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I believe the quality of pupil learning is closely correlated to the effectiveness of teaching provided, very quickly noticing this during Placement 1. Decisions on how to approach each lesson varied depending on various factors, including; the subject or more often activity content, individuals within the class, my pedagogic knowledge, knowledge of pupils and/or various ideas on how learning occurs (Burton, 2005, Unit 5.1).
Detailing two specific episodes of pupil learning as a result of my own teaching contribution(s), I will focus on both the purpose of the teaching methods and styles used as well as the effectiveness of such teaching on pupils' understanding and learning within these interactions.
How children understand formed a large part of the planning for most, if not all series of lessons I taught during Placement 1. Towards the end of one specific teaching block - a 1st year Gymnastics block, there was an episode of teaching and learning which I considered of high meaningful quality. The first year class considered were a lively group of energetic pupils; keen to both learn and demonstrate new skills learned within class time. Throughout the block I covered many themes of Gymnastics but these 'themes' i.e. aspects of subject content, were not the only variations that existed between lessons; varying teaching strategies were used to complement the wide range of learning styles within the class.
Within each class, Sprenger (2003) accurately describes the differences between individuals as a 'myriad', I agree as there probably are too many within any one class environment to count although some can be described as; Differences in educational backgrounds, cultures and abilities to name a few. Spenger (2003) also appreciates the individualised learning styles of individuals describing each style as a pupils 'own preferred way of learning' and it was with research in this area that I planned my lessons, involving pupils in their own learning process, hopefully at some point incorporating their preferred learning style into a lesson. Within the gymnastics lesson in question especially, this was demonstrated.
During previous lessons, pupils had learned and practiced various gymnastics skills such as forms of rotation, balances, turns and various linking movements. During such learning, pupils observed and learned the teaching points of individual skills through both teacher and pupil demonstration, consequently being able to use teaching points to evaluate and improve performance.
As I introduced all lessons, I firstly encouraged an overview of the previous lesson to "establish prior learning" (Cohen & Manion, 2004). During this first teaching placement I quickly observed that this (level of prior learning) often differed from the level of teaching provided i.e. not all aspects of teaching formed meaningful learning for all individuals within the class; and therefore I had to learn to adapt my lessons around this valuable feedback tool of question and answering during the first few minutes of a lesson, this lesson being no different although the learning from the previous lesson was good and I decided to progress further. Thus relating to the work of the Russian Psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who believed in the importance of talk as a learning tool and its centrality to learning (as cited by Burton, 2005 p 249). I included talk within this lesson during questioning, discussion as a group and discussion with a partner.
Providing meaningful learning for all, if not most, individuals was incorporated within this specific teaching period by acknowledging the various learning styles, creating an environment to address these whilst simultaneously providing a background for differentiation to occur. The Gymnastics lesson involved the following:
Observation of a model performance at first; this was visual.
Performing an individual routine; this was practical.
Using a worksheet to assess partner's performance; this was written.
Communicating the analysis provided in the worksheet; this was verbal.
Strategies to incorporate various learning styles whilst providing individualised within this lesson prove successful as enhanced pupil understanding was evident. For example, one pair of pupils working together successfully improved their performance up one grade from a level C/D to a level D by using the worksheets effectively, both individuals correcting faults in the other's performance. Other pupils, during the lesson summary at the end, were able to answer questions - consolidating the learning that had just taken place. At the end of the lesson, pupils also reported they had 'learned a lot from assessing a partner's performance, realising exactly what the class teacher was looking for during assessment'.
In another teaching episode, another group of 1st years, similar to the gymnastics class above, moved onto a team game activity - Basketball. Unlike all other activity blocks during the school year, this final block before Christmas was a short one of only 4 periods of activity opposed to 12 periods, therefore there was less time to focus on skills of the game, only on the structure and rules within the sport.
This single sex class of all girls had previous experience of netball, a sport very similar to basketball therefore my main aim for this short activity block was to emphasise the importance of transferring the skills learned in netball to Basketball. Within the first lesson, I provided a brief video of a basketball match at medium pace. Slowing the match down on video allowed me to talk through aspects of the game visible on the screen. This initial visual representation of the new activity focussed attention in a stimulating way, conveying meaning but also increasing motivation. Pupils were eager to replicate what they had just seen and seemed keen to learn.
