Ensuring Effective Learning in Science

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Ensuring Effective Learning in Science

How as teachers can we make sure that students receive quality teaching that allows them to achieve their best? Effective teaching comes from addressing and understanding the many factors which are involved in teaching pupils and they are undoubtedly all connected to each other. This is why it is so important that every teacher addresses these factors to maximise the delivery of a quality education and thus ensuring effective learning. Some of these factors maybe out of a teachers control, for example preconception and prior knowledge of the pupil and some are controlled by a teacher like creating a safe environment for learning. But they can all be addressed, planned and tailored to the individual needs to ensure effective learning; this has been popularly referred to as personalised learning (Capel, 2009).

In this assignment I will be exploring some of the factors I have identified as critical issues and reviewing some of the lessons I have taught in my school block experience in context of these issues. Identifying one successful lesson followed by an unsuccessful lesson and looking at the components of each of them under the identified issues, from which I will explore in more detail about the reasons why it went well (or not so), finding out the impact the critical issues made within each lesson and connecting them to the established theory. This will be furthered by my opinion and to conclude, how did I know it was a success or unsuccessful lesson. It gives me an opportunity to evaluate the impact of my teaching on learners and allows me to reflect on my practise which will permit me to modify my planning and practise for the future.

The critical issues I will be exploring with each of the lessons directly affect the quality and effectiveness of teaching. Through my reading of established literature I have identified several areas of which I will be discussing and examining in my taught lessons. Capel et al (2009) addressed the importance of planning and assessment for learning. Gardener (2006) has developed the theory of multiple intelligence and I will subsequently be addressing different learner types. Finally Cowley (2009) has identified behaviour management as a key point to have a safe and effective learning environment.

Lesson Planning and Planning for Behaviour

As a teacher your time is limited with the pupils and so it is vitally important to plan each lesson carefully to maximise its effectiveness (Capel et al, 2009). To be effective thorough planning needs to take into account what the requirements of the National Curriculum are and how are we going to teach it, how the pupils are going to learn, what are their preconceptions and misconceptions, ultimately tailoring the learning to pupils and delivering a quality learning experience (Capel et al, 2009). The importance of planning is highlighted and observed by Hay McBer (2000) where they observed that in "classes run by effective teachers the pupils are clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it. They can see the links with their earlier learning and have some idea about how it could develop further. The pupils want to know more".

My experience of planning lessons with the two lessons I will be discussing was guided by the scheme of work offered by the science department (See Appendix) and the national curriculum. From this I looked at what they needed to learn and what they had learnt and formulated some learning objectives. When I compared the two resulting lessons in terms of the learning objectives it is clear to see that I did not plan effectively for one of them. In the lesson that did not go well I did not take into account the ability of the class, learning style and the large number of Special Educational Needs (SEN) children (75%) and I used the scheme of work to dictate the learning objective rather than tailor the learning objective to the student using the scheme of work as a guide. This resulted in an unsuccessful lesson and was clear that the children were more focused on the observations of the experiment, but they could not put into context what they were seeing, ultimately meaning that there was no meaning to their learning. This clearly did not make learning effective for the pupils.

As Kyriacou (2009) advises about SEN students, teachers need to develop new skills, provide provisions for the student and liaise with other teachers to ensure effective learning for SEN students. With this in mind I had the opportunity to have some training on SEN pupils through a Continuing Personal Development (CPD) session entitled 'Opportunities for Differentiation' (See Appendix). Additionally, a book by Howard Gardner (2006) introduced the theory of multiple intelligences, and this theory stated that each individual learns in a particular way and has a preferred learning style. In this theory he has identified nine different learning types. So the challenges when planning a lesson is incorporating and catering for a range of learning styles. But with this knowledge I was better able to make a lesson plan to address these many learning styles.

In the successful lesson several weeks later I planned differently and used the "We Are Learning To" (WALT) and "What I'm Looking For" (WILF) techniques introduced by Clarke (2001), also using the information I learnt from the CPD session on SEN students and my understanding of different learning styles. From this I developed my learning objectives making them the focus of the lesson, tailoring it to the student's needs and then referring to it at many different points in the lesson. As a result the students were very clear in what they were learning and that they had a good idea about what the lesson was about, promoting and enforcing the content they were taught (Capel et al, 2009).

With the lesson that was unsuccessful there were many points on reflection which had not been planned properly or considered that well. This became evident as the resulting behaviour in the class clearly deteriorated and the learning halted. Kyriacou (2009) explains that studies have shown that students are more likely to misbehave if they feel the teacher is boring or cannot teach effectively, and the key to preventing bad behaviour is sound preparation and good teaching skills. One of the main problems I found with the lesson was that it was very teacher focused and did not engage the students; I talked too much in the classroom and did not offer enough activities for the pupils to do. This caused a lot of problems in the lesson as they became bored sitting and listening to me and wanted to do more activities, this has confirmed Kyriacous (2009) statement that student will misbehave more if bored.

Luckily with the successful lesson I had it was easy to see what went wrong in the previous lesson and that I was able to improve my practise. In the successful lesson I specifically planned for more activities as well as varied activities to cater for and engage different learning styles (Gardner, 2006), for example videos, demonstrations and a variety of worksheets for them to do. Engaging the pupils and getting them to be actively learning created an environment which was a lot calmer and a lot less disruptive. This is confirmed when Capel et al (2009) says that motivating pupils by using stimulating activities matched to a range of learning styles will encourage good behaviour and attendance, thus leading to effective learning.

