I strongly believe that understanding pupils and the ways in which they learn is core to providing effective teaching. During Placement 1, I soon became aware that one of the most important elements of teaching, from the pupil's point of view, is that of inclusion. Pupils respond best when they are treated like worthy human beings, with their views and thoughts being valued within the learning environment. As a result, I made every effort to actively involve pupils within every lesson I gave; perfectly 'teacher-led' lessons were avoided at all costs.
In order to achieve my goal, serious attention was given to the decision-making process on how to achieve pupil involvement within individual lessons; with factors such as the subject or lesson content, individuals participating in the class, both my pedagogic and pupil knowledge and ideas relating to how pupils learn (Burton, 2005, Unit 5.1) all being considered.
Two individual episodes of pupil learning as a result of my own personal teaching contribution(s) will now be detailed, with focus being placed on the purpose of the teaching methods and styles used and the resultant impact on pupils' learning being demonstrated.
Having observed numerous lessons throughout my initial Induction Block, I quickly realised that pupils learn best when demonstrations and meaningful feedback are utilised; presenting pupils with lessons predominantly consisting of 'teacher-talk' proved inefficient within my subject - Technical Education.
Focusing on the use of demonstration - a type of experimental teaching approach (Leask and Moorhouse, 2005, Unit 1.1) - I will now discuss a practical workshop lesson in which I introduced a new power tool to my 3rd year class. The class were working on constructing a storage box, with my lesson occurring towards the end of the project.
In prior lessons, I observed the teacher demonstrating the use of the tools required to construct their boxes. However, despite the use of teacher demonstration, pupils persistently required further individual assistance before being able to successfully execute the technique. Having witnessed this, I decided to alter my approach when introducing the new power tool - the orbital sander. This piece of equipment is relatively simple to use, however the fact that it is a power tool puts some pupils on edge. Thus, I felt that the best way to teach the pupils how to operate the sander both safely and effectively would be to not only demonstrate the tool myself but to involve the pupils within the demonstration.
Consequently, I gathered all pupils around a workbench and demonstrated the correct way to operate the sander. Although rather than instructing all pupils to return to their benches and continue with their boxes - as their class teacher did at this point - I proceeded to get the pupils involved by asking members of the class to volunteer and show myself and the class the way in which they thought the sander should be used. Thus allowing me to provide formative feedback to the pupils in terms of improving their technique as well as evaluating the extent of pupil learning.
This approach proved to be very successful, as pupils were engaged within the lesson and were enthusiastic in relation to getting involved within the demonstration. Moreover, pupils were able to work more independently than in previous lessons and were also able to assist less able pupils within the class; overall pupil performance was improved through the use of active learning (Allen, Taylor and Turner, 2005, Unit 5.2).
"The greatest progress in learning occurs when effective, clear, relevant and focused formative feedback is provided"
(Buchanan and Huczynski, 2004)
Research reveals that human behaviour, motivation, achievement, personality and self-esteem all impact the activity of learning (Burton, 2005, Unit 5.1). One way of attaining a positive impact on learning, involving motivation, achievement and self-esteem is the use of individual pupil feedback within lessons. This was a technique I aimed to adopt myself as I found the use of feedback contributed to pupil learning since it promotes self-assessment, enabling pupils to control their own learning; becoming self-monitoring, self-regulating learners (Moreland, Jones and Barlex, 2008).
During a design lesson with a 1st year class, in which the class were working on generating ideas for their game project, I made use of formative assessment. Having recapped the previous day's lesson; to "establish prior learning" (Cohen and Manion, 2004) and delivered the lesson objectives, I made use of formative assessment by circulating the room, observing the pupils at work. This created the opportunity for me to issue feedback on an individual level, allowing me to praise pupils who were accomplishing the task as desired, at the same time as giving help and direction to those pupils experiencing difficulty. I found this technique to be beneficial to both teaching and learning as I was able to gauge the level of understanding that had been achieved through mentally and visually assessing all pupils' work. Pupils responded positively to the feedback they were given, which in the end resulted in higher quality designs being produced by the class.
