Critical Reflection On The Impact Of The Course On Teaching

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The learning process undertaken during this course has impacted on my teaching practice in several ways; that reflection is complex; that adult learners require different teaching strategies and relevancies; that embedding pedagogy into practical science is more difficult than it seems. This paper will discuss each of these in relation to the teaching of chemistry.

Many teacher training programmes encourage trainee teachers to be reflective practitioners (Bryan and Tippens 2005; Grunan et al 2000; Wallace and Oliver 2003; and Yerrick et al 2005, Corrigan, 2009.; Childs 2009). However, the processes of reflection are complex and include several approaches that will evolve throughout training and throughout a career, (Del Carlo et al 2010). Several models of reflection exist (Gibbs, 1988; Johns, 2000; Rolfe et al, 2001; Valli, 1997; Corrigan, 2009). Teachers tend to reflect as an ongoing superficial process in the day to day classroom by noticing what went well what didn't work etc and this is sometimes called Reflection -on-action and Reflection-in-action (Valli, 1992, 1997) but tends not to be formally recorded. In fact, learning journals or reflective diaries tend to be the most difficult thing for students/student teachers/ teachers to be involved with. My experiences as an Open University associate lecturer have shown me that many of the students in the courses I teach are reluctant to write down how their learning has evolved during the course. Those who do use the learning journal however, have found the process of reflection very useful. Del Carlo et al (2010) also point out by reflecting and carrying out action research science education is improved. Reflection in teacher education began with Dewey in 1933 who studied how people think and learn using scientific methodology. In a way, teachers are involved in research on a day to day basis and 'learning to teach and learning to inquire become inseparable ultimately leading to the idea of 'teacher as researcher', (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1993). Having not only been a student on this course but also an experienced teacher of another subject has given me information from both sides. At the beginning of the course my confidence was very low though my motivation and interest was high. I wanted to do the course so that I could not only teach chemistry but also teach it well. There were several barriers to my learning, these included: lack of confidence; certainty that I would not be able to do calculations; being a more 'mature' student than probably any of the others within the group! During the period of learning, my confidence in practical skills, in subject knowledge and in 'doing' calculations (slowly), increased. Whilst there are numerous studies, ( Geddis, 1993; Childs, 2009, Bailey, 2009; Kahveci, 2009) that suggest that teachers should be subject experts, Aksela,( 2010 p84) suggests that 'a teacher should be an expert in teaching, studying and learning'. She goes on to say that teachers must 'also know how to improve and reflect on their own work' and that teacher education should support chemistry teachers' career-long professional growth in both chemistry and chemistry education research. A result of this course it is my intention to do both. In addition to reflection, Bailey, (2008) makes the point that whilst students vary in their strengths and gaps, in their learning styles and abilities, lecturers and teachers are just as diverse in each of these areas. He goes on to suggest that by identifying the skills and qualities of teachers would be one way of improving the learning environment for the students. He suggests that though the design of chemistry degree programmes is much improved they must still take into account the diversity of teaching skills as well as subject knowledge of the tutors. The importance of the effect of the teacher cannot be over emphasised. In his paper, Bailey (2008 p72) found that the worst experiences of teaching were linked to the individual rather than the content or the teaching strategy. The most successful teachers in his department were two' talk and chalk,' and one young teacher who used the latest strategies and ICT. Successful teaching styles were therefore very different. The difference between the 'bad and the 'good' teachers was due to several factors, such as, clear speaking, listening to students, a good syllabus, teaching at the right pace and active student learning. Bailey (2008 p72) also suggests that 'the use of the right teaching method at the right time is can turn poor lecturer into a good one and a good one into an outstanding one. He also proposes a' teacher centred teaching' approach where the strengths and gaps of teachers can be identified and improved in order to enhance the learning environment and experience in higher education.

