Teaching is an art, not a science. Detailed study and analysis, however careful, cannot generate comprehensive and situationally specific procedural rules which a teacher can learn and then apply in order consistently to obtain a desired outcome.
In this essay, I will explore issues relating to pupils' learning at school through planning, teaching and assessment as three separate entities, using insight from theoreticians of learning, and also my own teaching experience as a trainee teacher on my first school placement. Each of the three topics relates to a classroom research exercise. I will consider my experience of teaching a Year Seven mixed ability group embarking upon their initial experience of the French language, and attempt to decide what judgements about and individual's learning it is possible to make from such teaching.
This essay provides a rationale for the approaches to teaching and assessment that I have written in my medium-term plan and subsequent lesson plans.
I also consider the teaching strategies that I have practised in French lessons and ways in which they could be said to have promoted learning. I will draw on various considerations for ensuring progression, differentiation and also the final reflection and evaluation of my assessment of the French lesson I taught on my first placement, and how successful (or otherwise) it may have been in helping the pupils concerned to 'learn'. Such 'learning', however is open to different interpretations. The broad schools of thought considered in this essay approach the problem from different angles:
'For behaviourists...learning is a change in observable behaviour, which occurs through stimuli and responses becoming relating according to mechanistic insights, outlooks, expectations, or thought patterns.' (Bigge and Shermis 1992:10)
I will proceed according to the principle that unique individuals, the infinite complexity of human interrelationships, and the particularity of dynamic situation cannot be fully captured by generalized understandings or a single theory of learning, but that insights from many quarters can help understand classroom practice. Teaching however, is necessarily by a particular person for particular purposes (Wragg 1994) and my student teacher's lens will no doubt emphasize certain aspects of learning to the possible exclusion of others.
One set of classroom variables that receives a lot of attention in the literature is the quality of teachers' management and organisation for learning.
"If student teachers believe that students should be occupies principally to keep bad behaviour at bay, future generations of teachers are going to be more preoccupied with the management of 'order' than the cultivation of learning". (Askyriacou and Stephens 1999:28)
Important work takes place before entering the classroom - planning, developing, and organising instruction are a major part of any teacher's job, and effective planning will make day-to-day teaching tasks much easier.
I also present the importance of medium-term planning drawing on consideration of ensuring progression, differentiation and appropriate use of a range of assessment methods. The use of schemes of work and medium-term plans is invaluable. The term plan is a working document that if used wrongly could be a cause of stress for both teacher and pupil.
"A scheme of work may include subject content, teaching strategies, student activities, assessment, evaluation and resources, medium-term plans identify learning objectives and outcomes and indicate the activities that will enable these to be achieved." (Reece and Walker (2009:245)
The attainment targets assessed in this plan are speaking and writing. It is not sufficient to assess all four attainment targets summatively at the end of every unit, literally two are assessed at the end of each unit, in this case the assessment always coincides with the end of the chapter currently being studied.
The class I focus on is a Year Seven mixed-ability group, which I taught French for two, one-hour periods a week and my medium-term plan covers the Spring Term, (14 hours). At the start of Year 7, all students had their cognitive ability tests (CAT) which helps in setting pupils and focusing future learning achievement.
I have set the attainment target grades according to the needs of a mixed ability group in which there are learners with specific learning difficulties and also more able, gifted and talented learners. Also have discussed with my curriculum mentor ways of developing the departmental scheme of work; the topics covered within the medium-term plan include family, animals, and describing physical appearance.
I shall mention my findings on the effectiveness of certain principles and strategies when applied to planning, teaching and assessment. Differentiation, inclusion and provision of varied and interesting activities considering different learning styles should inform our planning. Effective assessment is the key.