In addition to formative feedback, I also incorporated peer assessment within this specific lesson, once again as a means of providing feedback to the pupils. With regards to the generation of ideas, I assigned pupils 10 minutes to complete this task, using a visual timer displayed on the whiteboard as a means of keeping to time. Once the allocated time was up, I made use of active learning through pupil involvement, in which pupils volunteered to re-draw one of their designs on the whiteboard for other pupils to assess in the form of providing one positive and negative aspect of their peer's design. Once again, all pupils enjoyed participating in this task and the class ethos was positive; pupil's felt valued and proud as a result of making their opinions known and so, the motivation and self-esteem of the pupils increased also.
Subsequently, utilising demonstration and feedback techniques, contribute to providing a high quality of teaching and learning as pupils can "learn better if they are actively engaged in the learning process" (Zwozdiak-Myers and Capel, 2005).
Consider the language used in teacher-pupil exchanges
Stemming back to my Induction Block and the result of observing numerous lessons, one factor which I was extremely aware of was that of teacher-pupil communication. With regards to communication, one aspect which I soon realised could not be taken for granted was that of the language, particularly vocabulary, used within the learning environment.
On numerous occasions, I witnessed pupils experiencing difficulties in understanding the vocabulary used by the class teacher, this problem soon occurring within my own lessons. During a design lesson with a 2nd year class, I used the word 'consistent' in reference to pages within their design folios. Before using this word I did not consider the fact that some pupils may not understand what this actually meant. I automatically assumed that I would be understood.
Instead, I was met with 17 blank faces; not one pupil had encountered this 'new' word before. This occurrence taught me a valuable lesson; never assume anything with regards to language or vocabulary when communicating with pupils. From here on in, language was central to my lessons, as if pupils did not understand the language used in the lesson the lesson became void.
Realising that I had not been understood, I rephrased my instruction using the word 'same' in place of 'consistent'. All 17 pupils now responded and understood my instruction. This the result of using a simplified vocabulary, suited to the needs of the pupils; something that I aimed to use from this point onwards.
As a result of such experiences, I realised that literacy and communication were not solely the responsibility of the English Department; I too had an important role to play within my own subject. I was now extremely aware of the fact that 'Literacy Across the Curriculum' (LTS Website, 2009), stemming from A Curriculum for Excellence, was inescapable as literacy is the:
"â€¦set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society and in learning, through the different forms of languageâ€¦"
(LTS Website, 2009)
Thus, each and every subject is responsible for equipping pupils with their own set of subject-specific skills and language.
Consequently, I believe that it is imperative for pupils to have a grasp of the subject vocabulary as various terms within Technical can often have different meanings when used in other subjects e.g. in Technical, a ruler is referred to as a (steel) rule when used in the workshop. This often causes confusion with pupils, as the word 'rule' is not associated with a measuring instrument. Furthermore, it is my view that gradually building a subject vocabulary greatly aids pupils in their future school and working life, particularly if the pupil selects the subject at examination level.
As a method of enforcing this view, I decided to run a trial with my 3rd year design class - this class being selected as they would soon be sitting examinations within the subject. The aim of this trial was for the pupils to have established a technical-specific vocabulary in relation to 'design factors' over the course of my teaching block. The reasoning behind selecting the topic 'design factors' is that design factors must always be referred to by their 'proper' technical name within examination situations.
During a brainstorming exercise in which the class were completing an analysis of a games console controller, it became apparent that my initial thoughts were correct and that vocabulary relating to design factors had been previously untouched. Within this exercise, the design factor 'aesthetics' featured predominantly. Pupils were capable of correctly identifying the features of the controller with regards to aesthetics; colour, shape appearanceâ€¦ but they were unable to gather all relevant terms together under their collective heading. I soon became aware that the reason for this was that the term had never been introduced or linked to the concept by anyone else in the years previously; thus I had introduced a 'new word' for a concept the pupils were already aware of.