Focusing on the behavioural aspect of my lessons became a focal point for my school experience and in the first lesson I planned and taught I did not plan enough for it. As mentioned before effective and thorough planning is the key to preventing misbehaviour and creating an effective learning environment (Capel et al, 2009). In the lesson that was not so successful I found that my lack of preparation and inexperience to handle simple situations, like meeting and greeting at the door, had a profound impact on the atmosphere of the class and in turn set a negative mood in the learning environment. Importantly as well were transitions between activities and judging the pace of the lesson. Hay McBer (2000) highlights this as a skill of effective teachers, summarised in the report it states that teachers planning effectively maximise the time they have in activities and minimize disruption.

The lack of planning and experience directly contributed to my first lesson being unsuccessful. Compared with the successful lesson I had I planned thoroughly for behaviour starting from even before they entered the classroom, focusing on meeting and greeting at the door and setting my expectations of them before they entered the classroom. Giving the pupils clear instructions of what I expected and setting high expectations of them (Capel et al, 2009). As seen in the lesson plan timelines between each of the lessons the successful lesson clearly had a lot more planning for behaviour in the evidence of 'Transitions', highlighting what my actions were to be and what I expected from the pupils (See Appendix). This difference in planning for behaviour is clear in the successful lesson and is supported by Hay McBer (2000) stating that that with "high incidence of student misbehaviour, the effective teachers employ a very structured behavioural approach to each lesson eg. Stand at the door to greet pupils".

As mentioned earlier it is clear that all the critical issues within effective teaching are linked together and a clear improvement in one area directly affects the results of another. A valuable lesson I have uncovered and learnt is that planning and behaviour go hand in hand and if you have planned well the pupil's behaviour will be supportive of learning. This is confirmed when Capel et al (2009) says that "creating an environment that promotes learning in a settled and purposeful atmosphere encourages good behaviour and effective learning".

Assessment for Learning

Assessment for Learning (AFL) over the past decade has had a revolutionary change in the way people approach assessment. This is because of the report published by Black and William (2006) suggesting that formative assessment is extremely valuable in student learning compared to summative assessment. Formative assessment is a dialogue between teacher and pupil and its most effectiveness in teaching comes when you are trying to make a child understand what they need to do to progress to the next level or improve their work, all this by looking at the work they have done or by communicating with the pupil (Black and William, 2006). It is also a good indication of whether a pupil has just learnt what you have taught them, if not, a teacher can find out why not? This makes planning further lessons and follow up work more effective by identifying the needs of the student thus allowing the teachers to be more effective in responding to the needs of the pupil and this is vital for students to raise their attainment level (Black and William, 2006).

When applying this critical issue in the context of the lessons I have taught, with the unsuccessful lesson I can see there are very few opportunities for AFL of which the lesson was mostly teacher driven. The two opportunities of AFL in the unsuccessful lesson I have identified come from a quick question and answer session at the beginning of the lesson, and the science exit slips at the end of the lesson. But due to the unsuccessfulness of the lesson I wasn't able to get to the point of using the exit slips. While on the other hand with the successful lesson, I have incorporated a lot more opportunities for AFL within my lesson plan, from the starter (3-3-1), explanation of the graph and importantly how to get a good level and what they should so, question and answering, and a plenary where pupils ask questions based on what they have learnt. The difference in the amount of AFL in the successful compared to the unsuccessful really did impact of the effectiveness of learning in the lesson. This is confirmed when Capel et al (2009) says that using assessment for learning to help pupils reflect on what they already know, reinforcing learning and setting new targets.

Linking with the earlier statement about all the critical issues within effective teaching being linked together and a clear improvement in one area directly affects the results of another. AFL is no exception and maybe in fact one of the most important component of effective teaching, as it not only is isolated within my planned lesson by can be helpful cross curricula and developing pupils' English and maths.

Reflection of school and teaching experience

For me as a trainee teacher this beginning school experience has thought me a lot, it put in perspective what we have been taught at university and has helped develop my teaching and personal skills. It has opened my eyes to the complexities involved with being an effective teacher and given me a firsthand experience of what I need to do to improve myself and teaching. Through practise of planning a lesson and teaching it, it has put another dimension on the critical issues involved with effective teaching. This in turn has given me a steep learning curve in many ways but it has taught me a lot about what effective teaching involves and has given me invaluable experience in developing and improving my practise. It also gives me an opportunity to evaluate the impact of my teaching on learners and allows me to reflect on my practise which will permit me to modify my planning and practise for the future.

I think what I have done well as a beginning teacher is to refine through trial and error, and in particular become more consistent in my behaviour management techniques. Additionally to be able to evaluate my lessons and accept feedback from my mentor and tutor and develop my practise with this feedback and use it to improve my lesson planning. This has been shown in the two lessons that I have discussed today and it clearly shows a development in my way of thinking when approaching planning and implementing lessons. Things that have not gone so well as a beginning teacher are my grasp and implementation of AFL, I feel I have missed out on a huge area here but understanding more about it and starting to implement it in my lesson has been a positive step for me as a beginning teacher.

Academically for my development in the spring term I will be aiming to focus on AFL and improve my incorporation of it within my lessons as this is a vital part to reaffirming students learning (Black and William, 2006).