Complimenting this change to the 'normal' lesson structure was a change in teaching style. Using one of the most difficult styles in Mosstons' Spectrum of Teaching Styles (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002); Guided Discovery meant pupils were building their own learning, guiding pupils to the answer with them constructively building on successful attempts, developing effective abstract reasoning.
The following lesson provided valuable evidence that making this decision to change both the lesson structure and teaching style greatly benefitted pupil learning as most individuals took part in the question and answer session during the lesson summary as well as implementing the same successful game structure learned in the previous lesson without instruction; pupils were successfully transferring their learning from one activity to another as well as communicating with each other to decide on an appropriate strategy to win the point. This demonstrated that pupils can "learn better if they are actively engaged in the learning process" as quoted by Zwozdiak-Myers & Capel (2005).
2. Consider the Language used in Teacher-Pupil Exchanges
"Communication is a complex two-way process involving the mutual exchange of information and ideas."
(Zwozdiak-Myers & Capel, 2005, p.105).
During my very initial teaching periods, one thing both the observing teacher and myself noticed was that the language used by myself, in particular the vocabulary, was difficult for pupils to understand. For example I had not thought about whether the pupils would understand the word 'adapt', I just assumed. From this lesson on I decided to make no assumptions and made language a focus of my lessons as there was no point talking to the pupils in this language they did not understand.
Within a Standard Grade PE lesson I asked pupils to think of ways to adapt practices to make them either easier or more difficult. Blank faces stared back at me. Not because they had not covered this particular topic in class, it was because the word adapt was new. I quickly re-worded the question to ask what 'changes' could be made to the practice - with a much greater response.
In the most recent renewal of the Scottish Curriculum ~ A Curriculum for Excellence a specific paper has been detailed for all educational practitioners titled 'Literacy Across the Curriculum' (LTS Website, 2008) and within this document literacy is described as 'the set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society and in learning, through the different forms of language.. '.
From this document, it is now clear that Literacy does not only lie within the curriculum of the English Department in a school, all departments and all teachers within these departments have a role to fulfil, Physical Education included. I realised I would have to incorporate forms of literacy into all lessons to overcome any language barriers.
I decided to implement a strategy to improve vocabulary with a group of 3rd year girls; over the course of the week I would see the girls three times for the same activity, Volleyball. The strategy was that every lesson I would aim to use four or five words which would be added to a vocabulary 'glossary bank' for testing purposes at the end of the three periods. Each period I explained the meaning of several words learning such language through the content of the activity and similarly learning content through language. For example, co-operation is a word used within the game situation but pupils tended to replace this word with simply 'helping each other'. Other examples of words added to the vocabulary glossary included; Communication, consecutive, offensive and defensive, react, interception and purpose. There were two testing points for each set of words, at the end of the lesson and at the beginning of the next, thus reinforcing learning through repetition, discussion and ultimately understanding. The test at the end of the week consisted of five of the new words and pupils having to describe their meaning as well as providing an illustrated example from within a game situation.
This strategy was very interesting, with my Placement school also interested in its viability within the curriculum. I concluded that the content of the strategy was very worthwhile and rewarding, developing both literacy and communication as well as enhancing subject knowledge. Although, it was very time consuming (deducting valuable time from performing physical activity) and was perhaps aimed at certificate classes i.e. Standard Grade and Higher classes apposed to the lower school. Following from this evaluation I decided to carry on with a similar idea although omitting the written weekly test within the lower school, S1 and S2. With these year groups I aimed to incorporate the explanation of at least one new word during every lesson, with a verbal recap at the end of the week and a written test only at the end of a 6 week activity block. This was very successful in assisting pupil understanding as well as possibly overcoming language difficulties when moving to the upper school. Using this method of incorporating literacy used constructive methods such as repetition of the language, using more simple concise terms and using examples within the activity was very effective in conveying difficult language but also improving pupil understanding.
Two other approaches used within my lessons which I found increased teacher-pupil understanding during interactions was the use of open questioning and discussion. After describing something or giving instructions to a class, I used a form of questioning termed 'open questioning'. Cohen et al. (2004) refer to questioning as a tool for teachers to help pupils 'focus and clarify' and open questioning does exactly that. After giving instructions to a class, asking 'Do you understand?' would be a closed question with a yes or no response. I found that asking this type of question elicited no concrete understanding as it was simple for pupils to say yes when it was evident during later practice that they did not understand what was said. By giving pupils concise simple instructions followed by open questions asking exactly what the instructions were, I was able to witness the full extent of pupil understanding. By further encouraging a 'no hands rule', all pupils had to be ready to answer - not only those who knew the answer. This questioning technique overcame language difficulties as discussion within the group environment brought up misunderstanding allowing me to overcome them by correcting.