At this point I realised that my trial was definitely worthwhile; this group of pupils were due to sit 3rd year examinations in the coming months, yet they were oblivious to the actual content required for gaining marks within their exam. Thus, I was able to establish a mutual understanding between the pupils and myself as to why subject-specific vocabulary was so important in terms of communication within the learning environment and subject success within examinations.
Hence, over the coming weeks I introduced ten design factors to the class, ensuring I clearly explained their meanings by linking them to the lesson content e.g. when a pupil answered "that it does what it is supposed to do" in response to "what do you think is most important about this product for the customer?" I introduced the design factor 'function'. This enabled me to improve pupils' subject vocabulary through linking language to content and vice versa.
Finally, as a means of assessing the outcome of the trial, I used questioning techniques at both the end of the lesson as a summary technique and at the beginning of the next lesson as a means of establishing prior learning. An overall topic test was issued to the pupils in week 6, this providing both pupils and myself with solid summative feedback regarding the value of the trial.
"Children learn by talking and listening and should be given more opportunity to talkâ€¦Present talking is future thinking"
Moving away from the language used within the learning environment, two additional techniques that I adopted frequently were that of discussion and open questioning. In the words of Cohen et al (2004) open questioning is "a tool for teachers to help pupils focus and clarifyâ€¦" this tool being used by myself after introducing a concept, issuing instructions or when recapping lessons.
Based on classroom experiences and pupil feedback, I soon became aware that asking questions such as "do you understand?" or "is that clear for everyone?" both of which are closed questions, the responses I received more often than not did not truly represent some pupil's actual understanding. Thus, through issuing clear, straightforward instructions and information, and proceeding to check understanding of such using open questions I was able to elicit the true extent of pupil understanding within my class. Additionally, I embraced open questions as they result in less 'teacher-talk' within lessons, promoting pupil involvement through talk (Sutton, 1992).
Moreover, having used the open questioning technique, I encouraged pupil-pupil interaction through the use of class discussions. This proved to be extremely beneficial as pupil confidence increased as a result of knowledge transfer amongst peers (peer learning): pupils were no longer embarrassed to contribute to the lesson whether they knew answers or not and were happy to be corrected by either myself or their peers within the group environment. Consequently, both techniques helped to further establish a mutual understanding between the pupils and myself with regards to communication within the classroom.
Analyse the support offered to staff and pupils and appraise its effectiveness
My placement school was inspected in April 2007 by HMIe as part of a national sample of secondary school education. Within the findings of their report, HMIe stated a key strength within the school as being "well targeted partnerships to support pupils, staff and families" (HMIe, 2007), this being a statement which I fully support.
In my opinion, the support network in operation within my placement school - consisting of internal and external support organisations - is indispensable: without the care, attention and dedication from all staff involved within the support network, the school would not function as well as it currently does and the individual needs of all pupils, especially the most vulnerable, would be in jeopardy.
Multiple deprivation within the school catchment area results in a very 'mixed bag' of pupils attending my placement school. Some of these pupils are extremely disruptive within classes as a result of poor upbringings and a lack of discipline being enforced within the home. Furthermore, my school has a wide range of academic abilities across its pupil population, with some S2 pupils having only attained level A in Maths and English (Placement School Records): level C being appropriate for S1.
As a result of this, the school has a strong Additional Support Needs team who are supported by both Senior Management and Pastoral Care. The large Support for Learning (ASN) department consists of a principle teacher, learning support teachers and learning assistants. The department caters for all needs, particularly focusing on learning and behavioural issues, and supports both pupils and teaching staff alike.
