Summary

I consider that as an Early Years professional and student teacher that I must reflect on my practice and ensure that I keep up-to-date with educational theories and research. My involvement in writing blogs has assisted me in these areas. The process of writing a blog was new to me, and I must admit that I found the ‘blogging’ process enjoyable. Committing my thoughts to written words helped me to clarify my understanding of three main areas within my Early Years teaching. Throughout my writing I aimed to challenge my thinking through reading and critiquing my thoughts. I believe firstly that I have developed a deeper level of understanding in the marking of assessment and the vital role of providing appropriate feedback to students. Secondly, I have come to fully appreciate how essential it is to engage students in the learning process. I recognise that students who experience barriers to learning need a teacher to work hard in personalising their learning, to enable them to achieve their potential. Thirdly, I have had the opportunity to closely examine my values and beliefs in regard to teaching. It was interesting to determine that a teacher may need to adapt their stance in various given circumstances to ensure that they are fulfilling executing their duties. The three main areas I have explored in my blogs has undoubtedly aided my own professional development, but it also has the benefit of the fact that it is contributing to a pool of ideas in Early Years and teaching. My personal reflections could be of interest to others in the education sphere. The subject of Early Years within education is continually evolving. I wish to be a part of development of these ideas, and I feel that writing blogs helps. Contributing to these exciting aspects of discussion and debate within Early Years and teaching.

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(Strategies for Personalised Learning) PS 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14

My Level 1 students (16 – 45 years) received their first assignment feedback and grade (Resubmission or Pass) for their course. The majority of students in the class did not pass their assignment on their first attempt. A number of individuals embraced the feedback they were given, and stated that it aided their determination to make the changes required to achieve the grade of a pass. For others however, the ‘no pass’ result upset them emotionally, which then hindered their motivation to continue with their studies.

In previous assignment support sessions (before the hand-in date), many students were finding it a challenge to use both their knowledge and notes from previous sessions. The majority of students struggled to form written narratives for set tasks in their assignment. I had the opportunity during assignment support sessions to support students on a 1:1 basis. It was interesting to listen to different students; the trending comments were ‘I can’t do this! I’m going to fail! I’m dumb’, ‘I don’t know English, I fail every exam, I don’t understand what I write’, ‘I don’t know how to write it, I can’t spell anything right, I might as well just leave this course’. Such negative statements were highly emotive, and were indicating personal struggles; particularly a lack of confidence in their ability, often stemming from previous experiences and of failure within the education system.

It is important to recognise that the Level 1 group have a large spectrum of needs; many have come from disadvantaged backgrounds needing both social and emotional support. Special Educational Needs are very evident; a number of students have dyslexia, one has been recently diagnosed with Autism. As well as, the fact that some students have had poor educational experiences at school. Many students are still working towards obtaining a Functional Skills Qualifications in English and Maths, both of which are vital to enable students to succeed in gaining a qualification in their chosen profession (Learn Direct 2013).

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (1994) suggests that external influences from different ecosystem layers such as relationships with family members (microsystem), to school experience (mesosystem), impact upon child development, effecting how individuals might view themselves and interact with the world. Whilst some aspects of students learning may be genetically influenced, it is important to acknowledge that past experiences and personal backgrounds may influence how students interact with their learning. Though it is important to recognise the issues outside of individuals, Hill (2005) criticises Bronfenbrenner’s theory as failing to recognise that individuals have their own agency, they create their own identity and make choices for example, who they confide in and gain support from within their ecosystems. Environmental factors are multifaceted and constantly changing, as part of a teacher’s role, it is important not to make definitive judgements and recognise the complexity of factors that affect individuals they teach and sensitively support them to ensure the right conditions for learning.

I felt that the students ultimately needed to be listened to, to be given an opportunity to discuss their feeling and emotions. I am a student lecturer and can appreciate the stress of dealing with assessments; writing assignments and receiving feedback can be challenging, and has the potential to negatively affect the emotions of an individual; both negative and positive emotions can affect judgement (Hargreaves 2000). As a teacher, I know that it is important to encourage students to reflect on their work and their feelings, in a bid to help guide those emotions. As Mortiboy (2012: 9-10) states a teachers who exhibits ‘the personal qualities of genuineness, empathy and acceptance with learners would bring about, by fact alone, change in their learners’; emotional intelligence is a vital quality in a teacher as it can bring change. Goleman’s (1995) ‘emotional intelligence’ theory says that emotion plays a crucial role in performance; a level of skill is needed to identify, assess and assist emotions to develop into thought processes. Goleman identified 5 types of emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy and social skills – each type is an emotional intelligence that is learnt. When support was available some students were able to utilise this support in order to achieve a level of comfort, enabling them to attempt to act on the feedback they had been given. Unfortunately, a number of students with poor literacy skills were almost immediately deterred from progressing, as the word processing system highlighted their spelling and grammar errors. Thus, demonstrating that emotions around poor literacy skills are deep rooted in individuals; support using emotional intelligence strategies is limited and a measure that would need to be exercised over a long length of time.

