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Reflective Practice and lifelong learning

Within this essay, the research will use Reflective Practice in a teaching experience. It will focus on The Community College Whitstable and the curriculum that the students experience. It will highlight the changes that have happened from the introduction of the National Curriculum to the present day, and how the curriculum ideologies, models and theories have shaped the education system in Britain. This essay will identify Reflective Practice and evaluate the different ideas from scholars and professions such as Schon and Brookfield. This essay will evaluate and develop understanding of assessments in Britain’s state education system and how it affects The Community College Whitstable. It will explore how self reflection in it truest sense progresses teachers in their understanding of both the curriculum and the students they teach.

Incorporating a reflective practice in one’s own professional teaching methods, would be one way to keep up with the ongoing appraisals that should occur in any professional set up or learning experience. One could describe reflection as looking back at past teaching experiences, either good or bad, and determining whether the experience could have been better managed or taught. There is a clear distinction between thinking and reflecting. Thinking could be associated with a problem and solution where as reflecting may not have an absolute end result. Working as a teacher in a secondary school poses many problems, and many questions that are very rarely answered. The problem that surfaces with the idea of reflecting on ones own practice is that we as teachers are not given the time, or the motivation to reflect more often, or more deeply into our methods, teaching styles or delivery of the curriculum. The introduction of standardisation by way of the National Curriculum towards the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s by the Conservative Government, has taken away the power from the individual teacher in deciding what is important. It could be argued it has reduced the teacher to nothing more than a messenger of a state controlled curriculum. It also suggests a hidden agenda. Neary,M (2002) highlights the ‘hidden curriculum’ and the attitude towards education and the function a school should play in preparing people for society. Neary,M (2002,p45) states Lynch 1989(1989,p3):

‘The particular social relations they deem important in the reproductive process are principally the hierarchical division of labour between teachers and learners, the alienated character of learners’ school work itself, and the fragmentation in work – reflected in the institutionalised and often destructive competition among learners through continual and ostensibly meritocratic ranking and evaluation’.

Neary,M argues that writers such as Bowles and Gintis have made connections with a capitalist society and how this is reflected in the school system. It is important to reflect on the curriculum one teaches and who decides what is ‘Really Useful Knowledge’ and how socially effective this is for the learners that we teach. The curriculum that is offered at The Community College Whitstable is GCSE’S in all the core subjects, BTEC in Construction, Physical Education, Science, Drama, Science, Music, Business Studies, Travel and Tourism, Design and Technology, NVQ in Hairdressing, professional qualifications in Motor Vehicles (IMA and ABC) and A’ Levels. Students at The Community College Whitstable are increasingly becoming familiar with BTEC rather than the traditional GCSE’S which are favoured by most Grammar and the top tier of other State schools. The reasoning for this could be that state education is undergoing huge fundamental changes through political and ideological mindsets. The National Curriculum was sought to increase the student’s learning, the House of Commons fourth report states (2008, p10):

‘This document essentially identified four broad purposes; introducing an entitlement for pupils to a broad and balanced curriculum; setting standards for pupil attainment and to support school accountability; improving continuity and coherence within the curriculum, and aiding public understanding of the work of school:’

The school state system has now moved on more than a decade since that pledge and is currently at the centre of a political overhaul. The Community College Whitstable is entering more students onto the BTEC programmes than ever before. Through reflection of the stance and vision that the school is taking, and with regards to the increased flexibility of the school curriculum programme, one could see that schools such as The Community College Whitstable are increasingly struggling to compete on national and local terms through GSE’S results. Therefore turning to BTEC’s is a way to increase students results and move up the league tables. The popularity with BTEC’s are that they are all coursework driven and this does give them an advantage over GCSE’S which are part coursework, and part end of year exam towards final marks. The coursework is internally marked and externally verified, students who would not have had any chance of getting good results through GSES’s, stand a better chance with BTEC’s (possibly getting 4 GSSE’s at A* - C grade on another subject.)The Community College Whitstable has been excellent in implementing the previous Governments call for Vocationalism and Diversity in the curriculum but is that all about to change with the new Coalition Government.