1 You want to teach
5 The cycle starts again
2 You attempt to teach it
4 You come up with a revised learning objective
3 You assess learning and how effective was your teaching
Teaching is an art in its broad sense, and implies the transfer of knowledge, skills and values from one generation to the other. It has an effect on one's mind, character and physical ability. Within particular teaching styles there are number of specific characteristics and practices which make for less or more effective teaching. In teaching a French lesson to a Year 7 mixed ability group, I used specific teaching strategies that I have already observed in different lessons, and the ways in which they appeared to enable or encourage the pupils' learning. I find the term 'strategy' somewhat problematic, in the sense that it is overused, carries overtones of management jargon and like any "buzzword" has a tendency, in my experience, to lose its explanatory value. However it usefully suggests a sense of purpose, of leading towards a longer-term goal.
The methods of teaching are determined by the purposes of teaching. In the UK, the National Curriculum sets out the goals and requirements for teachers. The responsibility for delivering this lies with schools and teachers, who must plan to fulfil the needs of pupils and prepare resources accordingly.
The most important resources that help teachers are lesson plans based on schemes of work, and which describe the work planned for pupils over a period of year. The range and depth of experiences, topics and activities are explained generally in scheme of work. To make schemes of work practical and tangible, they are split into medium-term plans.
According to DfES:
"Medium-term planning focuses on organising coherent units of work. Medium-term plans identify learning objectives and outcomes and indicate the activities that will enable these to be achieved. They usually show a sequence of activities that will promote progression and some information about the amount of time needed to cover the objectives."
Medium-term planning makes it easier to plan for differentiation and inclusion. "Every Child Matters" is a fundamental part of the national curriculum, and states that every child, regardless of his background or circumstances, needs support to:
enjoy and achieve
make a positive contribution
achieve economic well-being
Through medium-term planning provisions can be made for pupils to build on their personal experiences and accordingly raise their levels on an individual basis.
For preparation of resources and effective progression to take place, the significance of medium-term planning becomes very clear:
"Teaching does not solely consist of making youngsters feel good about themselves. It involves helping student acquire understanding, knowledge, and skills they didn't previously have. To do this, it is essential to enable students to feel good about themselves as learners and to create an atmosphere enables them to focus energy on learning." Askohl (1980;90)
"Assessment refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers and by the students in assessing themselves that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and activities. Such assessment becomes formative assessment when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet students' needs." (Black and William 1998)
The purpose of assessment is to provide information for a range of purposes. It aims to gather information about the performance of individual pupils, groups and cohorts of pupils which can be used to inform target setting, to identify what needs to be taught next and ensure that assessment and recording is integral to the school's performance management system and strategic planning.
Four types of assessment are identified:
Formative: gathering information that will shape or affect the next learning experience.
Diagnostic: Finding out what attitudes, knowledge, understanding or skills are not properly learned or acquired and may prevent pupils making expected progress.
Evaluative: Informing the strategic planning and direction of the whole school by evaluating the impact of planning, teaching and curriculum on pupil's achievements.
Summative: Systematic recording of information which leads towards a summary of where the pupils have reached at a point in time. This is an essential tool for identifying progress over time.
"The assessment process itself should not determine what is to be taught and learnt. It should be the servant, not the master, of the curriculum, yet it should not simply be a bolt-on addition at the end. Rather, it should be an integral part of the education process, continually providing both 'feed forward' if therefore needs to be incorporated systematically into teaching strategies and practices at all levels. Since the result of assessment can serve a number of different purposes, these purposes have to be kept in mind when the arrangements for assessment are designed." TGAT (1988:9)
Pupils often focus on summative assessment - assessment of the learning that has taken place throughout the unit or module to indicate the level achieved. It is undertaken with reference to all the objectives or aims of the course, and usually fairly formal.
Summative assessment is similar to formative assessment in that it concerns the performance of individual pupils, as opposed to groups. In contrast with formative assessment, however, its prime purpose is not so much to influence teaching but to summarise information about the achievements of a pupil at a particular time: "The information may be for the pupils themselves for receiving teachers, for parents, for employers or for a combination of these." (Moon & Annshelton:1995)
Formative assessment is ongoing and it also known as assessment for learning. It provides feedback on what students are learning. In my experience a clear explanation of expectations and information on how to achieve those expectations can focus a class very quickly and gives pupils a goal to aim for. This cannot be done without determining pupil's current achievement and prior knowledge.