It is generally well known that having low-level literacy skills is also associated with a limited vocabulary base. Low-level literacy skills in this area are impeding a number of students’ ability to convey ideas, particularly in a written form, as it is more challenging to find the words needed from memory (Hall et al 2014). ‘Spelling is a learnt skill’ and draws on ‘phonological knowledge, orthographic knowledge, morphological knowledge, etymological knowledge, and visual knowledge’ (Andoniou 2014:145). Students have three basic needs according to the Self-Determination Theory (SDT); to relate to others, to feel competent and autonomous (Ryan and Deci 2000; Hornstra et al 2015). Low-level literacy skills impair any feeling of being autonomous and competent in the process of writing. A written assignment that can meet all the assessment criteria may not be possible for numerous students. Hence, it is imperative that strategies are put in place to enable students to develop their literacy. Furthermore, for the basic needs of SDT to be met, the learning environment needs to be humanistic (Ryan and Niemiec 2009), which fosters the emotional intelligence (Mortiboy 2012).

I can empathise with this class and their personal struggles. As one of their teachers, I really want to make a difference. I strive to help their learning and their ability to address assessment criteria effectively to ensure that they are capable of passing the assessment. In my role as a trainee teacher, I am unable to influence how assessments are performed. Students may be able to satisfy assessment criteria by voicing their ideas on video, having a professional conversation or employing in a practical activity. Alternative modes of assessment may be useful in accessing what a student actually knows. The greatest factor hindering students is the writing process as they struggle to express what they know, particularly in a narrative genre that is of suitable quality to meet the given criteria.

A common feature that emerges during assignment support sessions and when marking student work, is that Level 1 students rely on copying and pasting extracts of information they have found online. Blocks of copied text emerge in their assignment, used as an alternative to their own words. The students when questioned comment ‘they say it better than me’. I have witnessed students’ continuously switching back and forth between screens; from their word processing document to an array of Googled websites. Even though the class had been given advice, as well as a dedicated lesson on the topic of Plagiarism, the behaviour of copying and pasting still exists. A student who may lack confidence in their literacy skills, may well be enticed to use the evidence from a website. It may appear as an effective method of fulfilling assessment criteria, but the students need to develop a greater understanding of how to use sources without employing plagiarism. The lack of confidence some students have in that literacy skills is a barrier to learning and achievement. Removing such barriers is difficult. Teachers need to devise creative approaches to tackle this issue. Possible strategies I could use are:

Read and Write Technology

Read and write technology is a tangible resource which may help me extend my provision to enable students who lack confidence in their literacy skills or have a learning difficultly, to help them to express themselves more readily. Swanson and Hsieh (2009) have proven that individuals with Dyslexia have problems with spelling and reading. Written assessments are a favoured assessment method in education, unfortunately, spelling and grammatical errors do impact on marking and can result in a lower grade (Farmer et al 2002). Top et al (2013) advocate that learners’ with learning difficulties should be entitled to text-processing software.

  1. Text help Read and Write technology will highlight and read aloud from word documents. Alternatively, some versions of text help have voice recognition technology that will transcribe what has been spoken.
  2. Dragon Naturally Speaking Dictaphones follows a similar principle, using voice recognition technology to transcribe speech. This enables learners’ to convey their understanding, without spelling hindering the meaning of what they are trying to say. I have noticed that some of my students tend to avoid words they cannot spell; this may be a tool to enable them to use their full lexicon range and possibly develop it by incorporating new vocabulary they have learnt in class.
  3. Coloured keyboard letters may allow individuals to visually recognise the letters written on the keyboard more clearly, enabling them to spell a word with greater ease.

(Loftus 2009)

 

Break down assignments into manageable chucks

Writing is a highly complex activity (Adoniou 2013); bringing together ideas and learnt information from class sessions. The writing needs to be coherent and have a meaningful context whilst also suitably fitting assessment criteria. I appreciate how writing for assessment is challenging, and how this can create emotional anxiety as students seek to meet these expectations in a bid to achieve certain grades.

  1. Highlight key words prior to writing an assignment, to ensure the key words of the written assessment stand out, are clear at first glance
  2. Ensure the meaning of the key words are understood and not misinterpreted by mind-mapping the meaning of the words
  3. Write a structured plan Level 1 assignments are usually broken up into three tasks, working on one task at a time to avoid confusion of task aims. Labelling what information needs to go in which section using short hand notes, post-it notes, bullet pointed ideas in a methodical order. My students’ are all different, which demands that the methods used to help structure work would need to be tailored to the individual needs.

(Greasley 2011, Top et al 2013)

Add an emphasis on Embedding English in class sessions

Embedding English into Further Education is already a requirement set by the Department of Education (2015). As Sharrock (2016:8) describes, embedding is the process of developing English, Mathematics and ICT skills within the teaching vocational subjects, to develop ‘confidence, competence and motivation’. By incorporating English and making it relevant to vocational learning, learners get to practice skills in a meaningful context. I have employed various methods to help embed English, for example:

  1. Glossary boards the teacher records key words on a whiteboard/flip paper throughout the session to allow students to write, reinforce and revisit words
  2. Match up cards word and definitions; to help reinforce the meaning of important work-related words
  3. Crosswords and Word searches to confirm the structure of important words
  4. Group Spelling when an individual asks how to spell a word, it may be useful to get all students’ to focus on the word, either how it is spelt or think of synonyms and words with similar meaning.

(Sharrock 2016)

All of these ideas are useful, but need to be used carefully to ensure that embedding English is ‘natural’ part of the lesson, not a shoehorned exercise.