It is important to reflect on ones teaching of the curriculum, knowledge, delivery, learning styles and methods, if we are to progress and grow as a teacher or facilitator. At present there are no school guidelines to become a Reflective Practitioner but there have been many authors and professionals that have laid down models for reflective practice to be incorporated into the curriculum. Brookfield,S states ( 1995 p29 ):

‘We have available four lenses through which we can view our teaching. These lenses are represented by the four arrows in figure 2.1. They are (1) our autobiographies as teachers and learners, (2) our students’ eyes, (3) our colleagues’ experiences, and (4) theoretical literature. Viewing what we do through these different lenses alerts us to distorted or incomplete aspects of our assumptions that need further investigation.’

For example using a challenging student as a case study who attends the vocational centre is a good way to reflect on Brookfield’s lenses. The student that I have identified has had domestic problems and personal problems that stem from his home life. The student has a low academic ability and falls into the category of additional extra needs, which would have been recorded on his data from assessments conducted in key stage two and three. I believe this student suffers from low self esteem and confidence which reflects his aggressive nature towards education and superiors such as teachers and people in authority. The student was pushed into the vocational centre because of stereotyping and the low criteria needed to enrol on the courses at the vocational centre at The Community College Whitstable. Taking this into consideration and seeing it from the student’s eyes would help all teachers deal with his/her challenging behaviour with greater empathy and compassion, and in turn this would enable us to tackle these problems with greater knowledge. A minority of students may have an awful home situation and life in a social environment that does not promote learning. Students may be come to school with that baggage of home life and may suffer from a lack of confidence through low academic ability. Seeing this situation from a student’s point of view should encourage us as teachers to be more thoughtful and tactful when dealing with certain students. From my experience of working and teaching at The Community College Whitstable, the students who chose vocational courses are generally lower ability students. Although there are some exceptions to this, and there will always be students who opt for vocational course who are academically bright. Students that are on the Construction courses at The Community College Whitstable may have problems that range from behavioural, social and academic through to the medical and physical. Through my experience as a teacher, communicator or facilitator I have always relied on my autobiographical learning, for example, teaching students carpentry and joinery through my own good experience as an apprentice and then going on to study at college. This reflection into my past experiences has helped me to become a more rounded and competent teacher of the skills of a crafts that goes back many centuries. I believe that all teachers should use their autobiographical learning in their teaching because we can all remember the good teachers or the good instructors and employers. Our autobiography should form the foundation of our teaching methods and styles.

Peer assessment is a crucial part of a teachers learning experience either informal or formal, both of these tools are equally important. Teaching on the BTEC Level 2 Construction course involves two members of staff and each member has equal responsibility to internally verify each others work. Fifty per cent of all students work will need to be cross referenced and internally verified. There are regular team meetings and departmental meetings on marking, student’s performance, attendance and behaviour. These meetings have always been a good way to pass on shared knowledge and to exchange ideas and beliefs on the best ways of teaching. Informal feedback from ones colleagues can be just as effective, for example asking a colleague to come into a class to observe a particular part of the lesson can provide us with greater knowledge of the situation. By simply asking other teachers how they deal with problem students can solve the mystery.

From my experience a colleague had advised me to make up a seating plan at the beginning of the lesson to combat bad behaviour. The idea is that you have already taken control of the situation and the student understands this and responds accordingly. To this day the strategy has worked. Understanding how and why students behave in a manner requires understanding of human needs, this may not come naturally to most of us, but the ability to reflect and to research is a tool all teachers have at their disposal. Completion of the Certificate of Education course in previous years and now studying the BA Hons in Lifelong Learning, has put me on a learning curve using theoretical literature that I am still researching and trying to comprehend. This research into curriculum ideology, curriculum change, knowledge of education etc. suggests that education is not what it seems but a smokescreen for competing egos and polices from political parties at the helm of the country’s future.

Brookfield’s Lenses challenges us to move away from our point of view and to take onboard other interferences that may or may not make a students progress or fail. Brookfield highlights the complexities of how we learn, and how the learning environment is always affected by more than one issue. By becoming a Reflective Practitioner it can help one understand the problems that arise from the problems teachers face. Brookfield identifies Reflective Practice as a way in which teachers can make sense of the education system and the political intrusions that occur in the curriculum. He suggests that through critical reflection we find our footing and are then able to have an openness that benefits both students and teacher. The students can be very challenging and will all have their own set of issues to deal with as outlines above. Using Brookfield’s Four Lenses to deal with a challenging student would be one way of discovering the true art of pedagogical teaching. Reflective Practice through Brookfields model would be beneficial when one encounters a difficult day. Peer evaluation forms an important role in our teaching methods, Brookfield highlight this in his Four Lenses and states (1995, p35)

‘Our colleagues serve as critical mirrors reflecting back to us images of our actions that often take us by surprise. As they describe their own experiences dealing with the same crises and dilemmas we face, we are able to check, reframe and broaden our own theories of practice.’