In their paper on recent developments in chemistry teacher education Eilks and de Jong (2009 p75) have stated that chemistry teacher education covers a range of areas e.g. the beliefs, attitudes and knowledge of teachers, 'the domains of teachers' cognitions, meaning the content specific domain, the domain of pedagogy, the domain of PCK ( Pedagogical Content Knowledge) and the interrelation between them' and Corrigan, (2009) whilst focusing on the knowledge domain of chemistry teachers in particular has found that self -reflection on their own problems and choosing how to act on them, is an effective means of reflection. In this particular programme, students were asked to set their own aims and intentions and reflect on their own learning. The students used learning logs and chemistry teaching portfolios to help. The conclusions from the study were positive, and ' participants while at the beginning reluctant to participate in reflective practice, engaged with it whole heartedly by the end of the course as the benefits it brings to dev eloping them as chemistry teachers is recognised and highly valued by them' (Corrigan, 2009 p130).

Reflection and experience is also a more complex relationship than is often thought (Light and Cox, 2001; Gibbs et al 1989) and Kolb (1984) has suggested that experience is integral to the learning process. His Experiential Learning Theory is a holistic model of learning that includes learning, growth, and development. In reflection it is important to be aware of the learning styles of both the teacher and the students, (Race and Pickford, 2007). Collfield et al (2004) critically reviewed many models of learning styles and the main conclusion was that it is of fundamental importance which model is chosen as this will have a considerable effect on the student learning. This in itself is extremely difficult to decide as students will vary in the model that is most successful for them. In addition to which, within the teaching environment, we need to be aware of both our own feelings and those of the students (Goleman, 1998). But how can this influence good practice? Mortiboys (2005) has set out a series of steps that teachers can use to develop emotionally intelligent approaches to ensure successful learning, but there is also a trend in introducing self-reflection in undergraduate laboratory sessions to enable students in the understanding of lectures and laboratory exercises (Veal, Taylor and Rogers, 2009).

Childs (2009) has stated that the current challenge in chemistry education is in how to turn the findings of research into teaching and learning into effective practice. He emphasises that the role of the chemistry teacher is essential since it is from schools that the chemists of the future develop. There are several barriers to implementing the findings of education research for example, ignorance of what is known about teaching and learning research in chemistry and, the unwillingness of some practitioners to change their teaching strategies.

There is considerable emphasis at the moment on 'effective practice', (Childs, 2009; Coffield et al 2004))

But what does research have to say about practice? Coffield et al (2004) suggest that students will be more motivated to learn if they know more about their strengths and gaps as learners and if teachers can respond to those variations within the individual then student achievement may increase. Additionally, that 'learning to learn' skills would provide a foundation for lifelong learning. It is essential in that reflective practice should be informed. For example, student feedback is effective in reflection, teaching and learning. Feedback from students to enhances teaching and learning as it can raise awareness of how the teaching is perceived and create a better understanding of how teaching affects learning. This is probably the most relevant information that the teacher receives and is relevant for critical reflection and development (Turner and Harkin, 2003). In addition, when students are able to contribute to lessons in this way it helps students ownership of their learning.

Whilst Childs (2009, p194) suggests that thorough knowledge, including the most difficult topics (moles!) is essential in order to teach, he further suggests that 'we only really understand something when we have to teach it'. However, it can also be an advantage to be a novice in the teaching of chemistry as it may be very helpful to the less confident students (especially adult learners whose main problem initially is lack of confidence) to approach the difficult topics together and encourage the students to suggest ways to move forward, thus allowing students to have input and ownership of the learning. I have found during the SASP programme that carrying calculations methodically and writing each step has helped me to understand the process and I feel that this is the way that I would teach calculations with students. However, whether a novice or an expert, effective teaching involves strategies and methods that encourage, excite and motivate the learners. Bucat (2004) suggests that the role of the teacher is to re-work the knowledge into a form that helps students to understand and achieve and so teaching strategies are extremely important not only to make sure that all learning styles are catered for but also that learning is relevant, this is especially so with adult learners.

The study of adult learning or androgogy as it is sometimes called was pioneered by Knowles (1970), who identified six characteristics of adult learners each of which is important for the effective teacher to remember: adults are mainly self-directed and have considerable life experience; they are highly motivated and have an aim in mind; learning must be relevant to the course they wish to move onto and they are highly practical. It is also important for an effective teacher to remember to respect the life experiences of the students which can contribute very effectively to lessons. Adults have very different barriers to learning in comparison to children. These include: e.g. lack of time, childcare, jobs and transport. However, in my experience it is the lack of confidence in their own ability to remember/understand both Biology and Chemistry that I have found to be the greatest barrier. Students are frightened of the terminology, the concepts and the calculations. All of which prevent learning. The SASP course has made me aware of my own "Chemophobia" even though I'm highly motivated and also made me aware of the strategies I used to cope with it. Chemophobia (Eddy, 2000) does exist in the classroom and is thought to reduce the learning of chemistry due to the high levels of anxiety caused.