Adoniou, M. (2014) What should teachers know about spelling? Literacy. 48 (3). Pp 144-154

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994) Ecological models of human development. In, International Encyclopedia of Education. Volume 3. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier. Pp. 1643- 1647

Department for Education (2015) Increasing provision in English and maths in FE colleges [Online] Available from:  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/increasing-provision-in-english-and-mathematics-through-planning [Accessed 5th March 2017]

Farmer, M., Riddick, B.,and Sterling, C. (2002). Dyslexia and inclusion, assessment and support in higher education. Philadelphia, PA: Whurr Publishers.

Greasley, P. (2011) Doing essays and assignments: essential tips for students. London: SAGE

Hall, R., Greenberg, D., Laures-Gore, J., & Pae, H. K. (2014). The relationship between expressive vocabulary knowledge and reading skills for adult struggling readers. Journal of Research in Reading, 37, 87–100.

Hill, J. (2005). Work-family facilitation and conflict, working fathers and mothers, work-family stressors and support. Journal of Family Issues 26(6), Pp. 793-819.

Hornstra, L., Mansfield, C., van der Veen, I., Peetsma, T. and Volman, M. (2015) Motivational teacher strategies: the role of beliefs and contextual factors. Learning Environment Resources. 18. 363-392

Learning Direct (2013) A Guide to Functional Skills. [Online] Available from: http://www.learndirect.com/business/news-events/press-releases/2013-3/march-2013/a-guide-to-functional-skills/ [Accessed 11th March 2017]

Loftus, T. (2009) Supporting Student’s with Dyslexia.  Practical guidelines for institutions of further and higher education. AHEAD Educational Press. [Online] Available from: https://www.ahead.ie/userfiles/files/shop/pay/DyslexiaHandbook.pdf [Accessed 5th March 2017]

Mortiboys, A. (2012) A step by step guide for higher education and further education professionals. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge

Ryan, R. M., and Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67.

Ryan, R.M. and Niemiec, C.P. (2009) Self-determination theory in schools of education. Theory and Research Education. 7 (2). Pp. 263-272

Swanson, L., and Hsieh, C.J. (2009). Reading disabilities in adults: A selective meta-analysis of the Literature. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1362–1390.

 

(Marking assessments and providing feedback) PS 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14

The College internally moderates teachers’ marking of student assessments. It is important for all educational establishments to thoroughly moderate the assessments that teachers’ make. The College wish to ensure that assessment levels assigned to students have integrity, as it is vital to maintain student, teacher and public confidence and set a level of quality for courses (Miller 2000). Bloxham (2009:4) claims that internal moderation is ‘a process for assuring that an assessment outcome is valid, fair and reliable and that marking criteria have been applied consistently’; assessment is an essential requirement that ensures a level of validity and reliability, a procedure crucial to enhancing the quality of learning. An Internal moderator should take an objective stance to assess whether the marker’s judgements and decisions about a student’s work are correct, fair and in accordance with qualification specification (Gravell 2016).

Brooks (2012:63) argues that too much emphasis is placed on assessment, particularly on ensuring reliability through standardisation. Yet, little attention is given to the ‘nature of judgement’ when coming to assessment conclusions. Though internal moderation acknowledges the subjective nature of assessment; it is governed by teacher judgement and perspective (Price et al 2011). It has been argued that no level of internal moderation of assessment against criteria or standards can be completely valid and reliable (Wyatt-Smith et al 2010). Bloxham et al (2011) revealed that teachers tended to make their assessment decisions based on a holistic perspective as opposed to an analytical one solely based on criterion: thus highlighting that the marking and feedback process is one that is difficult to simplify, as numerous external variables may impact upon teachers’ judgements.

Marking assessments has proved to be a challenge for me, as a trainee teacher. The fact that I know the students as individuals influenced my thought process. Marking I suspect would be less emotive process and possibly less of a challenge, if the students were anonymous. I had not expected a vast range of issues arising from the students’ work. Marking assessments was a huge challenge, as students’ had written answers that varied significantly, with some individuals being precise and to the point, whilst others wrote very lengthy answers but barely met the criteria, then others that narrowly missed the criteria. Amongst the assessments there were issues with spelling, punctuation, plagiarism, incorrect use of quotes, as well as referencing errors. The Marking of assessment I had believed was essentially a logical process, but it also became an emotional process for me. Placing a judgement on students’ work in order to define their grade, demonstrates that I approached this task with caution, as I experienced moments of uncertainty. Brooks (2012:66), would suggest that by being a novice to marking, I would be reliant on following rule-based guidelines that cause me to deliberate and scrutinise work, which ‘entails multiple rereads of text, pauses, hesitations and recourse to the mark scheme…to resolve their uncertainty’, this fully expresses the process I went through, being a trainee teacher I recognise I have a lot to learn, marking so far has been the greatest challenge.

Two samples of my marking were moderated by the College and subsequently Internally Verified. I was delighted with the feedback that I was given. It was commented, Excellent feedback to the student, very clear and concise. I feel that the student will be able to use the feedback to improve their assignment.’ The time I devoted to marking individual assessment was aimed at ensuring that my grading was fair. I wished to ensure that feedback I gave was both constructive and motivating, I was determined to be thorough, and avoid mistakes. In preparing myself for the marking process, I reviewed previously marked work (by my colleagues) to gauge the style and content of the marking. This process helped put me at ease; the College had a standardised marking code system, which I felt was fair and manageable. I believed that I would be fully capable of marking students’ work to a similar standard. However, Hand and Clewes (2000) would argue that due to the power relation difference between myself the trainee teacher and the experienced teachers (colleague), my decisions during the marking process would most likely be influenced by my colleagues’ style rather than my own. Through the process of reviewing previously marked work would influence some of my decisions, I believe I am my own agent; my personal and professional judgement would be the dominant factor influencing my marking.