"In assessment for learning, the learner's task is to close the gap between the present state understanding and the learning goal. Self-assessment is essential if the learner is to do this. The teacher's role is to communicate appropriate goals and promote self-assessment as pupils work towards the goals. Feedback in the classroom should operate from teacher to pupils and from pupils to teacher. (Sadler, P. 1989)
Formative Assessment/Assessment for learning:
Assessment for learning (AFL) is any assessment for which the first priority in its design and practice is to promote pupils' learning, for example by providing feedback, (from both teachers and their pupils), for assessing themselves and each other, and to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.
Such assessment becomes 'formative assessment' when the evidence is actually used the teaching work to meet learning needs.
Types of formative assessment:
Span: across units, terms.
Length: four weeks to one year.
Span: within and between teaching units.
Length: one to four weeks.
Span: within and between lessons.
Length: day-by-day, 24 to 48 hours, minute by minute, 5 second to 2 hours.
The effects of this assessment are as follows:
Long cycle: student monitoring and curriculum alignment.
Medium cycle: more detailed, student-involved assessment; improved teacher cognition about learning.
For short cycle: improved classroom practice and student engagement.
The key processes of this assessment are: to establish where the learners are in their learning, where they are going and working out how to get there. Teachers, peers and learners are all participants.
Where the learner is going
Where the learner is
How to get there
Clarify and share learning intentions
Engineering effective discussions, tasks and activities that elicit evidence of learning
Providing feedback that moves learners forward
Understand and share learning intentions
Activating students as learning
resources for one another
Understand learning intentions
Activating students as owners
of their own learning
Summative Assessment/ Assessment of learning
The main difference between AFL and assessment of learning (AOL) is that AFL aims to enhance learning while AOL measures it. Both approaches are useful and necessary at different times. It is important to be clear before beginning any summative assessment that our assessments really are testing what we want to test. On occasion, a test result may be inconsistent with other evidence; I had experience of this when marking Year 7 work, with my mentor, who suggested that the highest mark should be the one recorded for the pupil. This did not sit comfortably with me as I was not sure that this reflected the pupil's ability accurately.
My experience has taught me that we must understand how the test works before we ask the pupils to complete. For example, before undertaking an assessment of listening skills, the teacher should listen to the piece first to ensure that they know the format e.g. whether there will be pauses after each piece of information or whether students will have to pick information out of the conversation without pauses. Following my mentor's advice, I try to anticipate as many of the pupils questions as possible, and address these prior to the test, and also write the mark scheme on the board for the pupils to see.
The assessment that I carried out was mainly formative assessment. Through questioning, listening, reading, writing and speaking activities I was able to judge pupils' levels of attainment targets.
Self and peer assessment:
Another important aspect of assessment is self- and peer-assessment, either done by pupils working alone or with a teacher. This can increase learners' their awareness of their progress and provide each other with helpful and informative feedback.
Teachers need to plan opportunities for pupils to reflect on their progress and to respond to feedback from their teachers and their peers, and to ensure that pupils take responsibility for acting upon feedback given.
For effective peer- and self-assessment key requirements are learning outcomes that are explicit and transparent to pupils. Pupils need to be able to identify when they have met some or all of the success criteria; they also need to be taught the skills of collaboration in peer assessment. By learning to assess their own progress they can become more independent learners.
William and Black (2002) also emphasise the importance of peer assessment, stating that this method offered advantages that could not be achieved through any other method:
"Getting students to comment on each other's work can have a substantial impact on learning for two reasons. First, students are much better at spotting weakness in other people's work than in their own. Second, students are much tougher on each other than any teacher would dare to be and they can take criticism from their classmates much more easily than they can from the teacher. William & Black (2002)
To develop peer- and self-assessment teachers need to train pupils over time, giving regular opportunities to assess their work, and that of others; this needs to be planned for and the teacher should:
Explain the learning objectives and intended outcomes behind each task.
