue I was making the same mistakes as I was in September, however, I was reflecting on them differently and able to identify the problems. I made a promise to myself after this lesson that I would resume my usual planning process and focus on having the foresight to know what tasks would get the best out of my students. This observation highlighted to me the importance of everything I had learnt, sometimes you do need to step backwards to move forwards.
March 31, 2020
So, term starts, and there you are in the classroom, pen in hand, notebook at the ready, senses sharpened, dutifully primed (Christmas pun intended) by the well-oiled operation of the Warwick CPE induction team (leave that one with you!) and ready for applying yourself to observation. Observing, do it all the time, have done pretty much since birth, should be good at it. Off we go. An hour later and that’s one down. Much as I thought. Kids lined up, came in, sat down, slapped down a bit for being noisy, reminded that underlining is done with a ruler and, according to my notes, did some exercises. Oh yes, I recognised a strategy or two going on: countdowns; gentle rebuke to the disengaged; reminder of expectations. There we are job-done.
A week or two passes, more notes are taken when the sneaking feeling that these notes are all much the same and, dare I say, somewhat dry and moribund. I’m even writing down the topics and annotating the exercise questions? There are now bits of scaffolding jottings in my pad where I have broken away from observing to get involved in the doing (not that there is anything wrong with that per se). But is writing about whether the ladder leaning against the wall is safe, really going to help my classroom practice (short of the classroom’s openable windows being elevated to a significantly lofty location.)? I need to re-focus, and probably even take-a-look at the session we had on ‘observation’ at uni., which, I am sure, would have almost certainly been useful. Ah yes, focus on one aspect, study all the techniques used for BfL or AFL or differentiation. Makes sense. Right, I’m ready to go. I’m focussed. A few lessons pass. A quick look at my notes. What! Is that all I’ve written? Even some of my least diligent pupils would have recorded more than that! Needs re-thinking, but for now I need to concentrate on delivering my first full lessons.
What went well? I emerged, relatively unscathed. Excellent level of heat generated, possibly accompanied by a flicker of light. What, ‘could be better’? I’m left reflecting, but the next lesson is imminent, so I’m back to a bit more ‘observing’.
The Epiphany. Ah! so that’s what’s been happening. The Teacher ensures the students are admitted in good time, they are settled quickly, they know the routine, they have stuff to do immediately. The teacher glides effortlessly and with minimum instruction to the main focus of the lesson. The students are all, according to their respective needs, and with a relaxed freedom, on task. A flicker of disengagement is smoothly quelled and students are transitioned easily through effortless orchestration from the steady to appropriate, more challenging, tasks. Students are acting as autonomous agents, doing work, at consummative ease in an environment of unspoken, yet understood, boundaries. There is peer to peer support. The teacher is almost subliminally aware of the proceedings. There is a sense of safety and mutual respect, which seems to underpin the whole operation. Assessment of learning leads to a careful transition of tasks achieved effortlessly due to prior preparation. A brief round-up and the class ends. Students are reminded firmly but respectfully of the exit procedure. Staff and students are relaxed and smiling as they depart.
Funny, for all those previous notes and years of experience of ‘observing’, I somehow seemed to have missed all that, until I’d had a go myself.
February 17, 2020
Chemistry is a subject that I view clearly as an expanding stack of component units. Higher level concepts grow block by block from an understanding of core basic principles. This makes it easy to teach in some ways but it also makes students who miss a block quickly feel lost. I believe that Chemistry and other science subjects become much easier once you can build a robust mental framework to systematise the subject and understand how its component units of knowledge link to and build upon each other. Whilst we do see that some students have a better natural strength at systematising than others (Bressan, 2018), my own personal experience is that this skill can be strengthened in all students through good science teaching and clear scaffolding. Before joining high school teaching full time, I tutored Chemistry and was regularly surprised by the performance jump that could be achieved by seeking out entrenched misconceptions and then rebuilding back up.
Secondly, I believe that students are more likely to excel when they are motivated by intrinsic interest in the subject material. I believe that students should have some choice in where to apply their extra energy beyond their core studies and I don’t demand that all my students need or want to become chemists in the future. In my opinion, interest in a subject can be fostered by showing how it can be applied in real life and either being a good role model for students or by finding them positive role models when you yourself do not fit the bill. For last year’s International Women’s Day, I asked three female friends to record short videos for my students to talk about the difficulties that they face as women in high profile roles and how they have persevered to excel despite the odds.