This discovery through other teachers who deal with the same problem students is very important for a teacher to progress, and move on in their pursuit of becoming a competent teacher. Brookfield’s fourth lense focuses on theoretical literature whereby teachers and lecturers should read more about the processes of learning theory and research. Brookfield states (1995, p37):

‘Reading a theoretical analysis that offers an alternative interpretive framework for a situation can be life saving – or at least, career saving. Critical theory may help us realize, for example, that students’ disinterest is the predictable consequence of a system that forces people to study disconnected chunks of knowledge at a pace prescribed by curriculum councils and license bodies.’

Theoretical literature is covered by the leadership team at The Community College Whitstable in Staff Development evenings. From my experience this literature is used to justify their strategy rather than to professionally develop a teacher’s mind. Theoretical literature can help teachers to allay their fears and seek assurances from other professionals outside their working environment. Unfortunately too few teachers actively read theoretical literature on pedagogical teaching, from my experience reading and studying literature on behaviour has been a great source of encouragement. Brookfield points out that the reasoning for this is that the studies carried out about teaching in theoretical books are always written by academics and not teachers. The previous Government had realised this, the fourth report on the National Curriculum states (2008, p32):

‘At the same time, teachers need to be given a stronger sense that their own innovations in pedagogy can be valued. There is considerable support for the introduction of some form of ‘pedagogic bank’ developed by teachers for teachers.’

In order for teachers to become a Reflective Practitioner or teacher they would have to question the basis of the Curriculum and the hierarchical institution that administers it. This would bring them in direct conflict with the whole school system and the powers that control the system, both centrally through government, and directly through the senior management of the school. This theory of questioning the core values of an educational institution goes against the National Curriculum set up under the Conservative Government, where teacher control and powers are limited. In a world where we are now used to following the rules and codes of organisations the true spirit of people power has been born out of us through Capitalism, Globalisation and dominance. If one was to take onboard reflective teaching and use it as part of the curriculum timetabling it would help us to become better teachers and this would help us teach students what we think is important to them in the outside world. Schon, D (1995, p332) argues:

‘What happens in such an educational bureaucracy when a teacher begins to think and act not as technical expert but as reflective practitioner? Her reflection- in-action poses a potential threat to the dynamically conservative system in which she lives.’

As mentioned earlier the ‘hidden curriculum’ has many agendas, ever since the introduction of free state schooling in the 1940’s the issue has always been what should the students learn and why. Education was seen to be a way to move a nation on from the traumas of the World War and the depths of despair. The Education Minister at the time was R. A. Butler. In a draft white paper (1943, pp182) he stated:

‘The new educational opportunities must not, therefore, be of a single pattern. Schools and courses must be available to suit the needs and aptitudes of different types of pupil or student. It is just as important to achieve diversity as it is to ensure equality of educational opportunity.’

Although the Government were not directly involved in educational curriculum there was a firm directive from the Government. Scholars throughout history have identified learning models and theories, armitage et al (2003) identified five Models of Educational Ideologies: Classical Humanism, Liberal Humanism, Progressivism, Instrumentalism and Reconstructionism. Armitage argues that we as teachers need to understand these ideologies in order to take them on board and through this knowledge we as teachers can set the learning experience for our students. Out of the five ideologies Reconstructionism seems the furthest away from our educational system and would suit the Developing World who need ideologies to pull themselves out of economical turmoil. Neary,M (2002) suggests that the Liberal Humanist ideology has been the most relevant since the industrialised west evolved. Neary argues that this ideology had favoured the private and higher classed schools such as the Grammar schools but not the State schools. Tony Blair’s New Labour Government and the educational ideology could be coined with instrumentalism. The educational policies under Blair such as the Leitch Report (2006) are in keeping with the instrumentalism armitage et al states (2003, p209):

‘The instrumental curriculum sees knowledge in factual terms and is clearly lecturer/teacher/trainer led. Thus, through instrumentalism education and training students are preparing themselves for their roles in the workplace and in society as a whole.’