Guide pupils to identify their next steps.
Frequently and consistently encourage pupils' self-reflection on their learning.
Plan opportunities and time to allow pupils to do it.
In response to these recommendations and in an effort to incorporate PLTS into teaching and learning, I planned activities which would help develop peer-, and self-assessment. For example, Lesson plan 2 involves pupils working in pairs to practise speaking about their family, making pupils aware of what to look for when trying to identify one's strengths and areas for development. Such activities will develop pupils' skills in self and peer-assessment and also increase their sense of learner autonomy and personal responsibility.
Marking, mapping progress and links to the key KS3 MFL frame work:
"Gathering evidence over time and making judgements about it based on clear criteria."
The recording of assessment, both formative and summative, builds a picture of the individual's progress over time and gives the teacher the opportunity to make sense of the data. The ability to identify trends is paramount in providing a plan that will encompass all four attainment targets and provide the opportunity for all learners to address their areas for improvement. In the classroom, progress can be monitored through spelling tests, open-ended questions and regularly asking for a show of hands to indicate how pupils have performed in classroom activities.
During my observation period I made my own judgements about the levels of pupils. Later when I started teaching and made further assessments I found a noticeable difference when I searched through school data, which was very helpful in setting my goals. The data I received from the school showed that six out of twenty five pupils are working at level 4c in French.
See attached Index 1
Along with verbal feedback, marking pupils' work is a common form of mapping pupils' progress. Research suggests that giving pupils a mark or grade as feedback is not always productive. Interestingly marks and a comment given together enhance learning possibly because pupils look first at the mark they achieved, and pay little attention to non-specific comments (e.g. Fantastique!) - comments may offer some motivation but need to be specific about how work could be improved.
As mentioned in Parr's quote earlier, assessment is about 'gathering evidence' and all marks and notes of pupils' contribution in class combine to help the teacher make an informed judgement of the pupils' progress. Development in certain aspects of the KS3 MFL framework may prove difficult to measure and progress in the 4 attainment categories may vary significantly.
Cultural awareness, key skills, grammar, ICT, learning styles & ECM:
The materials used in the lessons planned offer a number of different learning opportunities, reflecting learners' different learning styles and preferences. The lesson plans below show evidence of my planning for progression e.g. ensuring that tasks get progressively more challenging and using my understanding of the psychology of motivation to build positive interactions. As Gilbert says (Gilbert 2002):
"Understanding what motivates people is an effective way to interpret their preferred learning style to produce a class full of successful learners."
I have tried to include a variety of activities that cater for as many learning styles as possible. My approach to 'learning style' (such as visual, auditory or kinaesthetic) and 'multiple intelligences' is based on a concern to avoid the labelling and categorization of learners. While every person may have a unique individual combination of 'intelligences', they are also potentials, to be practised and developed. In any case, such concepts as multiple intelligence are themselves culturally bound, as Alexander (2005b:14) implies when he asks:
"Which came first, a human mind which has linguistic, mathematical and musical intelligences, or a curriculum which contains the language, mathematics and music that such intelligences have created?"
Introducing the French culture is great way to stimulate discussion about the different experiences of young people in the UK and abroad. Communication skills underpin everything that pupils do both at school and through all aspects of their lives. Today's use of multimedia in ICT makes language learning even more interesting compared to the condition of computer technology in 1980s, with pictures, videos and audio materials readily available. I noticed that by incorporating ICT in my lessons, pupils working at low levels, who are usually silent listeners, participated much more enthusiastically in oral activities. In my lessons where possible, I include graphics and sounds through the interactive whiteboard, but also use low-tech resources such as flashcards and paper when ICT is not available.
