Coaxing and Cajoling in the disguise of guidance

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The challenge had been set. After only six weeks of coaxing and cajoling in the disguise of guidance, tutors and mentors directed their students to "go forth and teach". Who me? I asked myself. Surely I'm not ready yet, do I have sufficient knowledge to undertake this role reversal? How would I adapt to the huge array of skills required to teach? Yet this was the challenge faced by all trainee teachers. For those of us teaching science there was the additional task of devising lessons that capture both the imagination and intellect of pupils, who were in a setting where the image of school science was increasingly perceived to be dull or abstract. The multi faceted nature of the task was reinforced by the observations of lessons being taught in the classroom. It was here that it was most apparent that teachers have to manage complicated and demanding situations, channelling the many social and personnel pressures faced by young people in order to help them learn now and to become better learners in the future. The skills and strategies needed to address this task were clearly varied and numerous. An attempt to categorise the required teaching skills was made by Kyriacou (1998) who distinguished "decision making skills" and "action skills". In essence this distinction identifies the ability of making decisions about your own teaching and then the skills required for the successful execution of those decisions in the classroom. With this categorisation in mind when I address the teaching strategies that I have employed I will concentrate on the decisions that I made in preparation for teaching. These decisions involved establishing who and what I was teaching and then going on to address how I was going to teach the subject matter. When discussing learning strategies I will in essence be relating the skills I used to carry out these decisions in the classroom. Such skills would include classroom management and organisation, building understanding of the ways in which student learn in the classroom coupled with methods for monitoring and assessing the learning that occurs.

TEACHING STRATEGIES

Amongst the practicalities of planning my teaching strategies, along with the constant repetitive questions of what am I trying to teach and how am I going to do it was another underlying voice. This voice kept probing for my own motives, whatever approach I adopt, what is my contribution? What is it that I want to reflect through my teaching of science? What essentially is my ethos? Pictures of classes of unmotivated pupils questioning the value of a dull science curriculum had gone through my mind. I had to have answers for myself before I could answer the imaginary pupils. Teachers convey not just an explicit knowledge about their subject but also exhibit their position towards it. The value of teaching and learning science and its important place in the curriculum has been reiterated by many educationalists (Turner and Dimarco 1998, Wellington 1994, Parkinson 1994). The impact of science on the way we live, the relationship with technology and the way in which science can offer a richer understanding of our own origin and history, are all reasons frequently used to support the study of science. However there is no such general consensus on what essentially science is or what constitutes scientific method, (Kuhn 1963, Collins 1985, Lederman 1992). Nevertheless what I would want to put across in my own teaching is that science is an exciting and dynamic body of knowledge that is continually changing and expanding as we learn more about ourselves and the universe we live in. I would want to present a humanistic side to science, which could cultivate imagination through an understanding of the contributions made by single individuals, as well as illustrate the existence and changes of scientific over time and across cultures. Perhaps most importantly I would want encourage thought and debate on the implications of the developments of science within the context of the society we live in, where cultural, political and economic influences can affect individual values and judgements regarding scientific growth.

          Waring (1999) suggests that the fundamental components required for there to be an effective learning experience was planning and preparation on the part of the teacher. My own planning and preparation centred on being able to answer the questions, who am I teaching? What am I teaching?  How can I teach it? Kelly and Mayes (1995) also identified the progression of these elements in relation to effective planning. In addressing the first question who am I teaching, it dawned on me the numerous teachers who had emphasised the importance of acquiring knowledge regarding the pupils that I was going to teach and identifying those with any specific individual needs. Preparation of this aspect largely involved observations of the Year 9 group that I was going to teach along with discussions with the class teacher to establish any special educational needs or identify pupils for whom English was not first language. The observations of the pupils prior to teaching proved to be a valuable insight into the class and peer group dynamics. Discussions with the class teacher revealed that although the class I was teaching was in the higher of the two bands in the school, the group consisted of pupils with a large variation in ability and many pupils had special educational needs arising due to behavioural problems, all very useful information for subsequent stages of planning.

          Having established some knowledge about the pupils I was going to teach the next step was to ascertain what it was that I needed to convey to them. The chemistry unit of work that I was to teach was entitled "nature of matter". The content of this topic related to the Science National Curriculum of study at Key Stage three, relating to the Programme of Study for "Materials and their properties". Going through the schools planned objectives for this unit of work (Appendix one) my confidence on the subject matter began to decline, particularly in light of the subject knowledge audit that I had carried out prior to teaching. This revealed some weaknesses and gaps in knowledge in this area of chemistry. In addition to reading relevant school and non-school based text and worksheets produced around the subject I knew that before I could feel confident in teaching this unit I had to identify a logical progression to the development of key concepts. I was glad that I had been given the freedom to change the sequence of the desired learning objectives as defined by the departmental plan, to suit what I had selected and identified as a logical progression in my own mind of teaching and pupil learning of this topic. I felt more confident once I had devised this planned scheme for the unit as it enabled me to focus on the sequential development of key scientific concepts within a framework of time (Appendix two).