3. Analyse the support offered to pupils and appraise its effectiveness.
Within the most recent HMIe report on my placement school the ethos of the school was described as "inclusiveâ€¦ with strong emphasis placed on personal and social development and equality and fairness" (HMIe, 2005), of which I fully agree. I believe this is due to the care, attention and support not only from Senior Management and Pastoral Care but also from the efficient Learning Support and Behaviour support/Focus departments.
The Education (Additional Support for Learning) Act (2004) introduced a framework to provide support for all children and young people requiring additional help with their learning, as many children may require additional support needs at some point during their education, no matter how large or small as was detailed in the Presumption of Mainstreaming Act (2001); ensuring all children and young people achieve their full potential and are provided with the necessary support to help them attain this.
It is by using such key legislation when providing additional support that excelled my placement school in my opinion.
The small department of one Principal teacher and 3 Learning Support (LS) assistants, work hard before the transition move from primary to secondary, meeting as a case team (all individuals involved with pupils ranging from deputes to parents) to discuss all additional learning support requirements. Such in-depth support is nothing more than invaluable to the future pupils of the school; it is very effective in providing individualised learning for all pupils, therefore the level of learning is suited and adapted to their own ability.
The provision of support continues throughout all children's school careers. Examples of such strategies include Literacy testing, 'toe by toe' learning, support for vulnerable pupils and the Gym club which I was most profoundly involved with.
Before the September Weekend, LS work with both the English and Mathematics departments to test for literacy and numeracy within the classrooms. Information from school records suggests that in recent years (last two sessions) less than half of all pupils are at a level appropriate for first year (Level C). Testing assesses the need for additional support which leads to LS working co-operatively with all departments to provide individualised learning for all pupils.
LS also used an invaluable support named 'Toe by Toe' (Cowling & Cowling, 1993) .No matter what the nature of the pupil's literacy problem, 'Toe by Toe' greatly helps a child to read. I witnessed on placement a group of 4 pupils gain many things from 'Toe by Toe', they were reading a lot better, they were also more confident to read aloud and because 'Toe by Toe' focuses on taking tiny steps to success, the child's self esteem was boosted as success was monitored throughout the process and the pupil was fully aware of all achievements made. The department also promoted a paired reading club whereby older pupils supported younger pupils using the 'Toe by Toe' scheme; these pupils also achieved a lot during my placement, they too became more confident, better communicators as well as demonstrating fantastic cooperation, all of which I am positive they will use in their future careers.
Cooperatively managed by LS and my department (Physical Education) 'Gym club' was a very successful initiative provided to children with co-ordination problems such as Dyspraxia. Pupils were selected before the September Weekend by members of the PE Department, pupils and parents were then approached by both departments and advised of what the 'Gym Club' could achieve. Every morning for my six week placement 'Gym Club' started at 8.30 am for half an hour. During this morning slot all pupils completed, at first, a general circuit of skills aimed at improving co-ordination such as a balance beam, throwing a tennis ball with alternate hands, skipping ropes and stepping stones. After two weeks the programme became individualised, because as you would expect it too had to be adapted to provided differentiated learning for all individuals. The success I witnessed through this programme was phenomenal; pupils were progressively getting better week on week, communication was also improving due to the close-knit community set up in the morning but not only that, all skills were being transferred into pupils' learning ouwith Gym Club; in PE, skill level greatly improved, leaving these individuals at much less of a disadvantage but also in other practical subjects learning was enhanced. Technical advised LS on one pupil who could not hold a ruler and pencil at the same time - She can now, and in English another pupils teacher commented on improvements in handwriting due to improved co-ordination. A very successful strategy with great results already, only half way through the programme!
The Behaviour Support department was another effective team controlling the learning environment of the school, preventing disruption. With the assistance of this team, the effective Discipline Code was enforced within every department of the school. Support was provided in various ways;
Isolation of individuals from the classroom environment
Assistance in the class room with the presence of a BS member of staff
The availability of Emergency Supervision of individuals if and when required.
The confidential advice from BS on any behaviour issues available to all staff.
All of the above enable members of staff to focus on the learning and teaching within a class without getting over-involved in behavioural issues which can impede learning within the classroom. On placement I was certainly aware of the issues that could have been in place if this support were not available - a lot of teaching time would be wasted.