Insights from many quarters can help understand classroom practice for instance, the development of subject knowledge and 'learning to do' might tend to take precedence over 'schooling' in the sense of socialization and learning a certain way of being. The unit on 'la famille' will have an element of maths when introducing older family members such as grandparents and the family tree includes dates of birth. There is also a game where pupils listen to descriptions of a family member in French and have to guess who I am talking about. The inclusion of problem solving serves to enhance the existing skills of the learners. I will attempt, then, to maintain certain scepticism about what might sometimes appear to be 'given'. Above all, this essay - a trying-out of ideas- will at once be coloured by, and help me to clarify, my own developing understandings of the nature and purposes of learning, in keeping, perhaps, with the contention of Bigge and Shermis (1992) that cognitive-interactionist learning theory represents 'an emergent synthesis' building on earlier approaches.
Planning for effective progression, differentiation, home work and assessment:
The overall planning for this sequence was approached by firstly looking at the key aspects to be covered as set out by the national curriculum programme of study and statutory framework.
I was advised by my curriculum mentor that I had to challenge the pupils' way of thinking and use a wider range of approaches and activities and allowing for regular revision and reinforcement. The lesson plans in the appendices show evidence of my planning of progression. The lessons were planned so that the pupils could use existing subject knowledge as a basis to relate new learning to. I believe that a clear learning agenda is crucial for learning outcomes in the classroom; it defines the learning journey and has a positive effect if planned in detail and with the pupils in mind. Indeed:
"school effectiveness research also suggests that the classroom action accounts for more of the variation in school effects on pupils outcomes than school level activity." Stoll & Fink 91998:48)
This is a great responsibility to bear and its outcome will impact on the learning achieved and the notion that the classroom is crucial to this aim required an extensive overview of the lesson planning and the mechanics of the year 7 class.
"expert teachers were more likely to view their lessons from the pupils' point of view rather than their colleagues." (Galton (2004))
The traditional PPP (Presentation, Practice and Production) method of ML teaching as detailed in Pachler (2009:70) demonstrates a level of progression and I have also tried to adopt this strategy in the activities that I have chosen to use during my lessons. My lesson plans show evidence too of progression through the skills where listening and speaking are normally introduced first. Then reading and personalising sentences through writing take place later.
It is important to get to know your students informally. Within this mixed ability group there are 10 learners who have recognised special educational needs; two of whom are classed as AG&T and 8 with either a specific or moderate learning difficulty. With such a mix of abilities in the same group it is imperative that the teacher plans lessons and units very carefully in order to ensure all learners' needs are being met.
Lesson plan 1:
The lesson sequence chosen was the family. The first lesson was on "As-tu des frères et soeurs?" The class learned the new vocabulary and structures well as evidenced by the oral work done in class. The text book used (Metro 10) has good presentations with images, sounds and words to assist learning. Pupils learned the vocabulary on a power point repetition, and attended very well. I explained the objectives of the lesson, and noticed that the class were focused and every pupil repeated the sentence. They copied the text, practised making the sentence about their brother and sisters. The ICT was successful and the plenary went well - it really made pupils think about the lesson and their learning. I asked all pupils to stand up, they each had to say one thing that they had learnt this lesson before they could sit down.
The activities went well overall, I was much better at the timing and keeping on track this lesson. To differentiate and ensure inclusion within this lesson I employed the following strategies:
Walk around when pupils are tasked with writing exercise to ensure understanding.
I often use in class careful question setting. For weaker learners I simply pointed to a picture and said "une soeur"? Whereas for AG&T learners I asked "comment dit-on 'I don't have any brothers & sisters en francais?"
In order to support their learning, pupils write down a short description about their brother and sister, this can be done for homework if not completed in class.
Lesson Plan 2:
This had a differentiated starter where weaker learners just had to put the words into the correct order while stronger learners had to separate the squashed-up sentences and insert the missing word. The second task clearly required more writing, and independent working.
We revisted some of the vocabulary used in the previous lesson. I asked the more able pupils to start with the reading and deliberately chose pupils who would be comfortable with the task. Then the new vocabulary was presented on a slide, and less able were picked to read the words and work out the meanings in English. Almost everybody participated in the activities according to their levels. However, homework from previous lesson was not done by many and I gave them another chance. The questions about homework showed interest though.