I also thought the actions I was asked to address were fair ‘You have told her which criteria she has met and which she is working towards. You just need to make it clear that her grade is currently a ‘referral’ by writing this. Can you also praise her for working towards her aspirational grade please (which is a grade C)’, it is those extra pieces of advice which will make the grading system transparent, as well as individually relevant to each student. The acknowledgement of a student’s efforts to reach an aspirational grade may help motivate the student to act on the advice given, to enable a higher level achievement. However, Dweck (2012) would argue that a students’ motivation is dependent upon their ‘growth mind-set’; an individual needs to be intrinsically motivated and believe in their ability to want improve and take the advice given. Hattie and Timperley (2007:69) would warn that the use of praise in feedback needs to be carefully constructed, because if praise is directed at the individual it detracts from task, but if the praise is aligned to effort and engagement in the performance of a task, it can promote self-efficiency in learning. Findlater (2016:39) explains that there are different types of marking and feedback, the most effective type is dependent upon the your marking approach and experience with using a variety of types of feedback; a teacher should reflect on what feedback work best in enhancing student learning. Essentially, it is time, experience and reflection that is needed to fully enhance my own practice in regard to marking and providing feedback. However, I am aware that a certain type of feedback that may work for one student, may not work for another. Thus, it is important to know your student, this will inform the context and type of marking style used.

Once the assessment the results were released a week later, I found that the feedback from students was mixed. I was surprised by two students who approached me before our lesson; one said ‘Jenny! You are so cute!’, ‘I love your comments on my work, where you say I did well on certain criteria’. The other student said ‘yeah, you are so nice. When I read that you enjoyed reading my work, it made me feel like it was all worthwhile’, this brought a smile to my face and I was glad my comments had been read and valued. I was careful with my comments, I did not liberally apply personalised comments and praise, I used them with genuine regard for the students’ standard of work. As Gulston (2016) says ‘marking should help to motivate pupils to progress. This does not mean always writing in-depth comments or being universally positive: sometimes short, challenging comments or oral feedback are more effective’, but in this instance positivity in my marking proved to have an impact on my students’ emotions, potentially improving their confidence. Findlater (2016) warns that words of encouragement in marking are overused, it will have a detrimental effect on student confidence should standards not be met in their work on another occasion. Encouraging feedback therefore should be used only when an aspect of a students’ work is particularly significant and worth celebrating.

At the end of the same session one student stayed behind to talk to me, they said ‘Jenny, I’m not going to lie, I was devastated by my mark, I really thought I did a good job and would pass’, ‘When I saw you did not pass me, my heart dropped’, I appreciated that the student was being honest and felt they could approach me, I sensed she needed to be listened to and given reassurance. I remembered marking this individual’s work; parts were rushed with key points missing or misinterpreted. Some of the criteria were close to being completed but more clarity was needed. The student said that my comments made sense; she could see why I wrote them. It was the surprise and disappointment of the result that she felt hard to deal with. Saddler (2009) emphasises that one flaw in having set criterion in assessment, is that students and teachers will have different interpretations of it. This feedback is evidence that the student had a different interpretation to my own. This also highlights to me just how vitally important it is when teaching to be clear about the expectations of assessment criteria. But it also makes me wary of planning sessions that promote learning for assessment as opposed assessment for learning. How much should teaching prepare students for assessment? There needs to be balance should and be determined by the students’ needs.

I could fully empathise with this student; the expression of emotion from the students’ brings out the humanistic side of me. I can see the student’s vulnerability, and feel an element of vulnerability myself. A lot rests on achieving a pass mark; I genuinely want positive outcomes for all of my students’. The feedback needs to helpful and effective in enabling students’ to move forward in their learning. But every student has their own learning journey to follow, their level of ability and knowledge will vary; indicating that their outcomes of achievement will be different also. As a teacher, I recognise that I am on the journey with my students; my influence can have both positive and negative effects on them. I strive to enable all students’ to achieve positive results, but I am aware that this is an idealistic concept. It is important to remain realistic, and demonstrate integrity when marking student assessments.

Interestingly, a recent BBC (2016) report stated Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb (BBC 2012), thinks teachers waste too much time on marking, giving unnecessary feedback to students, suggesting a simple grade is all that is needed.  I recognise the process of marking is time-consuming and cumbersome; however I consider written feedback vital to improving student performance. To simply grade work without feedback could limit a student’s personal progression in learning. Burke and Pierterick (2010) discuss written feedback, explaining that it is grounded in the constructivist theory. It is feedback which helps to scaffold further learning, highlighting gaps in learning, and allows for an achievable goal to be met. In essence written feedback on task-related work provides a more student centred approach to learning, as opposed to issuing a grade that may categorise a student.

I have contemplated at length the student responses I received. I believe if I had simply graded students with no written feedback, I doubt whether a positive relationship would have been developed. It is possible that many more comments and questions would have been asked by students as they searched for an understanding. As Hattie and Timperley (2007:82) claim ‘feedback has no effect in a vacuum; to be powerful in its effect, there must be a learning context to which feedback is addressed’, feedback is a powerful tool in supporting learning and achievement, it scaffolds learning. Should students be given just a grade, they may disregard the opportunity to further develop their thinking and learning.