4. Discuss factors - in and out of school - which shape pupils' behaviour and progress.
I will firstly discuss (a few from a lit of many) factors out of school which shape pupils' behaviour and progress. The reason for discussing factors out of school first is because within my Placement school I believe that being situated in an area of multiple deprivation was a factor which greatly influenced most factors in school such as behaviour, progress, motivation and ability.
Capel and Gervais (2005) list common factors that influence pupil's attitudes to school and their motivation to learn. Factors out with school include; Gender, future expectations, family background, culture, economic status and class. Within the area of Drumchapel (catchment area for placement school), 10% of all working age adults were in receipt of Job Seekers Allowances (in 2003), compared to the Glasgow average of 6%, with the male unemployment rate also above the Glasgow average at a particular high of 16% (Drumchapel SIP, 2003). Within this population of high unemployment, education levels are also lower than the national average with almost half the population (42%) having no qualifications whatsoever (Drumchapel SIP, 2003).
The result of these figures mean children often receive little motivation to succeed from home, personal aspirations are low and more often than not children are the only members of the family leaving the house in the morning; which I believe is a big factor resulting in the high absence rates I noticed (78% absence) on placement. Zhang (2003) supports this in a study which linked school absenteeism with child poverty, observing a strong correlation whilst also observing that the habit of non-attendance normally starts at primary school.
Absence greatly underpins pupil progress within the school environment. If children are not in class, this is obviously detrimental to their progress and often effects behaviour as well. I noticed that I was repeating instructions from week to week, purely because of the varied attendance week to week. To overcome this, I began planning more for differentiation particularly for those with poor attendance. For example I used a visual aid during week 1 of a block of Gymnastics, then during weeks 2 and 3, pupils with good attendance did not refer to the visual aid but those with poor attendance had to, therefore it was only those pupils with poor attendance who used visual aids in the latter weeks of the block. Such differentiation was necessary to ensure all pupils were progressing and those pupils who were not absent were not held back. If during a lesson I had not prepared for previous absentees, I observed poor behaviour patterns. When pupils did not understand the lesson, perhaps intrinsically knowing they were behind their peers, the result was that they would misbehave, with some pupils not having the motivation to succeed following absence.
Absence was not the only factor resulting in decreased motivation, Parents' years of schooling and level of education has been also was found to be an important socioeconomic factor influencing child achievement at school (Davis-kean, 2005). Whilst attending an S4 - S6 Parent's night on placement attendance was also low with less than 30% attending. I found this startling, parental support during such vital years of a child's education surely affects the final result attained. Such little support from home was evident in some pupil's attitudes to school with some stating, "It (school) never did my Mum and Dad and use, so what good is it to me?". Of course not all pupils had low motivation levels nor did all pupils have no desire to succeed, these pupils required little motivation from myself but for other pupils I found myself effectively using methods such as feedback, praise and rewards to increase motivation. In some ways the intended learning outcome for children with such low intrinsic motivation was simply to improve the motivation to learn apposed to the general learning outcomes of a specific lesson.
Socioeconomic status, namely deprivation, as a precedent of absence, motivation and behaviour was a factor out with school influencing the outcome of teaching and progress of pupils. A factor within the school which also had an influence is equality.
Implementing and ensuring equity in the classroom involves the recognition and value of pupils' language, gender, culture, prior knowledge and home life circumstances to ensure fairness and impartiality. Recognition is only the start of the process, the action taken to ensure equity is also important. Two aspects of equity in the class room were especially significant during my teaching on placement, both gender and prior knowledge.
My school valued co-education within Physical Education with some mixed gender practical classes. Within such classes an important aspect of my teaching, which influenced pupil performance and progress, was ability matching during game situations. Using this technique of ability matching ensured fairness across the class; For example, one option for game play would be playing boys against boys and girls against girls but I chose to match for ability therefore the strongest players would play together (whether boy or girl), as would the weaker players, thus providing differentiated learning and ultimately improving the performance of all individuals. Strategies to implement this include a 'Ladder Tournament', were the winner moves up and loser moves down or simply by using diagnostic assessment during previous lessons.
This same strategy of ability matched teams and games also overcame differences in prior knowledge or in PE's case prior experience, with those with weaker experience playing together and those with more experience extended each other's learning.
There are many ways in which a teacher influences a pupil, as there are also many influences to the teaching and learning within a school environment. I hope in all four parts above I have outlined the influences I chose to discuss as well as the value they have on a child's education.