Lesson Plan 3:
This lesson was a revision lesson based on their test. To start the lesson I did a mini test on the vocabulary from the past chapters. Many of the pupils produced excellent work and had written really good pieces on what they have learned in the unit about colours, family, and giving opinions. It was a useful exercise simply to walk around the room looking at the work the pupils produced on worksheets. The students were allowed to use their books to prepare. This also gives a better idea of their own work and understanding of the language. It made my belief stronger that variety and interesting content, if provided in friendly environment, encourages pupil engagement. (Krashen 1981:7) suggested that:
"the best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are 'ready', recognising that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not form forcing and correcting production."
The class was focused and had prepared well for the task. Pupils worked in groups which made effective use of the time.
For differentiation and ensure inclusion within this lesson I again moved around when pupils are tasked with writing exercises to ensure their understanding, and produced worksheets for use by pupils giving instructions on how to add French punctuation to their work.
Pupils' progress, an analysis, and reflection:
An effective practitioner is a reflective practitioner. It is only through reflection and analysis of lessons and the work pupils produce, that a teacher can judge the progress of their learners.
Within the lesson chosen, my objective was to prepare them for their assessment. On reflection however, this aim should have been broken down into 'smarter objectives' more specific and more measureable, following what has become the general rule, I aimed to include a range of activities, to enable pupils to practice their four language skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing). I also hoped in this way to cater for a variety of possible learning styles and multiple intelligences, (Gardner 1983) and there were elements requiring logical, linguistic, visual, interpersonal skills, although not so much kinaesthetic ones, in view of the large class size and potential for mayhem. I wanted to ensure variety, though, mainly for the sake of maintain concentration and enjoyment.
I began the lesson with a vocabulary test and took in pupils' marks. The main purpose of this test was to provide pupils with (extrinsic) motivation to learn some useful adjectives. In turn, the results would give me an idea of how well the pupils were assimilating the learning, and whether or not we would need to revisit and consolidate this vocabulary.
'Reinforcing stimuli should follow the desired responses immediately' (Bigge, P112)
We then listened to the recording, and I tried to pre-empt comprehension problems by providing some vocabulary likely to be unknown on the board - a form of scaffolding support. To ensure that all pupils had the opportunity to practice speaking French, I replaced the suggested speaking exercise from the textbook. Homework was set this lesson to further consolidate the use of verbs. I chose three students from the class based on my personal assessment of their performance in class and written work. A summary of their attainment is as follows:
End of Year 7 Target
Pupil A: enjoys the productive skills and produced an excellent piece of written work for the assessment; the spoken work produced by this pupil was also of an excellent standard and above her target level for the end of the year.
Pupil B: enjoys languages, she already has a basic awareness of verb agreement, and understands that verbs look and sound different depending on who is doing the action; she is gaining confidence as a speaker; written work is sound.
Pupil C: a very quiet pupil, who seems to lack confidence in language; her SATs scores and target levels suggest she is more capable than she seems - her confidence however needs to be raised in order for her to achieve her potential in languages.
Every child matters, and not every child learns in the same way or at the same pace. The feedback that I received from the pupils regarding my use of resources was very positive and informative. The lessons engaged them, and also encouraged their use of ICT, one of the functional skills, and made the learning more enjoyable.
High quality teaching is vital for the quality of education and can only be achieved by excellence in all three areas of planning, teaching and assessment. These are key skills for anyone wishing to become an accomplished teacher. Progression takes place in levels and across skills as well, and is cyclical - planning informs teaching, teaching leads to assessment and assessment feeds back into planning. On approaching the end of my first placement, I have come to realise the importance of each element. Assessment is fundamental to a learner's progress - different pupils work at different levels but does need to be finely balanced to ensure that it is fit for purpose, timely and useful. Planning and teaching follows guidance from the NC KS3 Framework and national statistics, and follow schemes of work, breaking down to medium-term planning. Information from my formative assessments helped me understand pupil levels and design appropriate activities. It helped me in my lesson planning and selection of relevant materials that suited pupils' individual needs. The response that I received was rewarding and gratifying.