          Another important aspect that determined what I was going to teach was the level of pupil's prior knowledge on areas of the topic. Although I did check the curriculum to ascertain what they should know about materials and properties at key stage two I failed to fully understand or question how the location of this topic of work was placed within the key stage three program of study. This would have given me a greater insight in to topics that were interrelated and areas of subject knowledge which pupils may have been familiar with. Consequently I found pitching my work quite difficult, a factor exacerbated by the mixed range of abilities within the class.

          Feeling more confident and having acquired more knowledge regarding who and what I was going to teach the next crucial step in my teaching strategy was to decide how I was going to teach this topic through individual lessons. The importance of lesson planning had been reiterated to me on many occasions, but it was only when I was in the active process of planning that its importance became apparent. Not only did planning help to reduce my immediate personal anxieties and uncertainties it gave me a guiding framework that focussed the way in which immediate learning outcomes progressively related to medium and long term objectives as determined by the scheme of work. My individual lessons were derived from my planned scheme to teach the unit of work which was based in accordance to the original schools scheme of work (Appendix one and two). When selecting learning aims and objectives for each lesson, I would refer back to both the schools and my own plan of work. My aims served to reflect the general content or purpose of a lesson or a series of lessons. Whereas the objectives were more specifically defined and served to translate the aims in observable pupil behaviour. My entire lesson plans contained lesson objectives and pupil learning outcomes (Appendix three). What distinguished these was that thepupil learning outcomes were essentially behavioural objectives. Behavioural objectives refer to overt, visible and almost quantifiable behaviour that could be brought about in the pupil. Where as the lesson objectives were predominantly non behavioural objectives in that they were open ended and did not clearly state visible or measurable outcomes. There are both advocates and proponents for the use of behavioural objectives. Peters (1966) has agued that the "sterility" of the behavioural objective approach was so prescriptive and instructional in manor that it failed to recognise the complex cognitive learning experience learning experience of the pupil. Where as other such as Macdonald-Ross (1973) has argued that behavioural objectives provide a  "well worked out tool for rational planning in education". In my own experience I have found the use of behavioural objectives useful in that they focused what pupils should achieve after a specifically planned learning activity and it was described in a manner that meant that the degree of success could be quantified and observed. Further more with the mixed ability class that I was teaching I would often divide my objectives to those achievable by the whole class and others achievable by the more able, this was then a form of differentiation through outcome.

Factors that I considered to be important when selecting and constructing learning activities for my lessons were that these planned activities would capture pupil interest and keep them involved and motivated. One way of achieving this would be through varying the style and range of activities that I used. This is particularly relevant in relation to Gardener's theory of there being seven different intelligences or skills that people can possess. Following the logic that everyone has differing balances of these intelligences, then different pupils would respond to different types of activities dependent on what their individual strengths or intelligences were. Another factor that I considered crucial when organising learning activities, was that the activity constructed would clearly facilitate the desired learning outcomes. This was the concept that Cohen (1987) had coined as "instructional alignment".

 

LEARNING STRATEGIES

 

          Having developed my decision-making skills through the deployment of various teaching strategies, I was now ready to enter the classroom and practice my "action skills", that is the execution of the decisions I had made. However the fear remained that the only thing that was going to be executed in my classroom was my head by uncontrollable, disruptive pupils. This was one of many classroom mismanagement scenarios that served to fuel anxiety. Other uncertainties also began to arise, would any learning take place in my classroom? Even if it did, how would I know? These were all issues that had to be addressed with appropriate learning strategies.