It is the role of the teacher to ensure that these barriers are decreased and to develop a trusting relationship that supports the student. In addition, to lack of confidence and low self-esteem, there is a variety of other barriers to learning that need to be overcome, including; a student's situation at a given time ( situational barrier); filling in application forms/interviews/enrolment (institutional barriers); socioeconomic and cultural barriers; geographic and demographic barriers. So to get the adult learner onto a course is an achievement. As a reflective practitioner, it is essential to establish a friendly and open atmosphere in the lesson (Leib, 1991). Once the setting of the lesson has been established a colourful lab with posters and previous students' work) it is essential to relate to the students themselves. Vella (1994) has described 12 principles for effective learning in adults of which a good trusting relationship is formed with students is one. Others include involvement of the students in determining learning outcomes (needs assessment); a safe learning environment between student and teacher; careful planning in the sequence of content and its reinforcement; active learning; respect; how the students feel about their learning and how they act upon those feelings,; the immediacy of the learning; distinct roles; small group work ; engagement and assessment. Adults also require extensive feedback, continual reinforcement and ownership of their progression. (Leib, 1999; Meriam, 2001). How will this vary when teaching chemistry to adults? The course that I teach spans from KS3 to KS5, therefore the subject content, practical skills and the chemistry education knowledge gained on this course has given me excellent preparation. I think more carefully and plan more effectively to ensure that the subject content and associated practical work is explained clearly, is relevant to the students and achieves the learning required. Having been a student on this course and a novice chemistry teacher, I am more aware of how to overcome barriers to learning. The cohort of students I will be teaching is small but highly motivated, hence one of the barriers to learning has been 'lifted' a little! They range from those who have had no science/chemistry since school to one student who reads and understands research papers on a particular genetic condition that affects her son. This range of students is an advantage as one of the teaching strategies I use is to encourage peer learning. Venkataraman, (2009), has suggested that students have difficulty with chemistry because they are unable to form 'mental models' and as a result, are unable to relate molecular structure with the things that they see around them. Hence they have difficulty in seeing the relevance of chemistry in their daily lives. Venkataraman, has developed a software package that enables students to visualise molecules and their systems. Model building is a strategy that I already use in Biology classes and is something that I will continue with when teaching Chemistry. Crippen and Brooks (2009) however, have used a model of human learning (Interactive Compensatory Model of Learning, ICML) to ascertain that motivation, practice and feedback are key elements in developing expertise and concluded that prior knowledge is the 'largest predictor ' of new learning and that chemistry teachers should focus on 'motivating the students to develop a good and 'well integrated' knowledge of chemistry. Learning Chemistry involves developing expertise and deliberate practice plays a critical role in this process. Worked examples of calculations for example, are especially useful but even more so when students explain how each step in a calculation is achieved. One of the main characteristics of adult learners is relevancy and El-Faragy (2009) has proposed an applications -led method of teaching chemistry to nurses. She developed new teaching materials that used every day examples of chemistry such as medicines to illustrate the chemical concepts the students required. Each worksheet prepared built up the information required in an interesting and effective manner, introducing chemical formulae, symbols, bond formation, self assessment questions and interest boxes. The results of the study showed that the students much preferred these new materials.

The word 'learning' has been used in this paper frequently and learning styles several times. However, what is the difference between the learning styles of adults and children and why is it important? Liztinger and Osif (1992) have stated that each individual develops a consistent approach to learning that includes how knowledge is acquired (VARK), how the individual processes the information and lastly how the individuals emotions, motivations and decision making styles develop their learning style. Kolb (1984) suggested that learning styles can be cyclical, moving from involvement in a new experience to reflecting about that experience to suggest explanations on the experience and to use those theories to solve problems or make decisions. He divided learners into accommodators, divergers, assimilators or convergers. Though it is possible to evolve through these styles over time, it was suggested that learners usually rely on one style. It is important to know and understand these styles when developing new materials.