All of the feedback I have received from colleagues, the moderation team and students, I have considered very carefully. I believe it is important to understand the assessment process from all of the relevant perspectives, as this can enable me to fully develop my skills in this area. I have learnt a huge amount about assessment within the College, it has been a steep learning curve, and I am aware there is much more to be learnt. The results from the assessments have indicated areas of strength as well as weakness in students’ learning. Addressing the identified weaknesses in subsequent teaching sessions provides an opportunity to enhance students’ learning further. It is also an opportunity to celebrate their strengths.

I envisage that marking assessments will continue to be an emotive and challenging aspect of my work as a trainee teacher. I value being able to assess my own students work, as it informs my knowledge of  individual students’ abilities and also helps to inform my practice as a teacher. I also believe it helps the students to consider their learning from the teacher’s perspective, as it gives them guidance of the expectations I have of them. Marking assessments should be a positive process for all, an opportunity for students to demonstrate what progress they have made in their learning, and achieve their target grades.

The marking of assessment and providing useful feedback are both sensitive issues for teachers and students, intellectually and emotionally challenging in various aspects (Bloxham et al 2011; Price et al 2011). Internal Verification is beneficial for both teacher and student to ensure there is validity in the grades given, as well as ensuring that there is integrity throughout the whole assessment process.

BBC (2016) Teachers ‘wasting time on marking in coloured pens’ [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37705385 [Accessed 5th December 2016]

Bloxham, S. (2009) Marking and moderation in the UK: false assumptions and wasted resources. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 34 (2), 209–220.
Bloxham, S., Boyd, P. and Orr, S. (2011) Mark my words: the role of assessment criteria in UK higher education grading practices. Studies in Higher Education. 36 (6). 655-670

Burke, D. and Pieterick, J. (2010) Giving students effective written feedback. Maidenhead: Open University Press

Brooks, V. (2012) Marking as Judgement. Research Papers in Education. 27 (1). Pp.63-80

Dweck, C.S. (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. London: Robinson.

Findlater, S. (2016) Bloomsbury CPD Library: Marking and Feedback. London: Bloomsbury Education

Gulston, J. (2016) Teacher’s Toolkit. Meaning, Manageable, Motivating Marking [Online] Available from:http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2016/04/16/back-to-school-marking/%5BAccessed 10th February 2017]

Gravell, A. (2016) Principles and Practices of Assessment. A guide for assessors in the FE and skills sector. 3rd edition. London: Sage Publications

Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77 (1). 81-112

Miller, (2000) Moderation as a Tool for Continuous Improvement [Online] Available from: http://citrenz.ac.nz/conferences/2000/miller255.pdf [Accessed 10th December 2016]

Price, M., Handley, K. and Millar, J. (2011): Feedback: focusing attention on engagement. Studies in Higher Education. 36 (8). Pp. 879-896

Sadler, D. R. (2009) Indeterminacy in the use of preset criteria for assessment and grading in higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 34(2), 159–179.
Wyatt-Smith, C., Klenowski, V., Gunn, S., 2010. The centrality of teachers’ judgement practice in assessment: a study of standards in moderation. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice. 17 (1), 59–75.

(Behaviourist vs Humanist: Where do I stand as a trainee teacher?) PS 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12

During one of my PGCE PCET sessions, our class tutor asked students to consider their teaching style. We were asked to align ourselves in a specific fashion to either behaviourism or humanism. The activity involved physically positioning oneself along a continuum in the room (one side labelled behaviourist, the other humanist). Our position on the continuum was to reflect our perception of our teaching style. Towards the end of the session we were asked to reconsider our position on this behaviourist-humanist line, and whether our position had changed and if so why this was.

As Cowley states (2014:67) ‘lots of facets go together to make up a teaching style: your personality, the way you look, the way you speak, the way you use movement and space, the levels of control you use’ there is a great deal to consider. This activity was useful in helping me to reflect on my practice, as well as my belief system as a trainee teacher. I positioned myself close to the middle of the two approaches, leaning a fraction towards the humanist side. I know that my ideals lean towards a humanistic approach, it is in my nature to want to nurture people, actively listen to them. I view my learners as unique individuals who benefit from following their own path in learning.

It is important to view learners as capable from the beginning, recognising that individuals do have ‘the capacity to guide, regulate, and control himself, providing only that certain definable conditions exist. Only in the absence of these conditions, and not in any basic sense, is it necessary to provide external control and regulation of the individual’ (Rogers 1959:221); if learners are not valued and respected in the learning environment, it is possible that poor behaviour will emerge consequently, behaviourist style teaching strategies maybe employed which seek to control group behaviour and do not consider the individual learners. Rogers (1994:106) emphasises that the effectiveness of learning ‘rests upon certain attitudinal qualities which exist in the personal relationship between the facilitator and the learners’; a personal relationship creates a meaningful context for learning. Teaching in this guise is essentially a holistic nature; learning goes beyond intellectual education and encourages the development of the whole individual.