Thirdly, I have a strong focus on creating a classroom environment where wrong answers and concepts may also be shared in a way that leads to positive opportunities for learning. This comes from my first experiences of teaching working as an English instructor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. My students had very strong evaluation and study skills and so I mistakenly thought that they would actively participate in class. However, it quickly became apparent that they were uncomfortable making a mistake in front of others and asking for responses from the class led to long, awkward silences. I learnt from this experience and nowadays it is important for me that my students feel comfortable to speak in class without fear of embarrassment; mistakes will be accepted as opportunities for further learning. This is particularly important in the cultural setting of China where a strongly entrenched culture of face makes people acutely concerned about embarrassment. In order to begin to foster this atmosphere, I begin each year by laying down expectations for behaviour when other students speak and how we should all behave when incorrect or incomplete ideas are raised. In order to reduce the number of occasions where a student has nothing at all to contribute, students who are stronger will more regularly be asked questions that sit higher on Bloom’s taxonomy (analyse/evaluate/synthesise) whilst weaker students are asked more simple questions involving direct recall (Armstrong, 2018).
Armstrong, P (2018), Bloom’s taxonomy [Online] Available at: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/ (Accessed 1/11/2019)
Bressan, P. (2018), Systemisers are Better at Maths, Sci Rep, 8, 11636
January 20, 2020
PDP 2: Discuss how using a recognised reflective framework has helped you reflect on and improve your practice as a teacher or learner teacher - Ryan
Using a reflective framework is necessary to improve teacher practice and to continue to develop and understand new research and methodology in education. The following is a brief reflection on how using a reflective framework has helped me improve as a trainee teacher.
The first few lessons I planned and taught were to small reading groups of six learners which I ran on my own. Although I reflected on areas of success and improvement, there was no reflective framework to help deepen my reflection and focus on specific areas I needed to improve aside from my weekly mentor meetings. Without observation from an experienced educator, my reflections were made in the absence of the knowledge of how to improve beyond the surface level. Using Johari’s window, the benefits of a reflective framework that utilizes mentor input becomes clearer in the collaborative work and expanded knowledge a mentor brings to one’s own reflection allowing my knowledge to shift from the blind to the open (Thompson, 2018). Mentor meetings and formal observations allowed me to learn different techniques for a lesson “hook”, formative assessments, and behavior strategies which in turn provided more meaningful self-reflection for subsequent lessons.
These early reflections, carried out in the calm space after lessons, were instrumental in fine tuning lesson planning and carrying out more effective activities in class. However every lesson plan maintains its form only until the lesson begins as the teaching has to adapt to the needs of learners in the moment. Schon describes this as ‘Reflection in Action” as teachers are constantly monitoring and adapting their teaching to how learners respond during the lesson, and the follow up “Reflection on Action” focuses on the effectiveness of different activities, strategies, and methodologies as they occur in the classroom (Moon, 2013).
Reflecting only through an autobiographical lens, as described by Brookfield’s lenses, provides a limited scope of reflection, and applying the peer lens in the form of a mentor or more knowledgeable peer, provides a more experienced and detailed perspective allowing for deeper reflection and enhanced practice to take place. However, Brookfield argues that to truly gain insight and understanding of the class, another lens of reflection needs to be that of the student. Taking reflection even deeper is asking not only is your planning, lessons, and teaching effective, but does it work for all of the students in the classroom? (Brookfield, 2017) This enables reflection that goes beyond the classroom but also looks at teaching pedagogy on a larger scale. On trainee teachers, Larrivee argues the questions need to be not only, “Am I doing it right?”, but “Is this the right thing to do?” (Larrivee, 2008, p. 344).
Effective practitioners use various types of reflection throughout the day as they fine tune and improve their teaching. There are various reflective frameworks to help improve teaching practice, and it is vital to focus on your personal reflections while including one’s peers and the learners perspectives as well. As educational theory and practice is always developing and striving to improve alongside a changing world, the role of teaching is a never ending, life long journey of learning driven by reflection.
Brookfield, S. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. John Wiley and Sons, San Francisco.
Larrivee, B. (2008) 'Development of a tool to assess teachers’ level of reflective practice'. Reflective Practice, 9(3), pp. 341–360. https://doi.org/10.1080/14623940802207451.
Moon, J. (2015) Reflection in Learning and Development, Theory and Practice, (39-53). RoutledgeFalmer, London.
Thompson, C. (2018) The Magic of Mentoring, Developing Others and Yourself. Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, Abingdon, Oxon.