During my placement I soon became aware of how invaluable the Support for Learning (ASN) department was. Within various lessons which I taught, I had pupils in my class who were assigned a learning assistant. On one particular occasion, before a practical workshop lesson, I was made aware of the fact that a 3rd year pupil with severe learning and behavioural needs was being re-introduced to my class during the next lesson, having been excluded for the 6 weeks previous. When it came to the period, the said pupil arrived at the class as did the learning assistant. Over the course of the previous 6 weeks, in which the pupil had been working in the Learning Support Base, the pupil had demonstrated an interest in practical based subjects, hence the trial re-integration occurring during a Craft and Design workshop lesson.
During the course of the lesson, said pupil was extremely anxious but enthusiastic at the same time. This posed potential danger within the workshop environment, for not only the pupil himself but for the rest of the class and myself. Nonetheless, the learning assistant was prepared for this situation and was able to use prior knowledge of the pupil to get him calmed down and working safely. As a new teacher who the pupil had never encountered, I was unable to reason with him as he informed me "but you're not my real teacher so I'll only do what he (the learning assistant) tells me". Thus, the relationship between the pupil and his learning assistant was untouchable during my practical, and potentially dangerous lesson.
With regards to pupils who have literacy problems, the Support for Learning (ASN) department provides yet another invaluable tool known as "Toe by Toe" (Cowling and Cowling, 1993). "Toe by Toe" is a programme designed to help pupils greatly improve their reading levels - through paired reading and the use of monitored progress - irrespective of the nature of the pupil's literacy issue. During my placement I was able to participate in the programme, acting as a reading 'buddy' to a group of 3 pupils. By the end of my 6 weeks, I witnessed all 3 pupils make vast improvements in their reading; all 3 pupils had increased their literacy abilities by one level on the 5-14 scale and their English teacher also noted improvements in terms of their confidence to participate in class, especially when reading aloud.
Therefore, I believe the Support for Learning (ASN) department within my placement school is a highly effective resource which deserves infinite praise as I thoroughly believe education is for all; without support, certain pupils may well be 'lost in the loop', thus being detrimental to their personal, social and academic development.
The main form of external support, aimed at pupils and their families within my placement school is the Pupil & Family Support Unit. This unit, the result of a pilot scheme within the West Dunbartonshire area, was set-up as a way of reaching out to pupils and families alike, with the overall aim being to provide assistance to the most vulnerable families who require assistance.
The service is completely voluntary; pupils and their families decide whether or not to take the help on offer and it is support workers - not teachers - who liase both within school and the home. The unit, consisting of 5 support workers, is based within the school and staff are on-call at all times to attend emergencies both in and out of school. The unit liases with other external organisations such as social work, the police, housing units and health centres in order to gain a full understanding of individual family needs, ensuring the best support is provided.
Having spent a day in the unit during my placement, I encountered some of the scenarios - each of which vary - that they deal with daily. The severity of some issues which they face was certainly an eye-opener for myself. It was at this point I realised just how important and necessary this support unit is; if families do not accept assistance, the consequences may be unthinkable.
Thus, I strongly believe that such support can have an extremely positive impact on teaching and learning, as pupils can be re-integrated into school through this scheme and vulnerable families can be monitored and properly cared for. The best results occur when internal and external work together in my opinion.
Discuss factors - both in and out of school - which shape pupils' behaviour and progress
In order to discuss factors which shape pupils' behaviour and progress, I will begin by discussing factors out of school. My placement school is situated within an area of extreme deprivation and in my opinion, deprivation is a factor heavily influencing most, if not all other factors within any school; mainly influencing factors such as pupil behaviour, attainment and attendance within my placement school.
My placement school is situated in the Alexandria area of West Dunbartonshire. Alexandria is currently within the 15% of most deprived areas in Scotland (SIMD, 2009). With respect to deprivation, West Dunbartonshire and in particular Alexandria, suffer from multiple deprivation issues such as high levels of unemployment, council housing and problems with alcohol/drug misuse.
Firstly, many of the pupils attending my placement school receive free school meals - a recognised indicator of high poverty levels. Government figures (LTS Website, 2009) show that 12.7% of pupils within Scotland receive free school meals. Focusing on West Dunbartonshire, this figure rises to 16.2% and also to 13.3% with respect to my placement school.