This instrumentalism has had a major effect on state schools such as The Community College Whitstable because since New Labour, Vocationalism has made its way into Secondary schools and is now part of the curriculum for fourteen year olds. It remains to be seen whether the new Coalition Government are prepared to carry on these ideologies or follow another path. In a perfect world the educational ideology would be Progressivism Armitage et al states (2003, p208):

‘The curriculum would be based around active problem-solving in a variety of social contexts and be constructed of topics which interested and challenged students (learning from experience) with the aim that people would learn how to think for themselves, make decisions, cooperate and participate as makers of a democratic society.’

The problem that has arisen in the curriculum today is that students are being spoon fed the information and that they cannot think for themselves. This is the result of the curriculum being too narrow and too focussed on good result and attainment rather than students growth.

In order for our society or political organisations to decide the fate of our education system or the role it plays in how the students will be taught, curriculum research is carried out to ascertain the end goal. Neary, M (2002) has highlighted two curriculum models the Product Model and the Process Model. The Product Model is linked with behaviour and Neary, M (2002, p60) cites Tyler (1949);

‘1. What are the aims and objectives of the curriculum? 2. Which learning experiences meet these aims and objectives? 3. How can the extent to which these aims and objectives have been met be evaluated? 4. How can these learning experiences be organised?’

Under this model each question will need to be answered in order for the development of the curriculum to be successful and achieve the goals and outcomes intended. According to Neary the model was not without its critics based solely on the thought that a curriculum can not be based on Behaviourism. Armitage et al states there was an alternative model for curriculum development, the Process Model (2003, p203):

‘This is an approach to curriculum which is interested in the processes and procedures of learning so that the learner is able to use and develop the content, not simply receive it passively.’

Neary,M states the Process Model focuses on (2002,p61):

‘Teacher activities (and therefore the teacher’s role), student and learner activities (perhaps the most important feature), the conditions in which the learning takes place.’

Students on the BTEC level 2 Construction courses at The Community College Whitstable will have a varying degree of both models in the course aims and objectives and the structure and delivery of the content material and assessments. The BTEC Level 2 Construction courses will already have predetermined aims and outcomes in which the learner will have to meet to satisfy the awarding body, if they are to achieve the qualification, this type of curriculum falls in line with the Product Model. The BTEC does allow for some autonomy of the teachers because the modules or units will have to be personally written by the teacher or lecturer for the students to complete. This does reflect part of the Process Model but the self written units and delivery of the units have specific guidelines laid down by BTEC Edexcel.

Curriculum change and the ideology behind it are very important when considering a wholesale change of the National Curriculum for schools in Britain. With the introduction of new qualifications, the assessment of that is fundamentally important to the success and the longevity of the new set up. Knight, J Minister of state schools (14-19) states (2008, p1):

‘Many schools are already seeing the benefits of using assessment for learning practices and resources, but I want all schools to have access to high-quality training and support so that assessment for learning can be embedded in all classrooms.’

The previous Labour Government had targeted assessment as the way forward for schools to tackle student’s failings. According to the department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) the assessment for learning championed by Labour would enable students, teachers, parents and schools to know how the student is performing, where they should be and how they are going to achieve a satisfactory level of performance. For schools this meant that the structure would be transparent for all to see. For teachers they would now have a foundation to work from and be able to test students intermittently against the agreed assessments and criteria that are laid down by Government bodies. There are many ways to test students ranging from summative testing (end of year exams), to formative testing: this could be conducted in the classroom and workshops, and initial testing which would be carried out at the beginning of the course. The core question that needs to be answered when assessing is, are the means of testing reliable and valid? Armitage et al (2003, p 157) states:

‘A valid assessment method is one which tests whether the aims and objectives of a learning experience have been achieved.’

The BTEC level 2 Construction course that is taught at The Community College Whitstable has various forms of assessment in order for the student to complete the units for that particular course. Currently students will have to pass six units in which three are theory units, and three are practical units. The theory units are taught on a modular basis, once the student has completed one unit they move onto the next one. The units are broken down into three smaller chunks of assessment so that it is easier for the students to digest and apply themselves and progress through the grading system. The grading systems start with a pass and then move onto a merit and finally a distinction. This kind of assessment follows the criterion referenced route of assessments, the students will have a set of questions and each question will have pass, merit or distinction attached to it. The students can elaborate on their answers and achieve a higher score or grade. The marked work is then marked by the assessor and then internally verified by a colleague teaching the same course. This is essential for the assessment process to be made valid and reliable. The practical elements of the BTEC level 2 Construction course are marked by the assessor as soon as the students has achieved the aim, which could range from building a Flemish Bond wall, making a panel door or preparing and painting a booth. The teacher (assessor) will instantly mark their piece of work in line with the course specification and grade the students a fail, pass, merit or distinction. This assessment is in keeping with a competence based formula which is similar with NVQ’s. There have been criticisms of this kind of competence based testing Armitage et al (2003, p166) states:

‘Some argue that a competence-based system makes learning assessment-led. That is, for students at least, one eye is always on the competencies that have yet to be awarded and the entire course of study the becomes skewed towards ticking off such competencies.’

The students at The Community College Whitstable could identify with this criticism as we as teachers are pushed to increase achievements and pass qualifications rather than making sure that the student is ready equipped for the outside world. Assessment strategies and the reliability and validity have become an issue with new Coalition Government. An independent review conducted by Sir Richard Sykes (2010p3) states;

‘There is an obsession with measurement, setting quantitative targets and compiling league tables, as though what cannot be measured numerically has no value and should have no place in education. Yet the best things in education often cannot readily be measured in this way.’

Dockrell and Black (1980) pick up on this theme of validity and reliability but their focus is assessment in the affective domain. Dockrell and Black (1980) argue that this kind of assessment is beneficial for the success of the student’s progression in their educational experience. Assessing someone’s welfare and preparing lessons to accommodate all students sat in front of them is part of the student centred curriculum at The Community College Whitstable. Teachers are expected to write reports three times a year on every child they teach assessing both ability and attitude although this does not go towards their final grade it can act as a tool to assess the student’s progress. Every child must be taught to the best of their ability is the mantra at the college. Although I do not agree with the current education system in Britain one hundred per cent, there seem to be very little alternative. The eleven plus test that is conducted in the Kent District is designed to split the brighter students from the less academic to the gain of the Grammar schools. This kind of assessment has a huge effect on all secondary schools in Kent, especially The Community College Whitstable who will have to select students that have failed or are not eligible. The Tomlinson report (2004) had promised or set out a new curriculum and assessment that would have revolutionised our state education. The report had identified that GCSE’s and A’Levels needed to be reformed as well as vocational education for fourteen year olds. Unfortunately, the reform did not transform the education system but was only brought in a watered downed level. Sir Richard Sykes (2010, p3) argues:

‘We therefore present a discussion and a set of recommendations which if adopted would, we believe, help to redress the balance between education and assessment.’

The new specification for all BTEC courses has been renewed as of September 2010, this follows a whole shake up of the QCA framework and the governing bodies that preside over the direction of our qualification system in Britain. It remains to be seen whether this will bring the change that will bridge the gap between student’s progress and an education system that is envied throughout the world.

In conclusion Reflective Practice enables one to view their professional role as a teacher and within society. It is important that we as teachers and professionals encourage students to achieve all that they can in the education system and to become life long learners. It is important that we encourage students to not only learn what the curriculum has offered them but to extend their learning. The essay has researched the curriculum of The Community College Whitstable and how it has adapted to the changes of a tiered school system through league tables and assessments such as the Eleven Plus. Schools such as The Community College Whitstable will have to continually surpass their expectations if they are to survive in this Capitalist State System. Brookfield’s Four Lenses is an important starting point for reflection in ones own professional practice and this can put the teacher/professional onto the road of true satisfaction of ones own practice. Curriculum ideologies have played an important part in Britain and the World’s education system. This essay has focussed on instrumentalism and how this affects The Community College Whitstable and how it has played an important part in Britain’s Education System. This essay has identified and developed a knowledge and understanding of assessments in our State Education System. It has identified how these assessments are being used in a vocational sense through BTEC qualifications at The Community College Whitstable. It is important to understand Britain’s education system, ideologies and fundamental beliefs as this will enable the teacher to progress and to make sense of educational change. Schools such as The Community College Whitstable have benefited from ideology, political intrusion and curriculum development because more students are now entering sixth form and going on to university or higher education than ever before. Schools play an important part when educating the student and the local community, it is the start of lifelong learning for some students. Comparing the education system of the 1970’s to the present day, students have a greater advantage because schools are now set up to benefit the student. The Community College Whitstable offers a vast range of qualifications that would be the envy of many countries.

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