When I reflect on the variety of students I teach, their needs, behaviours and backgrounds are diverse; from individuals whom actively seek social acceptance and have lack of stability in their home environment, to individuals who ooze confidence and have secure relationships with others.  My body language, tone of voice and disposition towards my students adapts with to the dynamics of the group; when moods are low my empathetic nature becomes evident, and there are high levels of positive energy, I become energetic and enthusiastic with them. I feel it is important to recognise and acknowledge the disposition of my learners from the start of the session, Rogers (2004) considers that for learning to take place, any emotional threat to an individual’s self-concept needs to be assisted, as learners need to reach a state of congruence. I have noticed that by actively listening to learners and enabling individuals to seek their own answers, helped foster positive relationships, which in turn has created a positive environment for learning. For example, when a student confides in me that they feel low today, because they have had a distressing weekend, it is by actively listening, acknowledging their feelings and encouraging them to address possible problems, that their mood and approach to learning improves significantly. I appreciate that such an approach does not work in all cases, learner’s are all different and if their self-concept is under threat, not all individuals can free themselves to be motivated to learn (Rogers 1994). As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (McLeod 2016) theorises, some needs take precedence over others; if a person’s physiological needs, feelings of security and sense of belonging are not met, then motivation and behaviour will be affected. I can relate to this concept from my own personal experience in life and from my experience as an Early Years Professional; to be without key basic needs causes much distress, affecting rational thought and higher level thinking.

Assuming a facilitating role, enables the teacher to truly understand their learners, and in turn enable them to become effective learners. However, whilst I embrace these principles, I do not believe that it would be useful to follow in a pure form as Roger’s would propose. To have ‘unconditional positive regard’ for all learners at all times (Roger 2004), would be challenging; it proposes that the learner will want to share their thoughts and feelings with you; which is very idealistic and may suit only a number of personalities in the class. Furthermore, the teacher would be at risk of taking on too much of an emotional burden, which may negatively impact on the teacher’s motivation and well-being. A teacher would need specialised training to enter the realms of supporting learners in a psychological and emotionally intense mode. A thorough understanding of the rules and boundaries a teacher must navigate would be essential to ensure that professional standards are maintained. It is possible that some ethical issues could arise due to the high level of familiarity. Furthermore, it would be advisable for each teacher to receive structured support from their own assigned facilitator, to enable them to balance their emotional welfare.

The behaviourist element to my thinking emanates from one of my main criticisms of Roger’s (1994) ‘facilitation theory’. The criticism is that the time devoted by a teacher on understanding each individual learner detracts from the process of acquiring new knowledge. Of course, it is essential to have a thorough knowledge of each of your learners, to ensure that your teaching style can adapt to the needs of the individual, as well as collective group (Cowley 2014). The humanist in me wants to develop the individual, but I am aware that in reality, time is seldom available to enable all of my learners’ to reach a level of self-actualisation, state of congruence and achieve excellent results in assessments. As a teacher it is not within remit to try and change the background of learners’ you work with, or try and remove any emotional burdens they may have, but you can influence how they are welcomed into your classroom, how they are taught and motivated to learn (Cowley 2014). Part of a teacher’s role, is to manage behaviour in the classroom to facilitate effective learning (DfE 2014). It is the teacher’s responsibility to plan lessons appropriately and prepare learning activities which captivate a learner’s attention, hence creating ‘behaviour for learning’ (Kyriacou 2014:128).

‘Behaviour for learning’ in this context, suggests that the teacher is the authority, and essentially the controller of behavioural change in students; success is viewed only by learners engaging in set activities that meets the planned aims. It is useful to consider Watson’s (1928) stimulus-response theory at its application in the classroom. To achieve ‘behaviour for learning’ the teacher needs to set expectations and explain the outcomes of the session with particular emphasis on the possible rewards when success is achieved. The effectiveness of this technique will be reliant on the teacher’s personal expectations of each individual learner, as Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) found teacher expectations affect the performance of learner achievement; high expectations equals high achievement. This demonstrates just how important the teachers role is, learners are sensitive to your perception of them. Rogers (1994) would criticise this top-down approach to learning, believing that it should be for the learner to recognise their own learning goals and expectations, as the teacher runs the risk of limiting the learner expectations.

As Gerrard and Farrell (2014) suggest teaching is a ‘profession’, and ‘professionals’ have always been considered as having ownership of their expertise and knowledge, therefore it is natural for teachers to take control. Society demands that teacher’s practice feeds into the realities of the bigger framework of assessment, and into the power of the institution and the given government expectations and standards (Dean 1999, Elliott 2009); there are many pressures on teachers to perform and to produce a high standard of results from students. To successfully enable a teacher’s authority, it is imperative to deploy interpersonal skills of ‘withitness’ and ‘overlapping’; demonstrating a constant awareness and an ability to manage multiple events in the classroom (Elliott 2009:6). To be an effective teacher I consider it is important to be realistic, to engage in the role and responsibilities of a teaching role and to work within the curriculum framework. It is also crucial to have respect for learners and to show that respect by ensuring they are listened to. It is vitally important to establish positive relations, in a bid to aid the facilitation of lessons to benefit the learners’, this process benefits the teacher as well. Essentially, the teaching style that an individual might adopt is subject to change, as it needs to adapt in accordance with the dynamics of the group they are teaching, for example, I consider my teaching approach to lean toward the Behaviourist style when working with Level 1 students. However, my nature becomes more humanistic when I teach my Level 3 students (I will explore this in another blog).

I adore my subject specialism ‘Early Years’, it has great importance to me; my motivation to teach my specialism is centred upon my desire contribute towards achieving a highly skilled Early Years Workforce. In my role as a trainee teacher, I can help to create employable and highly responsive Early Years Practitioners whom are fully fit to enter the work place, coupled with an ambition to meet children’s needs and interests effectively. There is much evidence available to support the fact that a highly skilled Early Years workforce is of paramount importance to ensure quality practice is delivered, to enable all young children to have the best start to life (Sylva et al 2004, DfE 2012).