One other feature common within West Dunbartonshire is that of broken homes. This coupled with the previous factors, can once again affect the education of some pupils. This type of social situation is in high occurrence with pupils attending my placement school. Pupils from such backgrounds often lack in social skills, thus they cannot interact with their peers and display poor and disruptive behaviour: both of which have a negative impact on teaching and learning and may require the class teacher to change their lesson approach.
Unfortunately, some pupils from such backgrounds lead very stressful and chaotic lives, directly affecting their academic performance. With respect to academic performance, my placement school had the lowest number of S5 Higher Grade passes in the West Dunbartonshire area, with only 5% of pupils gaining five or more passes (LTS Website, 2009). Evidently, deprivation is a major socio-economic factor in shaping pupil progress and behaviour.
"Parental involvement associated with pupil progress has its major effect in
(Desforges and Abouchaar, 2003)
In terms of parental involvement: the extent of which is strongly influenced by family social class, maternal level of education and material deprivation amongst others (Desforges, 2003), many pupils attending my placement school are not in receipt of any form of support or motivation from their families. This attitude stems from the parent's personal experiences at school; another socio-economic factor influencing child achievement at school (Davis-Kean, 2005). Consequently, it is challenging for some pupils to motivate themselves academically, as the parents are often not concerned if their child regularly attends school or not being put off by feeling put down themselves by schools and teachers (Desforges, 2003).
In relation to pupil attendance, my placement school has a rate of authorised absences across all year groups, which is higher than both the national and West Dunbartonshire averages. The highest rates occur from S3, S4 and S5 - 10.5%, 11.6% and 10.9% respectively - (LTS Website, 2009) with these being considered as critical school years.
Absence is detrimental to pupil progress as if pupils are not in class they are not learning, often leading to behavioural issues developing. When the pupil returns to class they are oblivious as to what is being or has been covered, commonly resulting in disruption for the rest of the class. Class teachers are often required to repeat lessons, which can be detrimental to the remainder of pupils in the class as their progression occurs at a slower pace. This was a common occurrence within my placement school as I found myself often having to repeat elements of previous lessons as a result of persistent pupil absence. However, I quickly aimed to combat such problems through utilising differentiation techniques to ensure the individual needs of each pupil were met and that the rest of the class were not being held back due to persistent absentees.
Despite the factors out of school being predominantly negative, there are various factors in school that aim to have a positive impact on pupil progress and behaviour.
Within my placement school, a house system is in operation. This house system operates throughout all year groups and aims to get all pupils actively involved in school life. All pupils are encouraged to be involved in house activities e.g. house football matches and sponsored events, with the hope being that pupils will gain a sense of responsibility and become more motivated within the school. I can most definitely say that the pupils who actively participated in this system displayed a greater level of maturity and motivation within the learning environment. This results in the majority of pupils striving to work hard and do well, thus it boosts morale and has a positive impact on teaching, learning and development.
One other factor, which is crucial in shaping pupil progress and behaviour, is that of equality. Implementing and ensuring equality in both the whole school and the learning environment involves the recognition and value of pupils' language, gender, culture, prior knowledge and personal circumstances to ensure fairness and objectivity. The house system in operation at my placement school promotes equality, as the system is inclusive; it is aimed at both boys and girls, across all year groups. All pupils are presented with the same opportunities and are encouraged to work together; no one pupil is valued more than any other pupil. Once again, I found that the house system boosted school ethos and the pupils who took an interest were full of school and team spirit, both of which aid with pupil progression and behaviour.
To conclude, it its evident that there are numerous ways in which a teacher influences a pupil, likewise, there are various influences within the school environment which impact on teaching and learning. However, it was my intention within all four parts outlined previously to highlight the influences which I have selected; all relating to my school experience, and the value of such with respect to pupils' education. Thus, I hope to have successfully fulfilled my aim.