 Classroom control is a subject that concerns all teachers and one that is a source of great apprehension and anxiety for trainee teachers. There is a range of viewpoints regarding what constitutes classroom management. Capel et al (1997) provides a simple and clear definition stating that it "refers to the arrangement made by the teacher to establish and maintain an environment in which learning can occur, e.g. effective organisation and presentation of lessons so that pupils are actively engaged in learning". What this simple definition hides in my experience is that management in control is a multi faceted area encompassing all aspect of life in schools. The Elton report on discipline in schools (1989) suggests that a whole school policy was vital for effective discipline ensuring consistency of vision and practice. In the school that I was at systems of incentives, sanctions and support was made very clear to prior to teaching. I felt the system was geared towards what Wragg (1981) categorises as a policy based around behaviour modification which stresses the role of reward and punishment in the control of behaviour. During my own teaching I was very aware of the nature of the classroom environment that I was trying to establish. The best kind of classroom climate in terms of facilitating pupil learning has been described as one which is "purposeful, task-orientated, relaxed, warm, supportive and has a sense of order (Kyriacou 1998). Perhaps my main concern initially was with classroom control and maintaining a sense of order, which I initially thought was solely based on how I maintained discipline through dealing with pupil misbehaviour. There was a strong emphasis during my first few lessons on establishing authority and laying down rules, expectations and routines for behaviour. These were all elements, which Brophy (1985) identifies as aspects of proactive problem prevention in the classroom, which would serve to promote the maintenance of a positive learning environment. However a variety of behavioural problems did arise from the pupils whom I was teaching. Perhaps this is not surprising when it is considered that nearly a third of the pupils in my class were identified as having special educational needs related to behavioural problems. A lot of the minor pupil misbehaviour such as arriving late for the lesson, being noisy and not paying attention, that arose during my course of teaching I felt I was able to minimize through managerial control. I had established clear conventions, routines and expectation for pupil behaviour in my initial lesson, I insisted upon and imposed these rules in a situation where conflicting behaviour arose. This accompanied with effective monitoring techniques of the class such as those described by Waring (1993) including good movement, effective positioning, scanning, making eye contact, targeting questions, using space, changing activity and encouraging pupils, all seemed to reduce minor incidents of misbehaviour in the classroom. More serious types of misbehaviour such as disobedience, verbal aggression to other pupils or refusal to accept authority I dealt with accordance to school and departmental policies on management such as periods of exclusion from the classroom or detentions. Setting personal targets and using space within the classroom for pupils with special educational needs of a behavioural nature who consistently caused minor disturbances also proved to prove to be effective.   However there was a lesson in which the classroom climate had deteriorated not due to the mismanagement of behaviour but more as a result as a variety of factors including the time and organisation of the lesson. These factors are clarified in this particular lessons evaluation (Appendix four). This began to highlight the fact that classroom management was not a single dimensional skill but was interrelated to many aspects of the general qualities of good teaching practice. This included the thorough planning, organisation and presentation of the lesson.

          Having exercised the fundamental class management skills to facilitate and maintain appropriate behaviour I was now able to create an environment in the classroom, which promoted the development of learning. Now I turned my focus on the management of learning and the questions arose, how do children learn? What constitutes effective learning and most importantly what could I do to enhance effective learning within my classroom? There are many interesting theories regarding how children learn. Piaget and Inhelder (1969) put forward ideas based around a model of pupils going through various stages of cognitive development, as they get older. Followers of Piaget would argue that a pupil needs to have developed to a particular stage before s/he can understand the work in hand. In contrast the Ausubelian school of thought (1968) argues that there is no optimum age for learning and that the strategy for science teaching should be to look for idea frameworks that children already have when they come into a lesson. Driver (1985) has built upon the work of Ausbel and has referred to the principles as the "constructivist view of learning". If the view was followed that pupils do actively construct new knowledge have there of own rather then be passive recipients of someone else's knowledge than this would have significant implications for teaching and learning. A style that involves the teacher simply transmitting knowledge to a class would create pupils that Carre (1981) has identified as "passive learners". This can be contrasted against what Bently and Watts (1989) describes as an environment that promotes "active learning" where pupils are more independent learners who can initiate their own activities, make decisions and solve problems. There is a debate as to which of these two environments is the most optimal for learning. A lot of the recent evidence seems to favour active learning. Galton and Eggleston (1979) make the point that compared to a more interactive mode and problem-solving approach to learning science, the "informer" method was most commonly used and yet was reported to least effective. Similarly findings from the Assessment of Performance unit have criticised the effectiveness of traditional teaching methods and passive work. Within my own teaching I had tried to promote task-orientated work as a means to achieve an active learning environment. However I have found that activity based learning does not necessarily mean active learning is achieved. For example during a practical activity which was aimed at the investigation of the expansion and contraction of different of materials (Appendix three) all of them were following the instructions on the worksheet that I had devised (Appendix five) and even writing down observations but not really thinking any further than that. Further more the fill in the gap exercise on the worksheet was really a means of spoon-feeding the scientific reasoning behind the observations to them. There were other lessons that I had planned in order to create an active learning environment but displayed characteristics of passive learning. When I had asked pupils to devise verbal and visually aided presentations on chemical groups found in the periodic table I had intended for there to be greater pupil involvement and ownership of learning. Yet I found a lot of the presentations had been prepared via copying the information sheets I had provided and then verbally reading this information without a real understanding of the ideas they had copied and then read. This problem was highlighted in the formal observation of this lesson (Appendix six). However there were occasions when active learning was achieved. I often got pupils in groups to verbally report back findings from practical work to the rest of the class. Doing this enabled them to display their understanding in an alternative manner as well as to engage in self and peer evaluation of what they had learnt. My own lesson evaluations seemed to suggest that this activity was successful (Appendix seven).

          Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning. Not only does it serve to determine what pupils have learnt it can also be used as an indicator to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching. The 1988 TGAT report that was the blueprint for the National Curriculum assessment arrangement identifies four distinct purposes of assessment that is that it should be formative, diagnostic, summative and be tool for evaluation. Looking at the national curriculum testing arrangements would suggest that the main emphasis is on the summative assessment. If the principle intention behind assessment is as it should to improve pupil learning, then a formative approach to assessment which is capable of exerting a direct influence upon the learning process stands in stark contrast to summative assessment which comes at the end of the process and so has little power to influence the learning process. Many educationalists have argued that summative assessment is detrimental to learning in so much as that it reinforces the idea that ability is fixed and so encourages more ego as opposed to task involvement in learning (Dylan William 1999). In my own experience I have found that there are ways in which formative assessment could be improved to enhance learning and promote positive feedback. Initially when I was marking pupils work a lot of the time was spent on establishing grades and giving marks. But this kind of feedback in the classroom encouraged competition between pupils, demotivated the less able and did very little to promote the acquisition of skills or the desire for personal growth. So I decided to try a different strategy for a trial period. When assessing pupils written work after establishing grades I wrote these in my own mark book for my reference and on pupils work I just wrote comments and definable targets for improvement. After the initial surprise of not receiving categorical grades I found that much more frequently than before, where I had written clear comments and definable targets pupils had gone back to previous work and had attempted to improve it. This was evidence enough for me to indicate the success of this method of assessment and continued in this manner of withholding marks and writing only comments. A formal lesson observation in which my assessment techniques were monitored verified their success (Appendix six) There is indeed a wealth of research evidence which identifies improved achievement through this type of improved formative assessment (Black and William 1998). Whilst teaching I tried to monitor and aid learning through a variety of techniques including varied questioning aimed not only at recall and reinforcement but also to check understanding and encourage thought. Homework was also a good means to gauge what pupils had learnt during lessons. I devised a short fact based vocabulary test mid way through the topic to ensure pupils had grasped the definitions of the scientific vocabulary they were coming across. This enabled me to identify problem words and review their meanings. In terms of summative assessment it was the departmental policy to have the pupils sit a formal multiple-choice paper at the end of each unit. The results would be recorded and used to monitor pupils long term progress and is information that is available to parents either through being written on school reports of attainment, or being informed verbally during parental meetings. This multiple-choice paper turned out to be a good evaluative tool for my teaching. When marking the paper I tried to identify common patterns in terms of areas of strengths and weaknesses shared by all pupils and tried to relate them to my own teaching of the particular theme within the topic. The most identifiable correlation was that related to time, on concepts that I had spent more lessons on pupils seemed to have a better understanding of but areas where I had assumed knowledge from prior learning and hence spent less time they were obviously weaker.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

          The idea of teachers as reflective practitioners and professionals capable of learning from their positive and negative experiences is a valuable asset that can serve to aid professional growth and progress. These questions should then be continuously asked, have I been an effective teacher? Have I used the most appropriate teaching and learning strategies? Kyriacou (1997) defines effective teaching as "that which successfully achieves the learning by pupils intended by the teacher". In relation to this definition the answer that is closest to the reality of my initial experience is that there were both lessons that illustrated effective teaching and ones which did not. Those instances that were successful were characterised by appropriate use of a range of varied teaching and learning strategies. Those lessons, which were not so effective, were characterised by ill appropriate use or even lack of clear strategies.

          In terms of teaching strategies effective lessons were based upon careful consideration of what were to be learning outcomes and ensuring that the selection of activities would facilitate these outcomes. Furthermore lessons where I had addressed the issue of individual needs within the mixed range of abilities in the group, through the use of differentiation, were far more successful then lessons where I had not.

          In terms of learning strategies, when I had consistently applied rules and expectations, and used an array of monitoring techniques within the classroom I was able to create and maintain an environment that promoted learning. The greater the amount of time and thought that went into promoting different styles of learning in the classroom coupled with regular and positive forms of feedback and assessment all combined to result in a productive and fulfilling learning experience for both myself and my pupils.

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