As Mathers and Smees (2014:3) study exemplifies, quality early year’s provision can help narrow the ‘attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers’ and at present, Ofsted (2014) findings have highlighted that there is a lower quality early years’ practice in deprived areas of the United Kingdom. Gaunt (2017) found parents reported ‘childcare quality as falling’ in the Good Care Guide, aspects such a poor hygiene, lack of stimulation and inadequate child learning were sited. To foster a solely humanist approach would demand that lessons should take on a more lucid nature, which would detract from the importance of the Early Years Practitioner central role, that of ensuring effective high quality care.

There needs to be a balance between a humanist and behaviourist approach to teaching. Teaching should not be a passive process that is rigidly planned; neither should learning be solely at the discretion of the students who have chosen their subject for a specific purpose. The humanistic approach may help motivate learners; it is a more personalised form of learning, creating a meaningful context, potentially allowing for new information or ideas to be accommodated more effectively. The behaviourist approach sets clear rules and boundaries for learners, carefully planned activities ensures that learners the opportunity to gain the skills they need to be successful in achieving a qualification in Early Years. Both approaches are desirable to fully engage learners and ensure the given curriculum is delivered effectively to satisfy the assessment criteria. The utilisation of an effective teaching approach is reliant on high quality teacher’s training, experience and reflective practice.

Cowley, S. (2014) Getting the Buggers to Behave. 5th edition. London: Bloomsbury Education

Dean, M. (1999) Governmentality. London: Sage

Department for Education (DfE)(2012) Nutbrown Review [Online] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175463/Nutbrown-Review.pdf [Accessed 14th February 2017]

Department for Education (DfE) (2014) Behaviour and discipline in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff. London: DfE

Elliott, J.G. (2009) Teacher Expertise: The nature of teacher authority and teacher expertise. Support for Learning. 24 (4). Pp. 197-203

Gaunt, C. (2017) Parents say childcare quality is falling [Online] Available from:  http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/nursery-world/news/1160305/parents-say-childcare-quality-is-falling?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Gerrard, J. and Farrell,L. (2014) Remaking the professional teacher: authority and curriculum reform, Journal of Curriculum Studies. 46 (5). Pp 634-655[Accessed 14th February 2017]

Kyriacou, C. (2014) Essential Teaching Skills. 4th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Mathers, S. and Smees, R. (2014) Quality and Inequality: Do three and four year olds in deprived areas experience lower quality early years provision? For Nuffield Foundation. [Online] Available from: http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/Quality_inequality_childcare_mathers_29_05_14.pdf [Accessed 14th February 2017]

McLeod, S. A. (2016). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [Online] Available from:  http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [Accessed 16th February 2017]

Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2014).The Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills: Early Years 2012/13. Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. [Online] Available from: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/earlyyearsannualreport1213 [Accessed 14th February 2017]

Rogers, C. (1959) A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A Study of a Science: Vol. 3 (pp. 184-256). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Rogers, C. (1994) Freedom to Learn. New York: Prentice Hall.

Rogers, C. (2004) On Becoming a Person. London: Constable.

Rosenthal, R. and Jacobson, L. (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom. The Urban Review. [Online] Available from: https://www.uni-muenster.de/imperia/md/content/psyifp/aeechterhoff/sommersemester2012/schluesselstudiendersozialpsychologiea/rosenthal_jacobson_pygmalionclassroom_urbrev1968.pdf [Accessed 16th February 2017]

Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2004) The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE): Findings from the Early Primary Years [Online] Available from: http://193.61.4.225/web-files/our-staff/academic/edward-melhuish/documents/EPPEprimary.pdf [Accessed 14th February 2017]

Watson, J.B. (1928) The Ways of Behaviourism. New York: Harper and Brothers

First experience of a Webinar

The term Webinar was introduced to me recently during my PGCE PCET training. I was keen to find out exactly what this was and how it was used in my specialist subject of Early Years Education. A ‘Web-based Seminar’, as the name suggests is a presentation that is broadcast to an online audience (Mohorovičić et al 2011). The idea of utilising this medium for teaching and learning sounded very interesting. I wished to explore how a Webinar can be used to teach students, and examine how effective this might be for enabling learners to learn.

My Department of Early Year’s relies exclusively on Webinars for delivering The Foundation Degree in Early Years. Fortunately, one of the lecturers leading this course offered me the opportunity to observe her teaching through a Webinar. The lecturer had a very positive attitude about this method of delivery, explaining her initial apprehension about moving away from the tradition face to face sessions. However, once she had tried using a Webinar for teaching her students for the first time, she recognised that it was a powerful method of communication, and really enjoys teaching the Foundation Degree in this way. It emerged that the use of Webinar’s had the additional benefit of saving students travelling time and costs; which was welcomed as a number of students have full-time work and family commitments.

The lecturer used ‘Adobe connect’ to help her create a new Webinar meeting. This process gave her a URL website hyperlink to upload on to the Virtual Learning System for students to access. From here the Lecturers planned PowerPoint could be uploaded for students to see. What I thought was particularly interesting was how the lecturer before the session, adjusted and repositioned the PowerPoint, live chat box, activity panel and poll’s size and location on the screen to suit the delivery of the session. I commented on how it resembled a teacher organising tables and chairs to suit the style and delivery of session. The lecturer agreed, saying it is exactly like that; the chat box needs to be large enough to read student comments, see the PowerPoint slides move and for instructions to be read. The lecturer actively managed the time, and ensuring the students have sufficient access to what they need.