However, it is with practical work that adult learners shine. As a group of students with homes, families etc, adult learners are excited and motivated. They do not always understand why they are carrying out the investigation, despite explanations and demonstrations, but they are enthusiastic and very 'practical' in their skills. One of the main benefits of the SASP course has been acquiring new practical skills and an increase in confidence in 'having a go' at difficult experiments. It is my aim that each practical/ demonstration will have Socratic questions embedded in the method sheet so that the students understand why a procedure is necessary or so that they understand the result of a particular stage in the method. New teaching strategies in chemistry are as relevant to adult learners as they are to children and teens. Osborne, (2009) suggests that these need to be relevant and motivating, (I would also add that they should be fun), and use modern technologies and contexts. Students in general have a considerable sense of achievement (Hughes, 2004) when they have carried out an investigation and in chemistry these practical skills are essential. Practical work is an integral part of science teaching as it may lead to better understanding, however, Osborne(1988) argues that its value is limited and Hodson (1991), suggests that it is unproductive.

How is practical work important in teaching and learning? Practical activities vary in what they ask students to achieve and Millar (2009) has provided a tool that helps to clarify the objectives of the practical, its main features and how effective it is. This is the Practical Activity Analysis Inventory (PAAI)that allows both student and teacher to analyse practical effectiveness. But even deciding what 'effective' means involves consideration of not only the developer's attitudes/beliefs in science but also their beliefs of learning. So it is quite difficult to design a learning objective that will help students to form a connection between the activity itself and how it relates to theory. In general, practical work helps students to: understand the world around them (e.g. the chemistry of cooking); to learn techniques and how to use equipment; to understand theories and concepts. Practical work has been defined as ' a 'hands-on' learning experience which prompts thinking about the world in which we live', (Score, 2009a) and it has been further suggested (Score, 2009b) that practical work can be divided in to two main categories. Firstly, student -centred practical work including investigations and fieldwork to help in understanding of concepts and secondly, demonstrations, data analysis, designing/ planning and evaluating activities to enhance problem solving skills and higher order thinking. Several other activities can complement practical work, these include, visits, role-play, presentations, models and group discussions (Woodley, 2009) all of which give a holistic approach to science learning. It is essential though that practical work is effective. It is important to be absolutely sure what the students should learn from the practical and Millar (2009) has suggested that the teacher should ask the question: What do I expect the students to learn by doing this practical task that they could not learn at all or not so well, if they were merely told what happens?. Roberts (2004) supports this question and suggests that practical work is just one of many strategies in science teaching. Practical work can be used to enhance learning in three main ways: to develop practical skills, to solve problems and to encourage higher order thinking in terms of observations, predictions, evaluations, (Woolnough and Allsop, 1985; Wellington, 1998, Orger,2009). Roberts, (2004) also suggests that there are different types of practical that can be used to enhance learning and I would suggest that in order to 'cover ' all learning styles a range of these should be included in each scheme of work. Research into improving student learning in laboratories has been ongoing for some time (Johnstone, 1979; Pickering, 1987; Osborne, 2009) it was Johnstone (1979) who suggested that students should not go into a lab without mental preparation and importantly, that that preparation was just as important and required just as much thought as the course itself. So, if preparation is important for students who are part of the educational system already, how much more important is that preparation for adults returning to education? McKelvy (2000) has suggested the use of a web based package to demonstrate techniques and begin the training of students. In addition to which, students should be able to prepare for practical work by reading through and answering questions on the procedure before they come into the lab. One of the other benefits of the SASP course has helped me to decide that students should be given a booklet containing all the practical work they will carry out at the beginning of the year so that they can be prepared. The use of demonstrations/video clips will also help in learning techniques, but it is using the equipment and thinking about what is happening in the reactions that will really enhance the learning.

In conclusion, SASP has had a huge impact on my teaching encouraging me to be more reflective and make a formal record of those reflections; to think more about the motivations and fragility of adult learners and how to make practical work more effective.