To begin the session, the lecturer followed the protocol of accepting all students’ requests into the webinar. The microphone was tested, welcoming students to the Webinar and asking them to raise their hand (using the hand-up icon) if they were able to hear her. This took a bit of time, as not everyone responded promptly. The lecturer in response went through the list of students communicating to them individually. A Webinar is solely reliant on technology, as well as the students having ready access to the right tools to access the material. Overcoming these minor but obstructive problems is possible, but time consuming and may mean that particular students cannot fully participate in all elements of the lesson.

Before marking the register the lecturer set an active poll for the students, asking ‘Name 2 theorists that support language development’; this revisited the topic covered in their previous Webinar. As the responses to the answers came in, the lecturer said she has exclusive access to the answers, only she can see the every individual’s responses to the question. This is a useful assessment tool, the lecturer can see exactly who replies and which individual(s) need prompting or support. A student’s answer would demonstrate their level of knowledge of the topic. Once all answers were in, the lecturer used her microphone to thank everyone for their response; she went through the answers methodically and gave feedback for the entire group to hear. One of the limitations of this way of responding is that students who answered quickly, were required to wait for everyone to answer, which took quite some time.

One student offered totally different theorists to the language development question during the poll. The individual was unsure of her answer. The lecturer shared this possible answer with permission of the student, and was able to ask other students for their views on these theorists. Some students were able to research the named theorists, and feedback this information. The lecturer’s role was that of a commentator reading out student’s comments as they came in, but also using reflective questioning to establish the development of ideas. The process was highly collaborative, resulting in the students being able to clarify that the named theorists suggested were in fact not linked to language development. The students had become researchers, responsible for their own learning; reading, analysing and extracting information to share and discuss with others online. The learners embraced this active learning and produced very worthwhile results.

The lecturer moved the session on, and asked for feedback from the students in relation to their child observations (from placements) centred on language development. The lecturer enabled the microphones of each student individually, to allow them to speak and others to hear. As the lecturer listened to the feedback she was able to make notes, to clarify certain points she wished to make when the student speaker was finished.  An opportunity to listen and whilst making notes would be difficult to achieve in a face-to-face teaching session, as eye contact is requiring the lecturers full attention is needed during active listening. The faceless contact assisted the lecturer, allowing her to make thoughtful notes. However, it may be a little disconcerting for the student talking, as there are limited social cues which would normally allow a student to interpret the situation. The lecturer more fully aimed to comment positively to the speaking student, to demonstrate she was listening. It took a full 30 minutes for feedback to be collated from the students.

The lecturer then began to introduce new learning, talking through slides on moral development, whilst posing a new theory to the students. A scenario was presented by the lecturer; she explained that the students would be split into breakout rooms, to work through the scenario and endeavour to apply the theory to it. Breakout rooms were similar to setting group work on tables in a classroom. The lecturer would monitor the breakout rooms by entering the student conversations. At the end of the task the lecturer broadcast a warning to the groups about the time left for the task, the students were also asked to select one person to feedback their answers. Many of the students were anxious about speaking through the microphone. They were given option to use the microphone or type; the majority preferred to type. The lecturer could then see who was participating, as the names were listed on the chat room column, and you follow who was actively typing. The lecturer took on the role of a commentator again, reading out the comments. The students found listening to the comments useful. However, it proved problematic when some students had typed one sentence and had not finished what they had wanted to say before the conversation in the chat box began to move on. Lee (2010) recommends that Webinar’s be limited to group numbers of 15-17, to allow high levels of interaction. Students who respond more slowly are at risk of being left behind in the development of the lesson.

I was pleasantly surprised to witness first hand an active, collaborative and enjoyable Webinar. I had some reservations about this approach initially, as I really value the personal interactions between the teacher and learner, and I thought this might be sacrificed. It is clear for a Webinar to be a good quality learning experience, the teacher has to be confident and competent in their ICT skills and be well organised to ensure the process runs smoothly. As Andersen (2010) says ‘giving an effective webinar requires some presentation redesign and technology skills that you don’t necessarily need in a face-to-face presentation’, I realise how exciting a Webinar session can be, especially when the lecturer is skillful in the use of her voice, and is able to motivate and energise the students. A lecturer must plan a session carefully to ensure that all learners are involved and maintain concentration throughout. I would relish the opportunity to use a Webinar, where appropriate in my teaching. The high degree of energy and skill needed by the lecturer to deliver a successful Webinar, I recognise and would wish to develop. I plan to explore the possibility of developing my professional teaching skills in this area.

 

References

Andersen, M. H. (2010) Tips for effective webinars [Online] Available from: http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1710034 [Accessed 30th October 2016]

Lee, K. (2010) Ensure Webinar Based-Training Success. [Online] Available from: http://www.cedma-europe.org/newsletter%20articles/Training%20Magazine/Ensure%20Webinar-Based%20Training%20Success%20(Nov%2010).pdf [Accessed 30th October 2016]

Mohorovičić, S., Lasić-Lazić, J. and Strčić, V. (2011) Webinars in Higher Education. MIPRO. May 23-27.